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UN Between Big Words, Big Money & Slim Results

Erol Avdović (WPP New York photo 2020)

Erol Avdović (WPP New York photo 2020)

Analysis by Erol Avdović – WebPublicaPress (United Nations – New York) – At the very begging of December  United Nations Secretary General’s Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said  the UN hailed dialogue between Russian and US Presidents, Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, and expressed the hope it will help reduce tension in relations between the two countries. And this was the attitude kept at East River by the end of 2021.

War and Peace and the role of UN 

And what else is left for the UN – than to give this kind of encouragement, keeping, if nothing else, its brave face and honnor in front of the global public. The UN is in favor of detente, of course, but it can’t really control anything. Especially not the needed deescalation between Moscow and Washington since Russian war games over Ukraine since 2014 Russian annexation uf Ukraine peninsular Crimea remains the threat to regional security and world peace. And, if there is a new Russian attack on Ukraine in the first months of 2022. the situation may go out of control. Of course UN is terrified. Looks like UN is strongly for US-Russia face to face dialogue.

“We do welcome dialogue as we saw between the Russian Federation and the US. If that is expanded to more NATO countries, we welcome that as well. I think dialogue that we hope will lead to de-escalation of the tensions that we are seeing,” UN chief spokesperson Dujarric said day after Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin  had two-hour talks in the videoconference format on December 7 – linking Washington and Moscow in a virtual high ranking diplomacy – addressing the situation around Ukraine. According to the news agencies and official readouts of the meeting – they also discussed bilateral relations, cybersecurity and the Iran nuclear deal. All issues that concern both superpowers but the remaining World as well.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and his chief spokesman Stephan Dujarric at UN Headquarters in New York (Photo by Erol Avdovic, Webpublicapress 2018)

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and his chief spokesman Stephan Dujarric at UN Headquarters in New York (Photo by Erol Avdovic, Webpublicapress 2018)

Although the UN’s job is to deal with preventing regional conflicts, from Bosnia and Rwanda (1995) where the genocide (Srebrenica) took place in front of UN peacekeepers – to Ukraine, which Russian President Putin has already spoken of as a dangerous hot spot where “Srebrenica” could happen again – mentioning genocide – the UN is quite impotent about preventing or stopping global conflict. He remains a silent observer, who, however, utters the right words.

One could not really say that United Nations are super successful in keeping a world peace. Although there are around 81.000 UN peacekeepers in 14 UN missions their results are not always great. For consolation only – we are left with a somewhat allegorical belief, that without them (UN peacekeepers) it would probably be even worse.

In recent decades the UN peace-keeping affairs were were followed by several shameful episodes in which they were not only silent observers, but their behavior was characterized as an unacceptable omission. After all, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan publicly apologized in 1999 for the 1995 UN mistakes in Bosnia. Guterres does not want a situation where the UN is directly involved, so he has to apologize. It may be even better that the UN does not have peacekeepers even near the Ukrainian borders, except for those in Cyprus or Kosovo. They may be good when it’s all over and when the “permanent” temporary demarcation lines are drawn. Unfortunately, UN peacekeepers are often a confirmation of a failed détente.

Remember, there is a UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) - mission tasked with maintaining the ceasefire between Israel and Syria in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The mission was established by UNSC Resolution 350 on 31 May 1974, to implement Resolution 338 (1973) which called for an immediate ceasefire and implementation of UNSC Resolution 242. Who knows if one day such a “separating force” will be needed on the border between Ukraine and Russia. And, would Russia ever agree to such a force in her vicinity. Who knows if it will, in fact, what will be the (new) borders between Ukraine and Russia. These are not exactly questions for the UN Headquarters, although there is a lot of talk on the East River about the Ukrainian crisis. Again, with carefully chosen words – not to offend Moscow as well.

UN Building from the East River (Photo by Erol Avdovic, WebPublicaPress 2019)

UN Building from the East River (Photo by Erol Avdovic, WebPublicaPress 2019) .

How to speak right but not challenge the big powers

Since Western countries and NATO by the end of 2021 intensified their concerns and warnings about Russia’s possible aggression against Ukraine – Moscow tried to responds with their arguments. Kremlin’s presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov slammed Western statements as “hollow and groundless tension-fanning.” News agencies have reported that Mr. Peskov also stressed that “Russia is a threat to no one,” and he did not rule out “possible provocations to justify such statements.” He also warned that “attempts at using force to settle the crisis in southeastern Ukraine would have the most serious consequences.”

It is not a direct threat, but it is the answer to how much a possible escalation can cost all those who believe primarily in the power of weapons, rather than diplomacy. The latter sometimes sounds naive, because as the postulates of realpolitik suggest – diplomacy can only get results when war squadrons, missiles, raids, naval destroyers and aircraft carriers, etc. are intercepted. Of course, the UN can read that reality well.

One of the saddest conclusions, however, is that so many UN peacekeepers remain powerless to prevent possible conflicts between the world’s largest powers, even when it comes to proxy wars, in the territories of third and thus not the largest countries. The United States and Russia simply do not give a damn about the role of the UN when it comes to their interests. For UN they reserve only the role of post-conflict guardians of some “permanent” truce – before the second-half comes. Some would even call it peacekeeping cosmetics.

UN Peacekeepers Are Not UN Army

Yet, in December UN General Assembly has authorized an annual United Nations peacekeeping budget of $6.37 billion. As UN announced the Peacekeeping budget would cover the cost of 12 peacekeeping missions from 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022.  It also includes funding of the United Nations Logistics Base at Brindisi, Italy; the Regional Service Centre in Entebbe, Uganda; and the peacekeeping support account, the UN media info stated.

The Secretary General Guterres himself proposed a $6.47 billion budget to cover the cost of 14 United Nations

Antonio Guterres wearing anti-coved mask at the 75th UN General Assembly  opening 21 September 2020 (UN Webcast TV image by Erol Avdovic for education only)

Antonio Guterres wearing anti-coved mask at the 75th UN General Assembly opening 21 September 2020 (UN Webcast TV image by Erol Avdovic for education only)

peacekeeping missions in 2021/22. With this money, UN will certainly cover the basic costs of their peacekeeping operations, but in the meantime, the lament about the constant lack of funds will continue in the World Organization headed by Antonio Guterres. Some will even say that the UN is spending too much money due to poor results, bearing in mind the World indeed cannot rely on the United Nations – when global peace and stability are threatened by possible conflicts such as the one coming on the Ukrainian-Russian border. But, that is the name of the game.

The UN, and especially Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, indeed does say the right words at the right time. But, it is sad to learn that these true words, however precise and visionary, are almost the only powerful weapons at the disposal of the United  Nations which now serve as a chief global institution to issue only appeals. And UN peacekeepers are not United Nations army. After all, on the eve of New 2022, UN chief Guterres wrote on his Twitter account: “Peace can achieve wonders. War will never. Peace remains the driving force behind the work of the, every day, in every country.” That is all true, nicely said, but too general – at the level of a phrase, and therefore insufficient.

UN Play Safe – Stays Neutral
While Washington and Moscow are set to continue their discussion of nuclear arms control and ongoing crisis on Ukraine, with NATO talking to Russia as well – nobody, either from the White House or Kremlin called  UN Secretary-General to ask his advise on the issue.”The United States looks forward to engaging with Russia,” a spokesman for the National Security Council told the media. The bilateral meeting will be held on 10 January under the Strategic Security Dialogue initiative. The talks were kick-started in Geneva last June (2021) by US president Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Russia and NATO are also also expected to meet in the middle of January 2022. Also, broader meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is scheduled to be held on 13 January, the White House spokesperson said. According to US intelligence and media reports (The Washington Post and New York Times) Russia stationed between 100.000 and 175.000 soldiers on Ukraine’s border.
President Joe Biden faces president Vladimir Putin in Geneva 16 June 2021 (Photo illustration for education only)

President Joe Biden faces president Vladimir Putin in Geneva 16 June 2021 (Photo illustration for education only)

Yet, Russian president Putin publicly denieed planning to attack Ukraine but sends double-talk messages to the West, Russia my act to protect their interests regarding “NATO threats” over its Ukrainian geopolitical court-yard. Mr. Putin also said,  the troop movements are “to defend Russia against an encroaching Western military.”

In the meantime, there is no double-talk on Ukrainian crisis from the UN side, here in New York. The UN and its Secretary-General remain firmly – neutral. The UN strategy is obvious – don’t wave! Wait for the powerful to say theirs, then choose accurate, but mostly vague statements.

At the same time, asked by journalist – whether or not there were concessions between Moscow and Washington on Ukraine, the US Senior Administration official said on the record.  ”There very clearly were not.  I think President Biden has made very clear that he stood by our principles.  He made very clear that one nation can’t force another nation to change its border, one nation cannot tell another to change its politics, and nations can’t tell others who they can work with.”

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