Nov 2022


No world order?

As Russia is warned over its escalating war in Ukraine and Kiev pushes for entry to NATO,  Amit Agnihotri wonders what direction the international political system will take

Present times may best be described as poised somewhere between two world orders: a 77-year-old one, which is often questioned over its alleged ineffectiveness, and a new one, which is yet to take shape.

The need for a new world order has been felt for a while but came into sharper focus this year as the existing system failed to curb one of its biggest contemporary security challenges.

First, when Russia invaded its neighbour Ukraine in February, and then in September, when President Vladimir Putin announced unilateral plans to annex four of Ukraine’s territories, including Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

Between the two events, the ineffectiveness of the United Nations-centric international system came to the fore again, though the global body has faced similar situations over the past years.

Several resolutions passed by the UN General Assembly over the past months failed to stop an aggressive Putin, whose military mission in Ukraine forced the West to join the Ukraine war as a proxy.

Since then, while massive aid from the US and its European allies did help Ukraine slow down the Russian military march, it could not end the ordeal of the former Soviet republic, which still aspires to be a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

In fact, NATO’s constant eastward push in Europe over the past years and its plans to induct Ukraine, despite Putin’s reservations, have led to the Russian invasion.

Eight months since it began, there is no end in sight to the raging conflict, with Russia digging its heels in and even hinting at the possibility of using its nuclear assets, which has the potential to trigger World War III.

Putin’s recent move to annex Ukrainian territory provoked NATO, which warned Russia of dire consequences. Yet for some unexplained reasons, the organisation has not been able to make a decision on the issue of Kyiv’s membership.

For a world batteredover the past two years by the Covid pandemic and its resultant economic slowdown, conflicts which have global ramifications should be a strict no-no.To deal with such tough times, an effective multilateral system would be welcome.But the problem is no one knows who would or should be the arbiter of global peace.

Vladimir Putin looking troubled
TROUBLED: President Putin is feeling the cost of his military misadventure

The West is prepared to fight it out to counter Russia in Ukraine and has even imposed economic sanctions in an effort to tame Moscow. However, the move failed to produce the desired results and boomeranged in the form of a global spike in energy and food prices.

There are concerns now that US and NATO military aid to Kyiv could actually prolong the war, rather than bring it to an imminent end.

The EU is talking about a new architecture to secure its long-term interests from potential Russian aggression. Yet at the same time, it wants uninterrupted, price-capped gas supplies from Moscow.

For his part, President Putin is feeling the pinch of economic sanctions and the cost of his military misadventure. Despite this, he is still not willing to step back.

Against this backdrop, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tried to put his position to good use when he travelled to Kyiv to express solidarity with Ukraine. From ground zero, the UN boss urged President Putin to end the war, but met with little success.

The UN system

Post-World War-II, US supremacy played a key role in shaping the United Nations in 1945. Of late, however, Washington has been struggling to hold on to its global influence, which faces challenge from the new-found China-Russia bonhomie.

The old-world order had the United Nations at its centre while its powerful Security Council was tasked with brokering peace between warring members, preventing conflicts from escalating and ensuring that the spirit of multilateralism prevailed.

The UNSC has 15 members in all, ten rotating every two years and five permanent ones –  the US, the UK, Russia, China and France – who have the power to negate any substantial resolution.

In reality, the five permanent UNSC members represent competing geopolitical power blocs. The five big nations often use the veto to protect their own interests and, in the process, cast a shadow on the credibility of the multilateral body which is responsible for ensuring a just world order.

Interestingly, China professes to support the UN-centric order whenever the Asian Dragon is slammed by the US-led Quad or the G7 for displaying aggression in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere.But Beijing notably abstained from a UNSC vote to condemn Russia over annexing Ukrainian territory. Russia, as expected, negated the resolution.

Over the past decade, as Asia assumed a more central position on the global stage, countries in the region began demanding a reformed UN, particularly an expanded UNSC, to reflect the realities of the contemporary world.They soon found support from nations in the African continent, South America, and Central and Eastern Europe but, sadly, the proposed changes in the global body have not moved beyond the discussion stage. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres 1
SPIRIT OF UNITY: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres travelled to Kyiv to express solidarity with Ukraine

Conflicts which have global ramifications should be a strict no-no

Peace plans

The world cannot afford to let the Russian war in Ukraine continue. At some point in the near future, it will have to find a peace formula collectively.

However, for any peace proposal to move forward, it would have to address two key issues: security guarantees for Ukraine and the issue of its proposed membership of NATO.

As per a 1994 agreement, three former Soviet republics, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, had returned their nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees from the US, the UK and Russia.

Unfortunately, what happened with Ukraine showed that such agreements are hardly a defence against the brazen military might of an aggressor.

A recent plan discussed among some EU members suggests that Ukraine should be armed in the short run to take on the Russian forces, while the issue of NATO membership should remain Kyiv’s long-term goal.

Such a plan is bound to fail as Russia is unlikely to agree to any security guarantees for Ukraine, and would be completely averse to a scenario where Kyiv assumes membership of the Atlantic alliance.

There are concerns that US and NATO military aid to Kyiv could actually prolong the war

Until a better plan emerges, it seems Ukraine will remain stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.

In event that a temporary truce is worked out, Ukraine would still continue to sit on a powder keg, given that the ongoing war is a stark reminder to the world that the decades-old US-Russia Cold War rivalry continues to simmer.

For lasting peace in the Eurasian region, any roadmap would need to factor in the concerns of all the stakeholders: the US, the UK, the EU, Russia and, most of all, Ukraine.

The million-dollar question is: who will make the first move?

Amit Agnihotri is a Delhi-based journalist who has worked with several national newspapers and focuses on politics and policy issues

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