International Disorder: Ukraine Edition

The UN and NATO showed that their leaders are more preoccupied with grandstanding and residual Cold War rivalries than seeing the Russo-Ukrainian conflict come to a close. The international community’s inability to negotiate with Putin highlights the eroding international order inherited from WWII. The United Nations was initially created to promote security and peace, and NATO was created to provide military security against the Soviet Union. But reliance on these international bodies does not bode well, nor are they especially accountable, even though their budgets come largely from US tax-payer money.

The United Nations

The Security Council showed once again that instead of promoting peace, it is simply another platform through which the East and the West can guilt-trip each other in the name of what is ‘moral’

After Russia vetoed a resolution to stop the invasion of Ukraine, all the Council Members could do, one after the other, was ‘urge’ the Russian Federation to stop its invasion. These attempts at ‘negotiation’ were performative. The inclusion of ‘de-escalation’ in the UN resolution is laughable when there was already an evident military threat from Russia long before this February. 

Kemal Dervis and Jose Antonio Ocampo of the Brookings Institute proposed amending the Security Council’s UN Charter to allow a large double majority of the P5 (China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States) to override a veto from one of its members.

In their op-ed, Dervis and Antonio Ocampo argue that absolute veto power, granted to the P5, distracts the Council from its stated goals of peace and security due to the members’ rival geopolitical blocs. This is largely due to the inherited US-Soviet Union rivalry, which explains why Russia and the United States have used their veto power the most.

However, the power to override Russia’s veto won’t change the country’s isolated status in the international community. Of the 15 members of the Security Council, 11 voted in favor of the resolution to stop the invasion of Ukraine. China, India and the UAE abstained. Unfortunately, the measures undertaken by the Western countries after this veto only reinforced what was already true before the invasion of Ukraine: NATO and the UN are not symbols of strength and peace, but are instead a facade of global competition.

Imminent Danger

NATO leaders had reason to believe that Ukraine would pay the price for NATO’s expansion goals. From Nato’s first series of expansions, the Russian Federation made it clear that its national security was directly threatened by its neighbors joining the Western organization. From the war with Georgia to the occupation of Crimea, there was enough writing on the wall that Ukraine required adequate protection if it was to join NATO.

As Ivan Eland writes, “NATO’s massive blunder is now evident.” However, the Western leaders’ allegiance to personal politics and the old world order was somehow stronger than the imminent danger facing Ukraine. 

Why did Russian threats not lead to better protection for Ukraine? Looking back at the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, even though France and Germany feared that NATO’s inclusion of Ukraine and Georgia would antagonize Russia—George W. Bush supported doing so. A compromise was reached that no formal membership process was to begin, but that NATO would openly declare its goal of including Ukraine and Georgia in its union. 

Three months later, the invasion of Georgia, which could have been a point of re-evaluation for NATO, was just another opportunity to denounce the emboldened, anti-democratic Kremlin, just like we see today with Ukraine. In 2021, the White House reiterated the 2008 statement, which is why today’s escalation should not be a surprise. 

In addition to NATO’s expansion, the nonprofit National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has been a proxy for US influence through over 60 projects for promoting civil society in Ukraine. In a Senate Hearing in 2014, former Assistant Secretary, Victoria Nuland discusses the allocation of funding given to the US Agency for International Development, she states that the US government has invested $5 billion in Ukraine in programs under the rubric of “governing justly and democratically”. With the US’ collection of social engineering projects, it is urgent to consider that most of the US-led international enterprises are echoes of the unhinged consequences of sunk costs. 

Economic War

The International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) allows the President to bypass the need for evidence when freezing a person’s assets during a state of emergency. In Russia’s case, the target is Putin’s renowned circle of oligarchs. The apparent strategy is to coerce the Russian President through economic pressure. 

Invoking IEEPA, President Joe Biden established another state of national emergency through Executive Order 13660. Since March 2014, six different Executive Orders have been issued in relation to Ukraine. As reported by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), presidential emergency use of IEEPA “has expanded in scale, scope, and frequency since the statute’s enactment,” and has evolved from targeting “foreign governments to specific groups or individuals.”

The oligarchs’ wealth has been under scrutiny before. Karen Dawisha explains how Putin rose to power and provides an extensive roadmap of the 110 oligarchs that, according to Dawisha, control 35% of Russia’s wealth. However, it is important to note that sanctioning those in charge of the ‘inverted funnel’, (a term used to describe Russia’s reliance on natural resources) largely cannot be done without the involvement of third parties. The ability to freeze the assets of a foreign oligarch—while not as violent as physical war—should still be regarded as a power that should not be abused. 

When Ukraine had to face the Russian military alone, Western leaders publicly emphasized targeting Russia’s elite in the financial system, repeating the same pattern of events that led to the invasion of Ukraine. 

At first, economic attacks on the Russian oligarchs were reported as promising until European leaders bitterly reminded the world of their reliance on Russian gas and oil. To his credit, the President of the Netherlands stated that this reliance would have to change—but that it would take time. But when we look back at the foundational ideals of institutions such as NATO, interdependence was advertised as the solution, not the problem.

With the political uncertainty we face today, solutions may rely more and more on multilateral efforts. This is not an alarmist attempt at finding an alternative to the mechanisms criticized earlier, but rather a reminder that reliance on those mechanisms can limit our possibilities of peace. 

“Honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none,” as proclaimed by Thomas Jefferson, should encourage us to detach ourselves from our codependency with bureaucratic organizations such as NATO and the UN, as their promises of peace and stability seem more and more unreliable. A country can be entangled by organizations, just as it can be entangled with another country.

Talita Panikashvili is a political science graduate, specializing in international relations, from the University of California, Berkeley. She investigates select topics in international political economy and works as a foreign language translator.
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