Ukraine Demonstrates the UN’s Enduring Importance

March 11, 2014| by Chris Whatley, UNA-USA Executive Director

As UNA’s members fan out in communities large and small to meet with House and Senate district offices this week, the ongoing Ukraine crisis offers an urgent and tangible reminder of the enduring importance of the United Nations.  That is, as Ukraine endures one of most volatile crises the world has seen in a decade, the UN is proving itself vital to advancing not only our own national interests but also those of the world.

At first glance, the Ukraine crisis appears straight out of a twentieth century plotline: conflicting interests among the world’s great powers leave the Security Council unable to act in the face of aggression. However, a closer look shows a twenty-first century United Nations capable of responding rapidly to a crisis and vital for finding a pathway out. 

While the prospect of Russia’s veto forestalled a Security Council resolution, the debates that have been held so far have coalesced and amplified world opinion over a clear breach of the UN Charter.  Even China noted its concern about interference in the internal affairs of other nations, both a reflection of China’s traditional foreign policy posture and a veiled reference to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine’s domestic politics.

While debates were still unfolding in New York, top UN leaders set out across Europe, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson meeting with the interim government in Kiev, and Senior UN Envoy Robert Sherry traveling to Crimea to assess the situation on the ground.   Their quick response opened a channel for dialogue and fact-finding that may be critical for achieving a diplomatic solution. 

Even when Robert Sherry was confronted by an armed mob of Russia supporters in Sevastopol, he refused to back down, barricading himself in a café to report back on the situation to Deputy Secretary-General Eliasson in Kiev.  His courage in the face of danger harkens to the best efforts of the UN in recent years, including the brave UN weapons inspectors who kept to their task in Syria last September even after their convoy had been taken under fire. 

However, it is the UN’s legitimacy as a neutral convener and peacemaker that offers the best hope for a pathway out of the crisis.  With the militaries of two UN member states locked in a tense standoff, a climb down could possibly require international military observers to oversee a diplomatic compromise.  This type of military monitoring is one of the many missions in which the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations excels.  Whether it is deploying armed rapid reaction forces to prevent bloodshed, or sending small numbers of unarmed military monitors to oversee agreements between disputing parties, UN Peacekeeping is the indispensable twenty-first century instrument of conflict response and resolution.

It is with this knowledge in hand, and an appreciation for the risks and sacrifices undertaken by our field-based UN colleagues each day, that we answer the call to push for full funding of America’s peacekeeping dues.  Given our commitment to the UN as the world’s indispensable peacemaker, it is the least that we can do.