75th Anniversary of the United Nations: Old problems, new challenges and global solutions
24 October has been traditionally celebrated as United Nations Day. This year marks the 75th anniversary of this most reputable global organization.
Despite all the problems and crises that the United Nations and its member states have faced over these years, it is hard to disagree that it is largely thanks to the international legal and political mechanisms established by the UN Charter that we managed to avoid plunging into an all-out third world war and deal with many critical issues when shaping the post-war world order.
Unfortunately, the world has not always learned the right lessons from the problems brought by the 20th and 21st centuries. I will remind you that, when the UN founding members, including the USSR, created the Organization, they formulated its mission, which includes three principles: commitment to a stable and safe world, promotion of human rights and building a more just world order.
Yet, only a year after the Organization was established, yesterday’s allies in the Anti-Hitler Coalition, who had given freedom to the peoples of the continent, found themselves on opposite sides of the barricades in the Cold War, which had a tendency to heat up from time to time. Today it is impossible to imagine that for almost 40 years the world lived under the constant threat of a nuclear war that could wipe out the whole of humanity.
The UN bodies have put in a lot of work to make the world step back from the abyss, to launch mechanisms for settling conflicts within a legal framework. Thus, disarmament, reduction and elimination of all stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction constitute one of the main goals of the United Nations. The Disarmament Conference, established by the decision of the first Special Session of the UN General Assembly in 1978, developed and adopted a number of fundamental international agreements designed to ensure security of peoples, alleviate international tensions and build confidence among states in the matters of handling nuclear weapons. The USSR played a special role in that process. Today there is an urgent need for us to continue working towards this end. We hope that the UN Security Council will hold a face-to-face summit of the nuclear five to discuss the most pressing problems of humankind. The issue of prolongation of the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the New START Treaty) also needs to be promptly resolved. We have already articulated our position concerning the extension of this crucial document.
At the same time, we need not only to ensure reduction of the existing arms but also to minimize the risks of possible new threats. In this vein, Russia has declared a moratorium on deployment of new missile systems in Europe and other regions. We expect to see our Western partners take reciprocal steps. We also call for conclusion of a legally binding agreement with all space powers to place a comprehensive ban on militarization of space. The relevance of this approach was confirmed by the adoption of the Russia-sponsored resolutions of the General Assembly concerning the prevention of the arms race in outer space and its use in accordance with international law.
Regrettably, in spite of all the efforts to maintain peace, we are still witnessing unilateral aggressive actions and blatant attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states undertaken, inter alia, by the U.S. and its NATO allies.
In many corners of the world, hotbeds of military confrontation persist, people are dying every day. As a rule, it takes a coordinated legal assessment of a situation by the UN Security Council to understand who is right and who is wrong, who is the aggressor and who is the victim. Otherwise in the era of fake news, falsification of facts and hybrid warfare, there is the risk that black would be presented as white, unlawful as legitimate, and true facts would be buried behind catchy TV images and social media posts.
In this regard, ensuring security in the global information space is of particular importance. The international cybersecurity architecture should be fit to respond to modern challenges as well as cater for future technological progress. Unfortunately, the increasing digitalization is bound to result in a growing number of crimes in the information environment (and there has been a considerable increase in such crimes during the new coronavirus pandemic). Russia has repeatedly called on the world community to agree on new mechanisms to address cybercrime and ensure stability in the information domain. Earlier, the 73rd UN General Assembly session adopted by an overwhelming majority a Russia-proposed resolution that established, inter alia, a negotiation mechanism for addressing international information security issues. This resolution is especially relevant given that cross-border challenges can only be tackled effectively with the active involvement of the entire international community. UN bodies could serve as a platform for elaborating a universal international treaty based on generally recognized principles and norms of international law and consistent with common interests in the information domain. Such instrument should be helpful in maintaining international peace and security and preventing the use of technologies for purposes inconsistent with international law.
No other international organizations, let alone military alliances, can undermine the UN principal organs’ monopoly on the expression of the will of the world community. The dilution of the responsibility for global security, attempts by various organizations and certain nations to stigmatize states and governments and decide the fate of the world would invariably throw us decades back.
The typical scenario of unlawful interference in the internal affairs of states is still being repeated: the propagation of social division, support and arming of the opposition to overthrow the present government with a formal reference to democratic values. In 2003, the international coalition led by the U.S., including several NATO countries, invaded Iraq. Under the pretext of combating international terrorism and searching for weapons of mass destruction, the legitimate president of the country Saddam Hussein was deposed and executed, the “authoritarian state” was ruined and the “truly democratic” was established. Everyone knows how it all turned out. Another example is the fact that since 2012, the U.S. has provided secret military support to insurgents in Syria in cooperation with NATO countries.
Attempts to undermine the role of the UN and establish a certain “community (club) of democratic nations” instead of it are also of particular concern. Such ideas do not unite but divide humanity, contribute to international tensions and ultimately lead to direct confrontation. The United Nations was created alongside the development of the human rights concept and the humanistic turn in inter-state cooperation in all kinds of fields. Human rights issues have now permeated almost all agendas of UN bodies, from environment and personal data protection to cybersecurity and biotechnology. Today, every state has legal safeguards in place against discrimination, torture, inhumane treatment and arbitrary interference in private life.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, along with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on civil and political rights provide a foundation for the international recognition and entrenchment of human rights. The United Nations is guided in its work by the principle of promotion and protection of the rights enshrined in these documents. René Cassin, one of the authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Nobel Prize winner, once said that one of the salient characteristics of the Declaration is its universality: it applies to all human beings without any discrimination whatever; it also applies to all territories, whatever their economic or political regime.
In addition to the recognition of rights, ensuring due balance between different human rights categories is of primary importance. For this reason, the Soviet Union pointed out the need to enshrine an extensive list of social and economic rights when working on the Universal Declaration. This point proves valid today. The current world economic recession caused by the global pandemic pushes states towards revisiting their values and prioritizing the protection of people’s lives and health as well as human rights to guarantee decent and safe existence.
The COVID-19 pandemic clearly showed that political freedoms as such can do little to save people’s lives. There is a need for efficient and affordable medical and social care systems, nation-wide sanitary safety programs, utmost coordination of efforts at all levels of public authority. Strong states that proved capable of mobilizing their economies and political institutions to fight back the pandemic, succeeded in overcoming its consequences and preserved millions of lives.
The approach that prioritizes the protection of human rights above other things seems well justified given that the central motto of the first post-war decades was “Never Again”. Civilized nations, on whose behalf the UN was created alongside other international organizations that came into existence in the late 1940’s through 1950’s, were called to prevent the horrors of World War II, genocide, war crimes, abuse of fundamental human rights and freedoms, humiliation of human dignity from happening ever again. They saw the best solution in restricting, as much as possible, the government’s involvement in social development, absolutizing private and individual freedoms, continuously expanding the scope of subjective rights, often to the detriment of public interest. At the same time, it is national states that have been assigned, in the context of the so-called “positive obligations,” with increasingly significant obligations not only to refrain from violating an individual’s rights, but to ensure their respect as well as provide “good” governance.
Concerns regarding the possible restoration of totalitarian “superpowers” similar to fascist Germany forced governments in many countries (first of all in Europe) to agree to a considerable limitation of national sovereignty and delegation of powers to supranational structures. Results proved very different.
Moreover, we cannot disregard three things.
First of all, a weak state is unable to ensure the rights of its citizens and protect itself from global threats. The dramatic transformation of the Weimar Republic into the Third Reich vividly illustrated that the provision of broad democratic freedoms, without backing them up with economic growth, welfare, and the state’s ability to proactively address extremist manifestations, would inevitably lead to the marginalization of the political agenda, upsurge in crime, vulnerability of democratic institutions and, consequently, the threat of a collapse of the state or its sliding into dictatorship. Unfortunately, Russia, too, was on the verge of anarchy and state collapse twice in the last century (in 1917 and 1991). Both times, the collapse of the state was accompanied by the slogans of universal freedom and democracy. Today, we see examples of failed states unable to build a stable political system and give their people confidence in the future (including those among the former Soviet states).
Second, pluralism and unlimited freedom of speech are not enough to ensure stable development of mankind. Today, just as in 1945, millions of people, both in developing countries and in economies that are considered to be “developed”, live below the poverty line, struggling to meet the basic needs for themselves and their families and feeling like outcasts cut off from the achievements of modern civilization. The Black Lives Matter movement, which has swept across the western world in 2020, clearly demonstrates that there is an unsatisfied global demand for a just world order, for bridging the gap between the rich and the poor and for access to adequate healthcare, modern education and decent wages for all, regardless of color or social status. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare inequalities in dozens of countries. Many people were left to fend for themselves.
These circumstances prove that social justice cannot be restored only through developing the market economy without interference from the state (according to the principle of “laissez faire”) or through generous but sporadic charity projects. This requires involvement of the state, a sensible fiscal policy, a responsible and stable government, and a clear vision of the long-term social and economic development goals. States need to take decisive steps to adapt their national economies and political systems to the modern challenges.
The state’s key mission today is to make sure that every citizen can feel like a full member of society, to provide equal opportunities for personal fulfilment and to foster people’s sense of self-worth and confidence in the future. Technology is evolving at a rapid pace, but people remain the same as they were dozens, hundreds and even thousands of years ago. Family and friends, dreams of a better future for their children and the desire to be heard and understood by others have always had the central place in their lives. Phenomena such as fear-mongering, deliberate creation of enemy image and heightened hysteria in the media and social networks are extremely dangerous and should be dealt with by, among others, the United Nations entities. For centuries, people in our countries have lived in constant fear of an enemy, of an imminent threat of war. Yet a stable world cannot be built upon fear and mistrust. Fear must ultimately give way to hope. As far back as 1953, the Second Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld said: “To build for man a world without fear, we must be without fear. To build a world of justice, we must be just“.
Third, not a single global challenge can be solved without re-establishment of the primacy of international law based on the consensual will of states. International treaties, signed and ratified by sovereign states, continue to be the main source of international law. The UN Charter belongs to that exact category of sources. Norms of international law can only draw legitimacy from democratic procedures set out in national constitutions and the clearly expressed will of nations to adhere to an international instrument.
Today, more than ever, we need to stick to these approaches, preserve the unique architecture of the United Nations, accommodate each other’s interests and respect each other’s national circumstances. In this context, sincere commitment to cooperation, mutual help and consolidation could facilitate the achievement of the goals enshrined in the UN Charter. In August 2020, after the explosion in Beirut, Russia immediately sent its emergency personnel to Lebanon to provide aid to the victims. At the height of the pandemic, Russia provided large-scale support to Venezuela, Iran and other countries, supplying medical equipment and personal protective gear. Russian military personnel were sent to provide medical assistance in Italy, and we continue to engage in humanitarian efforts in Syria. Speaking at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, President Vladimir Putin offered to provide Russia’s coronavirus vaccine—Sputnik V—to all UN staff for free.
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Amid the continuing global epidemic, we need to guarantee unhindered supply of food, equipment and technology to the most affected areas. Russia has consistently called for renouncing trade and financial restrictions on humanitarian shipments worldwide. Political considerations should not affect cooperation to save lives.
Our country has always upheld the interests of peace and security, being open for dialogue and search for global solutions to the most pressing challenges. Today, we are making our contribution to a better future for our planet and to the development of human civilization.
We should not forget that the UN has been founded as an organization that should seek solutions to the most pressing global problems and stand guard of the interests of peace and security. It is designed to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, ensure compliance with international law and improve living conditions for people. Ultimately, these are the high ideals that the United Nations has been created to attain.
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