Tensions in Syria continued to escalate throughout 2019. Hostilities were stepped up again throughout the country and the conflict’s total toll approached a million. A new wave of Syrian refugees swept through Turkey and flooded Europe. Russia blocked US and British resolutions on enforcing peace on Damascus in the UN Security Council nine times.
Eventually, the Western countries accused Moscow of deliberately subverting the Security Council work. Quoting UN General Assembly Resolution 377 (V) in her speech at a regular session of the UN General Assembly in the fall, British Prime Minister Theresa May categorically demanded that the Security Council be declared unable to fulfil its duties due to differences between its permanent members and that the “humanitarian disaster” in Syria be submitted for consideration by the General Assembly.
This initiative had an unexpected continuation. In January 2020 France and Mexico suggested that the permanent members of the Security Council “voluntarily” restrict the use of the veto on issues related to crimes against humanity and genocide. French President Emanuel Macron announced that Paris was ready to be an example of a great power with a “responsible attitude” towards its international commitments.
The Big Three – Russia, the US and China – resolutely rejected the ultimatum but this proposal quickly won the support of the vast majority of UN members. In response to the categorical rejection of any restrictions of their rights by the Big Three, the majority urged, in accordance with Article 109 of the Charter, the convocation of the UN General Conference with a view to revising the Charter and cancelling the right of veto of the Security Council permanent members.
Starting the campaign on his reelection, President Donald Trump announced in March the decision to drastically reduce the US contribution to the UN budget and UN peacemaking missions. After short-term deliberations, Russia and China followed suit with the reservation that they would be willing to resume funding in full if the initiators of the General Conference stop the blackmail. France and the United Kingdom denounced the decision of the Big Three but deemed it impossible to substantially increase their financial commitments to the UN.
Thus, the UN budget was cut by almost a quarter, and the UN began to be drawn into the worst financial crisis since its founding. The funding issue became a battlefield for a desperate bureaucratic struggle for depleted financial resources. Cases of outrageous financial abuse and dysfunction were revealed during this struggle. Right-wing populists in the US and Europe held street protests, demanding that their governments take control of the “fat cats” from the UN office in New York.
After many delays, the UN General Conference finally convened in August 2020. The session began just as a sharp escalation in tensions in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and eastern Ukraine flared up. Israeli air strikes on Iranian facilities in Syria eventually led to a full-scale war between the Israeli-Saudi coalition and Iran. As a result, the Strait of Hormuz was completely blocked.
The shutdown of this major transport artery and the war-triggered turbulence of the Shiite minorities in the Gulf countries jolted world oil prices to nearly $200 per barrel. The global economy experienced its worst shock since the start of the century, and a change of government took place in many countries. Anti-globalist, protectionist and nationalist attitudes gained strength throughout the world.
In Berlin, the mainstream political parties managed to reign in the Alternative for Germany party, albeit with difficulty. However, the National Front led by Marine Le Pen came to power in Paris after an early presidential election. One of the first decisions of the new French leader was to completely renounce the position of her predecessor on UN reforms: France withdrew its proposals on the “voluntary” restriction of the right to veto by the permanent members of the Security Council, thereby turning the Big Three into the Big Four.
The Security Council permanent members failed to arrive at a common position on any conflict. Nevertheless, they used their friends and supporters among the UN member states to complicate and drag on the work of the General Conference as much as possible, and to put off any progress on revising the Charter, The world entered 2021 with a continuation of the same heated debate in New York and without any prospect for compromise.
In February 2021 the split between the participants in the General Conference into “moderates” and “radicals” took final shape. The group of “moderates” led by Germany and Japan proposed partial renunciation of the right to veto for the permanent Security Council members and the transfer of some Security Council authority to the General Assembly. The “radicals” led by Venezuela and Zimbabwe demanded the elimination of the Security Council altogether, and the transfer of all of its authority and rights to the General Assembly and converting the UN into a mechanism for the global redistribution of resources from the golden billion to the poorest countries.
As distinct from the rightwing populists in Europe and the US, the leftwing populists in Asia, Africa and Latin America didn’t limit themselves to rallies and demonstrations: starting this summer, there have been continuous attacks on UN peacemakers and UN missions. By way of reply, the Security Council permanent members refused to make any financial contributions to the UN budget based on the initiative of President Trump, who was successfully reelected in November of the previous year. As a result, the UN staff was completely paralyzed by the beginning of 2022.
In March 2022, American neoconservatives led by the ill but still active Senator John McCain demanded that the UN be disbanded and replaced with the global Democratic League that would include the United States, its closest allies and also other “true democracies.” Newly-appointed US Secretary of State John Bolton called this idea “fairly interesting” and “deserving of attention.” His British counterpart Boris Johnson said in his typical expressive style that one of the UN founders, Winston Churchill, believed that this was exactly the format that was appropriate for the UN. In turn, French President Marine Le Pen announced that she would not allow the UN to be converted into an Anglo-Saxon project. Within days, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported a statement out of Beijing on plans to establish an alternative global organization under the title “Community of Common Destiny.”
In the meantime, tensions in the world continued to escalate. Hostilities in the Middle East were gaining momentum. During the summer, the war was joined by Syria, Iraq and Egypt. De facto cessation of UN peacemaking operations led to the resumption of conflicts in places where international peacekeepers were formerly deployed– in Africa, the Middle East, in the Balkans and other areas. At the same time, international terrorism was on the rise – a series of major acts of terror took place in European countries.
A new, lethal strain of the Ebola virus was identified in central Africa. The mounting chaos in various UN agencies did not allow the international community to respond promptly to the new challenge, and the epidemic began spreading throughout the African continent.
On August 1, 2022, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg declared that due to the inability of the UN to carry out effective peacekeeping operations, its security functions were being transferred to NATO as the leading, legitimate and most effective military-political alliance of the 21st century. He also called on the NATO countries to increase their defense spending to 5 percent of their respective GNPs and to reintroduce a universal draft in its member-states.
Russia and China refused to recognize NATO’s legitimacy as a peacekeeping organization, and even less so to take part in operations under its leadership. By September 15, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping established a bilateral military-political alliance.
Under the still valid UN Charter, the regular election for Secretary-General was to be held in late 2022. However, under the circumstances, the election and the related processes were shelved. On the evening of December 31, 2022, Antonio Guterres who had aged badly and was emotionally devastated, made his famous farewell speech in the cold and half-empty hall of the General Assembly. His last words were: “I am tired, so I’m leaving… but remember this day – the day humanity committed the worst, and probably last, mistake in its history.” On January 1, 2023, the United Nations ceased to exist.
There were still two years, eight months and 14 days left before the outbreak of the third world war.
First published in Valdai Discussion Club.