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International Law

Legal framework of the Caspian Sea and the interests of Iran

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Authors: Javad Heirannia and Omid Shokri Kalehsar*

In international law, the concept of power is inevitably alongside with the principles of the law.

In other words, since there is no judiciary reference in the international judiciary conflicts, the law is affected by the concept of power in international system. There are different opinions about the relationship between power and law.

Different legal schools of thought differ in their views towards the relativity of power and rights.

Realists believe that power is the main core of international law and takes the main role in the basic norms and principles of international law and relations. So; law should be in compliant with national interests and accordingly it takes prominence. Contrary to realists, scholars from the Yale University Law School do not accept power as the core of international law and emphasize global social commonalities instead of the traditional notion of power. But in general, we cannot ignore the role of power in creating international rules among governments.

Therefore, due to the importance of power in politics, when we want to determine Caspian Sea legal status, at the same time that we pay attention to previous legal contracts, including the treaties of 1921 and 1940 between Iran, Russia and the former Soviet Union, we have to also consider the political conditions. According to the text of an agreement between the presidents of Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, signed on August 5 in Aktau, Kazakhstan, the five countries agreed on issues such as military, security, shipping and economic matters, but delineating seabed and sub-seabed postponed to bilateral agreements between countries. However, the announcement of the signing of an agreement between the government of Iran and the other four countries after nearly three decades of the collapse of the Soviet Union Led to the critical reactions of many Iranians, especially those saying that Iran had enjoyed 50% share of Caspian Sea during the former Soviet Union.

Russo-Persian Treaty of Friendship (1921), Treaty of Commerce and Navigation (1940)

The 1921 treaty is one of the agreements between Iran and Russia on the Caspian Sea. According to the treaty, the Caspian Sea is a common sea between Iran and Russia, both enjoying equal rights of free navigation. According to Article 40 of the treaty, 10 miles were considered as an exclusive fishing zone and the rest was shared between Iran and Russia. Of course, in this treaty, Iran was requested to surrender fishing privilege to Russia to help Russian livelihoods, and the privilege was awarded to them in 1925 for 25 years. But Iran’s Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq, did not extend the second period of 25 years, although the Soviets continued fishing in all areas and waters of the Caspian, but Iran was usually fishing only in the coastal zone. This continued, and although the fishing privilege for the Russians was not renewed, Russia and Iran both operated at the sea.

Before signing 1921 contract, only the Russians could have military naval forces in the Caspian on the basis of Treaty of Turkmenchay and Treaty of Gulistan, the privilege of which was awarded to Russians by two above-mentioned treaties. In fact, after the oppressive and one-sided Treaty of Turkmenchay and Gulistan between Iran and Tsardom in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, 1921 contract between Iran and the Russian government was the first formal agreement with almost equal status in the Caspian Sea. But the 1940 contract was a little different from the 1921 in which the Russians set to be in a higher position in the contract clinched during Stalin and Iran, the difference of which is totally clear by contrasting them. Parts of the 1940 treaty were on commercial and customs rights between the two countries and other clauses were about the shipping rights of the two sides over the Caspian Sea. The position of Iran in this contract was slightly better than the one in what were signed during the Tsardom of the Russian era.

Dividing the seabed and sub-seabed; ignoring Iran’s viewpoints

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the founding of the Russian Federation, three other new countries around the Caspian Sea were created from the Soviet heritage, including Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Although Iran and Russia at this stage were set for the Caspian Sea to treat a shared one, the Russians took a dual stance in this case. In this regard, Russia from one side stroke a bilateral deal with Kazakhstan in 1988 dividing the northern seabed and its resources and from the other side clinched similar contract with the Republic of Azerbaijan. It led to Iran’s protest maintaining that because both countries enjoy the joint ownership of the Caspian Sea, then any decisions have to be taken jointly in this regard.

According to the joint ownership principle, resources are considered jointly and therefore would have to be divided equally based on an agreement signed by all the Caspian coastal countries. Hence, what the Russians did in dividing Caspian seabed and its resources bilaterally ran contrary to joint ownership principle. In fact, when we consider the Caspian Sea as a common sea, all the resources of this sea are divided equally among all members. Therefore, the Russians’ attempts to conclude bilateral agreements and the division of the continental shelf is contrary to the being common sea of the Caspian.

Under Mohammad Khatami, the then president of Iran, it was proposed that the Caspian Sea be divided equally having 20% share by each coastal country, but four others did not accept the offer, after which Iran declared that it will not allow any interference by other countries in 20% of its adjacent waters So, the Russian vessel left waters of Iran. Since that time, Iran has emphasized its 20% share, but Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan were dissatisfied with this situation, especially in the Alborz field with oil resources, making it a dispute and the disagreement has prolonged so far.

After Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement on the Caspian Sea, Iran declared to continue governing its 20% share of waters as long as its share with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan is not determined well.

After the meeting, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated: “There are still issues in the southern part of the sea between Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan. We had good agreements with Azerbaijan that are in operation, but some of these issues have not been resolved yet. At the recent Caspian Summit, some serious issues concerning Iran and many other countries were resolved the most important of which was security in the Caspian Sea.

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The talks between Iran and Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on the Caspian Sea have been Unsuccessful. Recently, Russia has announced a new plan with coastal states accepting it with the exception ofIran. According to the Russian plan, 15 miles would be considered as the territorial sea and 10 more miles as the exclusive fishing zone. The surface water would be for shared shipping, but seabed and sub-seabed resources are divided according to the 1998 contract.

In Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement, Caspian Sea navigation was calculated according to the Convention on the Law of the Sea(1982). According to the Convention, 15 miles considered as coastal waters and 10 miles as the exclusive fishing zone putting the rest as a common area. This means that the sovereign right of Iran in the Caspian will be less than 13%.

Because the Caspian Sea doesn’t have any link to open waters, it is in fact considered as a great lake the rules of which are regulated on the basis of the coastal states multilateral agreements.

Based on Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement, the baseline of the Caspian Sea has been identified; therefore, it is impossible for Iran to determine its share of the seabed and sub-seabed resources in upcoming negotiations. Also, since the deeper part of the Caspian Sea is located in the southern part, the Iranian side, Iran’s share of internal waters will be much less. In the other words, Iran’s baseline in Caspian Sea will not be so distant from the coast, something that can bring about security consequences for the country.

Sharing seabed and sub-seabed in accordance with bilateral agreements among other countries expect for Iranis detrimental to Tehran. However, when the rule over a sea is deemed as joint ownership, its mineral resources, oil and gas are to be taken into consideration fully and then the achieved interests are divided among 5 countries. According to the Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, the areas beyond the territorial waters and exclusive fishing zone of each country are to be known as a common or joint zone. In this case, the use of seabed resources in the Caspian Sea remains unclear.

This is especially true in the southern part of the Caspian Sea, because the fate of the resources in the northern part of the Caspian Sea is determined in the bi-and-trilateral agreements of Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. So, the existing disputes are only among Iran with two countries including Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. As a result, declaring the area beyond the territorial waters and the exclusive fishing zone as a joint ownership means destroying the sovereignty of Iran over the energy field of the Alborz in the Caspian Sea. Based on bilateral agreements signed between Russians with Kazakhstan and then with Azerbaijan and also between Kazakhstan with Turkmenistan in 1998, seabed and sub-seabed resources were divided between themselves, making the share of Iran negligible.

Russia, in fact, by signing the above bilateral contracts violated the joint ownership agreed upon with Iran and the case ended in Tehran’s detriment. Since the presidency of Khatami, Iran has emphasized that it has 20% share in Caspian Sea and announced not to allow others to do any kind of activity in its territorial waters. That’s why the Azerbaijani oil operation in the joint oil field with Iran was stopped. While before Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement, Iran rejected the joint exploitation with Azerbaijan, Tehran approved 50-50 division of the oil field of Alborz with the country in this convention.

One of the criticisms leveled against Aktau convention is that the determination of the share of each Caspian coastal state in the seabed and sub- seabed and put to future bilateral negotiations.

In other words, the convention only discusses surface water and since the convention has determined the baseline, Iran cannot determine its share in seabed and sub-seabed.

Of course, the Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement calls for a revision of the previous bilateral agreements between 4other Caspian Sea states, which can be in Iran’s favor. The review not to be based on the length of the beaches, since the contracts of 1921 and 1940 were not based on the length of the coasts, but all the sea was reckoned as common. Therefore, Iran’s share in Seabed and sub- Seabed resources should be more than what is now mentioned in the Aktau convention. Accordingly, if there is a review in the agreement, it can make a revision in Iran’s right and share in the Caspian Sea. While, due to the ordinary practice that making any decision is based on bi-and-multilateral negotiations, bilateral agreements clinched between some coastal countries have led to the violation of Iran’s rights in the Caspian Sea.

“Taking dual role, unfriendly and sensitive-inducing of Russia in the issue as well as sharing method of seabed based on bilateral agreements with new adjacent neighbors is one of the most important reasons Iran encounters a crucial problem in the Caspian Sea whereof”, Mohsen Aminzadeh, former deputy for foreign minister of Iran during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, believes. In reaction to Russia on dividing the resources of the Caspian sub-seabed without any coordination with Tehran, Iran announced that the final acceptance of the Caspian Sea enjoying joint ownership in the legal regime is conditional to determine the Caspian sub-seabed resources. This is while Iran for the first time formally abandoned the condition at the second meeting of the Caspian Sea in Tehran accepting the joint ownership of everything in the Caspian Sea but the sub-seabed tacitly.

Iran also accepted the crossing of the pipeline and energy transmission through the Caspian Sea in the Aktau agreement. This is while the crossing from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan could have been done through Iran instead. Consequently, from one hand, Iran lost this opportunity and on the other hand, accepting the crossing of the pipeline through the Caspian Sea will have environmental risks. Regarding security issues, The Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement says that the Caspian Sea is not a military one, resolving Iran and Russia’s concerns over the presence of NATO in the sea. Of course, the very issue was in the previous treaties, but it was discussed more extensively in the Kazakhstan Convention. So, foreign powers cannot run for any military and naval bases on the Caspian shore and making any threats against other coastal states.

Prior to the Aktau agreement, When Iran had any disagreement over the Caspian Sea, it relied on both historical background and the 1921 treaties with Russia and 1940 treaties with the Soviet Union. Iran has always put emphasis on this historical background making its status one of two historical claimants of the Caspian Sea. Iran ignored these two historical contracts in Aktau convention by giving them up in its text.

Earlier, during the formal declaration of Tehran Summit, being the first joint document of the five leaders, no reference was made to the above-mentioned historical background and contracts.

The President of Kazakhstan formally stated in his speech that the previous treaties over the Caspian Sea have become null and void making it deemed accepted indirectly by Iran’s silence.

The newly independent coastal states are not interested in the historical background of the Caspian Sea, so they are trying to forgo the historical claimants of the two countries -Iran and the Soviet Union. They are more willing to Institutionalize the trends of the five countries instead of the historical background, but this doesn’t justify Iran’s withdrawal from its substantiated claims on the Caspian Sea.

“Iran could at least register its own stance alone concerning the historical background of its claims on the Caspian Sea in Tehran Summit putting emphasis on it. Therefore, it is really unclear why such a negligence was made in spite of the great importance of these backgrounds over Iran’s endless legal disputes over the Caspian Sea.” Mohsen Aminzadeh, former deputy for foreign minister of Iran during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, believes.

*Omid Shokri Kalehsar, Senior Energy Security Analyst

Ph.D Student of International relations in Islamic Azad niversity،Science and Research Branch (Iran) Visiting Fellow of the Persian Gulf Department in the Center for Middle East Studies

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International Law

UN at 75: The Necessity of Having a Stronger & More Effective United Nations

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October 24, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. In this context, this article investigates the necessity of having a stronger UN for the benefits of the world’s people. In fact, if one looks at the past, the UN came up in 1945 in response to the Second World War for a more stable, secured, and peaceful world. And the UN has been successful to a larger extent to that goals and objectives, many argue. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General for instance, wrote that ‘The United Nations, with their rules and institutions, are at the heart of the international system. They encourage States to prevent or settle disputes peacefully. The United Nations speaks for the voiceless, feeds the hungry, protects the displaced, combats organized crime and terrorism, and fights disease across the globe’ (Annan 2015).

If one looks at the history, after the Second World War, there are not so many wars on a large scale or conflicts except some bilateral Wars like Vietnam War or Iraq invasion in Kuwait or US invasion in Afghanistan or Iraq or Syrian crisis or Rohingya crisis. One can claim that the present world is more stable and peaceful than the world before the Second World War. Against this backdrop, Ramesh Thakur rightly observes, ‘On balance, the world has been a better and safer place with the UN than would have been the case without it (Thakur 2009:2). And it will not be wrong to claim that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is playing a crucial role in this regard, focusing both on ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ security issues. Hard security issues ranges from nuclear threat to international terrorism and soft security issues include human security issues to human rights to international criminal justice and international sanctions (For details see, Thakur, 2009).

The UN is not only concerned about international peace and security but also concerned about economic and social issues. There are several UN organizations e.g. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Food Programme (WFP) or the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) which is involved in socio-economic issues that impact millions of people globally.

First, one can look at the role of the UN General Assembly to understand the necessity of having a more robust UN. It is the core organ of the UN. It is the only organ in which all the member countries are represented all of the time. The role of the UN includes to pass resolutions and to create subsidiary agencies to deal with particular issues (Barkin 2006: 58). UN General Assembly works as a forum where the world’s states meet and discuss the pressing global problems. In this context, Eleanor Albert, Leo Schwartz, and Alexandra Abell write that ‘Since its inception seventy-one years ago, the United Nations General Assembly has been a forum for lofty declarations, sometimes audacious rhetoric, and rigorous debate over the world’s most vexing issues, from poverty and development to peace and security’ (Albert et al. 2016). However, in September 2015, the Assembly agreed on a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, contained in the outcome document of the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda (resolution 70/1). Notably, the implementation of SDG goals will have broader implications for the world’s people.

In addition, the Assembly may also take action in cases of a threat to the peace, breach of peace or act of aggression, when the Security Council has failed to act owing to the negative vote of a permanent member. In such instances, according to its “Uniting for Peace” resolution of 3 November 1950, the Assembly may consider the matter immediately and recommend to its Members collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Second, one should also look at the role of the Security Council to make the case of having a stronger United Nations. The UN Security Council is the most powerful security-related organization in contemporary world politics. As the Charter of the United Nations says: ‘the Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security (Article 24). The Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of the settlement. In some cases, the Security Council can resort to imposing sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security’

In contemporary world politics, the UN Security Council is the most potent security-related organization because it is the only recognized and legitimate international organ which deals with international peace and security. In this regard, Justin Morris and Nicholas J. Wheeler claim that ‘The United Nations Security Council is at the heart of the world’s collective security system’ (Morris and Wheeler 2007: 214). The UNSC play role by passing Resolutions regarding maintaining international peace and security, determining threats to peace and security and finally undertaking peacekeeping operations.

Decisions made by the Security Council are known as the Security Council resolutions. Examples of Security Council resolutions include Resolution 794 (1992), which authorized military intervention in Somalia on humanitarian ground, or the resolution 1325 (2000), which called on states to recognize the role of women in peace, and security and post-conflict situations. In the UN Security Council Working method Handbook, it is noted that the UNSC has adopted over 2,000 resolutions relating to conflict and post-conflict situations around the globe. Another report, titled Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council noted that between 2008 and 2009, the Security Council adopted  35 out of 65 resolutions in 2008 (53.8 %), and 22 out of 47 resolutions in 2009 under Chapter VII (46. 8 %) concerning threats to the peace, breaches of the peace or acts of aggression. The report also notes about several UN resolutions authorizing United Nations peacekeeping missions. In connection with the mission deployed in the Central African Republic and Chad, the Council approved the deployment of a United Nations military component for the first time in 2009 to follow up operations by the European Union in Chad and Central African Republic (EUFORChad/CAR). The Council continued to authorize enforcement action for United Nations peacekeeping missions in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), Darfur/Sudan (UNAMID), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), Lebanon (UNIFIL) and Sudan (UNMIS). This increased number of UNSC Resolutions dealing with international peace and security reinforces its legitimacy and power as a security organization.

The critical question that comes into the forefront is how much UNSC can implement its mandates neutrally or independently in terms of maintaining world peace and security. The critiques bring the example of Iraq war (2003) where UNSC ‘faces a crisis of legitimacy because of its inability to constrain the unilaterally inclined hegemonic United States.’ (Morris and Wheeler 2007:214). Another critical question is the role of UNSC in resolving the long-standing Syrian crisis or the Rohingya refugee crisis.

It is undeniable the fact that UNSC cannot function with its full potentialities due to the challenges and limitations it faces because ‘in their pursuit of raisons d’état, states use whatever institutions are available to serve their interests’ (Weiss 2003: 151). And here comes the politics in the Security Council which is highly manifested in the past. Against this backdrop, Weiss correctly observes, ‘the politics of the UN system- not only the principal organs of UN like Security Council or General Assembly is highly politicized but even ‘technical’ organizations, for instance, World Health Organization or the Universal Postal Union continue to reflect the global division between the so-called wealthy, industrialized North and the less advantaged, developing South’ (Weiss 2009: 271).

It is, therefore, states and particularly the P5 want to use the Security Council as a means to uphold its interest. Gareth Evans rightly points out ‘for most of its history the Security Council has been a prisoner of great power manoeuvring…’ (Evans 2009:Xi).  Hence, using veto by the P5 remains a significant challenge for the UNSC to work in its fullest potentials. In the recent case of the Rohingya refugee crisis, the UNSC is unable to take adequate measures due to veto power used by China and Russia. However, the UNSC is responsible for maintaining world peace and security.

The bottomline is that there is no alternative to having a stronger and more effective UN because it is the only hope for millions of people around the world. The UN is an inevitable international organization in this turbulent world despite its criticism or limitations.Thus, it becomes essential for the P5 nations to think about the broader benefits of the world’s people instead of their narrowly defined interest in the case of using veto power. And the world also needs to acknowledge that the UN reform has been a reality to ensure the neutrality and objectivity of the United Nations for a more peaceful, stable, secured world.

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The United Nations and the Neglected Conflict of Kashmir

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The principle of ‘right of self-determination’ and its applicability to the 72-year-old Kashmir conflict needs to be considered during the 75th session of the Fourth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly that is taking place between October 8 to November 10, 2020 at its headquarters in New York. The Committee will discuss and deliberate the issues related to international conflicts and decolonization. What I do hope to offer is an unstarry-eyed view of the fate of self-determination in Kashmir; and, the indispensability of convincing the United Nations that international peace and security would be strengthened, not weakened, by resolving the Kashmir conflict to the satisfaction of all parties concerned..

The self-determination of peoples is a basic principle of the United Nation Charter, which has been reaffirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and applied countless times to the settlement of international disputes.

The concept seems to be as old as Government itself and was the basis of French and American revolutions. In 1916, President Wilson stated that self-determination is not a mere phrase. He said that it is an imperative principle of action and included it in the famous 14-point charter. This gave a prominence to the principle. Self-determination as conceived by Wilson was an imprecise amalgamation of several strands of thought, some long associated in his mind with the notion of “self-determination,” others hatched as a result or wartime developments, but all imbued with a general spirit of democracy.

Self- determination is a principle that has been developed in philosophic thought and practice for the last several hundred years. It is an idea that has caused people throughout the world to rise up and shed the chains of oppressive governments at great risk.

Finally, in 1945 the establishment of the UN gave a new dimension to the principle of self-determination.  It was made one of the objectives, which the UN would seek to achieve, along with equal rights of all nations. Article 1.2 of the Charter of the Untied Nations reads: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”

From 1952 onwards, the General Assembly of the UN adopted a series of resolutions proclaiming the right to self-determination. The two most important of these are resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 and resolution 2625 (XXV) of 24 October 1970. Resolution 1514 was seen almost exclusively as part of process of decolonization. 1514 is entitled: Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.”

International Court of Justice considered the several resolutions on decolonization process and noted:  “The subsequent development of International Law in regard to non-self governing territories as enshrined in the Charter of the UN made the principle of self-determination applicable to all of them.”  This opinion establishes the self-determination as the basic principle for the process of de-colonization.

The principle of self-determination in modern times can be defined as the right of peoples to determine their own political status and pursue their own economic, social and cultural policies.  Self-determination in its literal meaning or at a terminological level also implies the right [of a people] to express itself to organize in whatever way it wants. A people must be free to express their will without interference or threat of interference from a controlling authority. This includes alien domination, foreign occupation and colonial rule.

Although, the applicability of the principle of the self-determination to the specific case of Jammu and Kashmir has been explicitly recognized by the United Nations. It was upheld equally by India and Pakistan when the Kashmir dispute was brought before the Security Council. Since, on the establishment of India and Pakistan as sovereign states, Jammu and Kashmir was not part of the territory of either, the two countries entered into an agreement to allow its people to exercise their right of self-determination under impartial auspices and in conditions free from coercion from either side. The agreement is embodied in the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, explicitly accepted by both Governments. It is binding on both Governments and no allegation of non-performance of any of its provisions by either side can render it inoperative.

It is apparent from the record of the Security Council that India articulated the principle, accepted the practical shape the Security Council gave to it and freely participated in negotiations regarding the modalities involved. However, when developments inside Jammu & Kashmir made her doubt her chances of winning the plebiscite, she changed her stand and pleaded that she was no longer bound by the agreement. Of course, she deployed ample arguments to justify the somersault. But even though the arguments were of a legal or quasi-legal nature, she rejected a reference to the World Court to pronounce on their merits. This is how the dispute became frozen with calamitous consequences for Kashmir most of all, with heavy cost for Pakistan and with none too happy results for India itself.

By all customary moral and legal yardsticks, 23 million Kashmiris from both sides of the Ceasefire Line (CFL) enjoy a right to self-determination. Kashmir’s legal history entitles it to self-determination from Indian domination every bit as much as Eritrea’s historical independence entitled it to self-determination from Ethiopian domination.

India’s gruesome human rights violations in Kashmir also militate in favor of self-determination every bit as much as Yugoslavia’s human rights violations and ethnic cleansing created a right to self-determination in Bosnia and Kosovo. Kashmir’s history of social and religious tranquility further bolsters its claim to self-determination every bit as much as East Timor’s history of domestic peace before Indonesia’s annexation in 1975 entitled it to self-determination in 1999.                                   

If law and morality are overwhelmingly on the side of Kashmiri self-determination, then why has that quest been thwarted for 72 years? The answer is self-evident: the military might of India. India is too militarily powerful, including a nuclear arsenal, and too economically mesmerizing to expect the United States, the United Nations, NATO, or the European Union to intervene. The United States is reluctant to exert moral suasion or pressure to prod India because it covets more India’s alluring economic markets and collaboration in fighting global terrorism.  Further, the size and wealth of the Indian lobby in the United States dwarfs the corresponding lobbies supporting Kashmir.  

The world powers need to understand that there is no way the dispute can be settled once and for all except in harmony with the people’s will, and there is no way the people’s will can be ascertained except through an impartial vote. Secondly, there are no insuperable obstacles to the setting up of a plebiscite administration in Kashmir under the aegis of the United Nations. The world organization has proved its ability, even in the most forbidding circumstances, to institute an electoral process under its supervision and control and with the help of a neutral peace‑keeping force. The striking example of this is Namibia, which was peacefully brought to independence after seven decades of occupation and control by South Africa; East Timor and Southern Sudan, which got independence only through the intervention of the United Nations. Thirdly, as Sir Owen Dixon, the United Nations Representative, envisaged seven decades ago, the plebiscite can be so regionalized that none of the different zones of the state will be forced to accept an outcome contrary to its wishes.

In conclusion, a sincere and serious effort towards a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute must squarely deal with the realities of the situation and fully respond to the people’s rights involved in it. Indeed, any process that ignores the wishes of the people of Kashmir and is designed to sidetrack the United Nations will not only prove to be an exercise in futility but can also cause incalculable human and political damage.

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UN anniversary’s gloomy takeaways

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On its 75th anniversary and amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations has for the first time convened world leaders mainly in an online format to seek action and solutions for a world in crisis.

The UNO’s predecessor, the League of Nations, wrapped up its work with the outbreak of World War 2, but the further the start of the present United Nations slides back in history, the more skeptical assessments of its performance are being heard today. How come?

The United Nations Organization was created by the victorious nations shortly after the end of the Second World War, but the idea of ​​creating a new international organization tasked with maintaining global peace and security was actually floated by members of the anti-Hitler coalition even before the war was over. During their August 14, 1941 meeting at the British naval station Argentia (Newfoundland), US President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill inked the Atlantic Charter, which defined the two countries’ goals in the war against Nazi Germany, and outlined the first sketches of the post-war world order. The Soviet Union joined the declaration on September 24 of that same year. On January 1, 1942, representatives of 26 Allied countries endorsed the Atlantic Charter and signed the United Nations Declaration. Welcomed as the idea of creating a new organization was by everyone, however, there still were numerous disagreements regarding its tasks, goals and powers.

At a conference held in Moscow on October 19-30, 1943, the foreign ministers of the USSR, the US and Great Britain (Vyacheslav Molotov, Cordell Hull and Anthony Eden), signed the Declaration of Four Nations on General Security (it was also signed by China’s ambassador to the USSR Fu Bingchang), where the parties pledged to fast-track the creation of an international organization to maintain peace and security. The final agreement on the creation of the United Nations Organization was reached in March 1945 during the Yalta Conference by the leaders of the three Allied Powers – Josef Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

It was established that the UN would be based on the principle of unanimity of the great powers – permanent members of the Security Council with a veto right. Harry Truman, who succeeded Franklin Roosevelt, who died in April 1945, was openly critical of the agreement, but during a conference in San Francisco, where Soviet and US representatives locked horns over a number of issues pertaining to the UN Charter, the Soviet position prevailed.  The sides eventually reached a compromise whereby the UN General Assembly could discuss any issues, but did not have the right to take decisions binding on the UN member states.

On June 26, 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco to sign the UN Charter. On October 24, 1945, the Soviet Union became the 29th state to have submitted the instrument of ratification, thus securing the necessary number of votes for the Charter’s entry into force. Since 1948, October 24 has been marked as United Nations Day.

The status of the United Nations Organization, paid for by tens of millions of lives perished in World War II, went unquestioned for quite some time, ensuring for more than half a century peace in Europe and a relatively predictable situation globally. Over time, however, even the most durable world order is bound to be put to a test.

At the turn of the 1990s, the bipolar system of international relations and the Cold War were replaced by a new world order based on the political and economic predominance of the United States and its closest allies. By historical standards, however, this period proved pretty short-lived since the world is too complicated to unconditionally kowtow to the principles of the Washington Consensus. By the close of the 20th century and the start of the 21st, new centers of power and integration projects began to emerge, initiated by countries in Eurasia and Latin America.

Serious doubts about the reliability of the existing system of international security appeared already in 1999 with NATO’s enlargement to the east to incorporate Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic – the first such process since the end of WW2. In that very same year, the forces of the North Atlantic Alliance, sidestepping the UN Security Council, launched bombing raids against Yugoslavia, thus throwing in question the entire system of post-war treaties. Since then, almost every US-initiated military operation in the world has been conducted illegitimately and classified by the UN Security Council as an act of aggression and condemned by both Russia and China, which insist that any use of force in international relations, be it political, economic or military, should come exclusively as a result of consensus of all members of the Security Council.

The veto right by a permanent member of the Security Council to block any decision, even if it is approved by all other members, remains the backbone of the entire system of international security. Everyone understands this, but not everyone is ready to come to terms with it.

The UN’s presence in the world after the end of the inter-bloc confrontation has significantly increased with its mandate transcending military aspects and now including humanitarian and social issues.

However, the world is facing the growing threat of numerous conflicts flaring up that can’t be resolved without a consensual decision by the key UN member states which, in turn, has proved to be extremely hard to achieve. It’s not just about the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, as even the content of international documents is being disputed now. Who would possibly object to the need to combat the activities of terrorist and extremist organizations? And still, practice shows that the term “terrorism” carries a different meaning for European countries and, for example, those in the Middle East. As a result, UN Security Council resolutions on the settlement of contemporary conflicts in this region are actually ignored. Civil wars in Libya and Syria, as well as the extremely difficult situation in Iraq, caused to a large extent by the interference of the United States and its allies, as well as by the activities of network extremists, have added to the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Adding to this is the rising threat posed by drug and cyber terrorism.

With the situation being as it is, the United Nations is facing a growing wave of criticism. The organization has been criticized before – in 1993 the UN mission in Somalia fell though, and in 1994, the UN failed to prevent genocide in Rwanda, stop hostilities in Congo and the civil war in the Balkans, which led to an armed intervention by NATO. The actions by representatives of the UN and organizations it helped create in the Middle East often lack their declared impartiality.

While during the Cold War era decision-making mechanisms in the international arena were based on the decisions by the Yalta and Potsdam conferences of 1945, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and a raft of arms control treaties, after the period of confrontation ended, so did the period of transparent “rules of the game” in world politics. Moreover, many non-state actors have emerged and now wield serious financial and political influence. Nevertheless, the UN remains the only organization that prevents the existing structure of global security from falling apart in the extremely difficult circumstances of this day and age.

There have been growing demands to bring the UN and its Security Council in line with modern-day realities. During the 75 years of the organization’s existence, the number of its member states has increased from 50 to 193, as have the shortcomings of many of its agencies. Many criticize the UN’s peacekeeping operations as haphazard, extremely selective and prone to double standards. The organization has been repeatedly called out for being in a financial crisis. Many developing countries (states of the “global South”) are trying to limit the veto power enjoyed by the permanent members of the Security Council and are demanding more equitable geographical representation in the Council. Developed countries such as Germany, Japan, Brazil and India also seek the status of permanent members of the UN Security Council. They propose to expand the Council to 25 members, with two permanent seats reserved for Asia and Africa and one each for Latin America and Western Europe.

In 2017, US President Donald Trump came up with a plan to reform the UN, proposing, among other things, to optimize the organization’s expenses and get more return for every dollar invested in it. Well, by the efficiency of the UN’s work Trump apparently means decisions that would serve America’s best interests.

Washington’s tactic regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program is very indicative here. In 2015, Iran and the 5 + 1 group of states (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, as well as Germany) signed the so-called Iran nuclear deal, according to which Tehran refused to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for a gradual lifting of international sanctions. However, in 2018, Washington pulled out of the accord and announced new sanctions against the Islamic Republic. On August 20, 2020, the United States sent a letter to the UN Security Council announcing the launch of the so-called sanctions snapback process whereby any signatory to the 2015 deal could re-impose sanctions against Iran if it found that Tehran was not fulfilling its obligations under the agreement. The idea was simple: it was enough to submit a request to the UN Security Council to launch the snapback mechanism to force the Security Council to raise the issue of continued implementation of the entire Iranian nuclear deal. The Americans would then use their veto power and the document would simply cease to exist. This didn’t happen though as all other permanent members of the Security Council ignored the US request. Therefore, following the necessary 30-day pause, on September 21, the US imposed unilateral sanctions against Tehran. A paradoxical situation ensued: de jure, no sanctions exist for most countries, but de facto, Washington feels free to punish anyone who dares to violate these “nonexistent” restrictions and continues to cooperate with Tehran pursuant to Security Council Resolution 2231.

The majority of the permanent members of the Security Council want to more or less keep in place the UN’s current decision-making mechanisms, which give them obvious privileges while simultaneously allowing them to solve the main task the UN was originally created for, i.e. the prevention of major wars between great powers. Besides, no comprehensive reform of the organization appears likely since there are no criteria all member countries would agree with. Therefore, despite all the critical barbs, the organization will continue in its classical form, at least for now. Meanwhile, the world finds itself in a state of complete uncertainty caught between the remaining fragments of a failed attempt to build a unipolar system and institutions inherited from the second half of the 20th century.

Russia’s position on the UN reform remains fairly balanced. Moscow believes that changes should not affect two key provisions – the approval of the proposed plan by the overwhelming majority of the participating countries, and the preservation of the Security Council’s prerogatives, including the right of veto.

Russia stands for the development of the UN’s peacekeeping potential, which it believes is not fully in line with the tasks currently facing the organization, and for wider cross-border social and humanitarian cooperation necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The way out of the socio-economic crisis caused by this epidemic will be long and extremely difficult, therefore it is imperative to stop dividing countries into “us” and “them,” and start developing all the necessary mechanisms of cooperation. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov outlined these priorities in his speech at the 75th anniversary session of the UN General Assembly on behalf of the CSTO member states.

“The fate of the United Nations is in the hands of its member states. Just like in 1945, we need to cast aside our differences and come together for the sake of delivering on common objectives, based on equitable dialogue and mutual respect for one another’s interests. The UN offers all the necessary conditions to this effect,” Lavrov emphasized.

From our partner International Affairs

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