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The UN Charter must be the heart and soul of any new peace architecture

by Michael von der Schulenburg
The Ukrainian war will also end one day, and we will have to strive again for a new peace order to "save future generations from the scourge of war." A peaceful and fair world for the soon to be 10 billion inhabitants of the earth, 9 billion from the 'Global South', must be built on the principles of the UN Charter. The UN Charter must therefore be at the center of every peace movement.
The UN Charter must be the heart and soul of any new peace architecture

By Michael von der Schulenburg

[This article posted on 8/24/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://globalbridge.ch/die-un-charta-muss-das-herz-und-die-seele-jeder-neuen-friedensarchitektur-sein/.]

This article is a contribution to the German peace movement for this year's Anti-War Day on September 1. On this day 84 years ago, the German Reich invaded Adolf Hitler's Poland, sparking World War II and bringing indescribable misfortune and suffering to Europe and the world.

The UN Charter was an attempt to counter what were arguably the two most horrific, destructive and murderous wars in human history since the time of the Enlightenment with a concept of peace based on humanity. While the First and Second World Wars required trillions of dollars in today's currency to produce and deploy ever more cunning weapons systems of killing millions, the UN Charter consisted of just twenty pages of paper. Thus the power of the words of peace faced the arsenals of weapons of war - two most unequal opponents! And yet, the principles of the UN Charter, not the apologies of wars and military victories, represent the real epochal achievements of humanity.

For when 50 representatives of the victorious Allied nations met in San Francisco in June 1945, they did something incredibly revolutionary. The new world order that was to emerge after the Second World War was no longer to be determined by a victorious peace, as it had been after the First World War. From now on, a collective security system based on common principles was to preserve world peace. All nations, regardless of their size or their political and economic systems, would participate in it. The unifying thought was: Never again war! Thus, the UN Charter was not about revenge and retaliation, and there was no longer a distinction between just and unjust wars or victors and vanquished. Conflicts between states were to be resolved only by negotiation and no longer by military force. The UN Charter thereby took both sides of a conflict equally responsible for finding a peaceful solution.

In the UN Charter, the member states then also committed themselves to the equal rights of all nations, to non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, to compliance with international agreements, and to international cooperation and mutual tolerance. Conventional considerations of preventing wars through military balances no longer exist. In contrast, the UN Charter places the main emphasis for maintaining peace on fundamental human rights and the inviolable dignity of every human being, regardless of origin, gender and religion, and on equality between men and women, as well as on the right of all people to social and economic progress.

And yet, the UN Charter was almost immediately challenged. Just 20 days after the signing of the UN Charter, on June 26, 1945, and a few hundred miles from the meeting site in San Francisco, the first atomic bomb exploded in the New Mexico desert. And even before the UN Charter came into force on October 24, 1945, the dropping of just two atomic bombs on Japanese cities killed perhaps as many as a quarter of a million people, almost all of them civilians. The millennia-old conviction that only military superiority could guarantee security had thus been resurrected with unprecedented destructive force. If the previous wars had already caused world fires, there was now the possibility of wiping out the entire human race in the shortest possible time. Then, in the Cold War, nuclear weapons, not the UN Charter, determined international relations. The hope for peace built on the cooperation of all nations was replaced by the threat of 'mutually assured destruction'.

The great tragedy of our time, however, is that even with the end of the Cold War, peace did not come. Yet the conditions for it were extremely promising. With the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there were no more enemies. The path to a global peace envisaged in the UN Charter was now clear. At first it seemed so, too, when in 1990 the Charter of Paris for a New Peaceful Europe, based on the UN Charter, was solemnly adopted.

Only the strategists of the USA saw it quite differently. With Russia in chaos and China not yet playing a geopolitical role, the United States had risen to become the sole global superpower. As early as 1992, just one year after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Wolfowitz Doctrine was formulated, according to which no collective security system such as that of the UN Charter, but the U.S. alone, supported by its military, economic and technological superiority, was to determine and also enforce the international rules. The idea of a 'rules-based world order' was born. It was to be a new 'American century', and through NATO the European countries would be integrated into this project. Thus, NATO grew from formerly 16 to today 32 member states, and this despite the fact that since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the U.S. and its allies had not faced any military threat. The purpose was different: preservation of power: "Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere..." so in the Wolfowitz Doctrine.

Thus, NATO was no longer a defense alliance either, but had evolved into an instrument of power for the 'White North' countries led by the U.S., a 'White North' that today is a minority with just 11% of the world's population (and declining), but still claims the right to dominate the world through a worldwide network of 700 to 800 U.S. military bases and through over 60% of world military spending - compared to China with 13%, Russia with 4%, and India with 3.6% of world arms spending. While NATO was still UN Charter compliant as a defense alliance, it is no longer so today as the only existing military alliance in the world to assert unilateral claims to supremacy. It should therefore come as no surprise that resistance to NATO is increasingly forming among non-NATO states. For example, the Ukraine war, which is about preventing further NATO expansion into Ukraine and Georgia, is an expression of this resistance. This primarily affects Russia, but it also explains why there is no support in Asia, in Africa, in the Middle East, and in Latin America for the Western Ukraine policy of NATO expansion, despite Russia's illegal intervention.

The political-military tensions between the U.S. and NATO, on the one hand, and Russia and China, on the other, seem to have reached a low point today that we didn't even know like this during the Cold War. There is an accelerating spiral of new sanctions and economic blockades. At the same time, global military spending has reached unprecedented levels - and continues to rise. Nuclear weapons are being "modernized" to become "smarter," and new hypersonic missile systems and stealth fighter jets are designed to deliver them "safely" to their targets. There are more and more autonomous weapon systems that operate without human intervention and are equipped with stealth technologies and artificial intelligence. There are also preparations to be able to fight cyber and space wars in the future. We are increasingly coming to a situation where humans may lose control of military decisions. We seem caught up in the madness of war.

Yet the pressing problems of humanity are quite different: warming of the earth's atmosphere, rising sea levels, devastation of vast regions, lack of water, and still rampant poverty and widespread malnutrition. Add to this swelling flows of refugees and migrants, sprawling slums, deadly epidemics, limited raw materials, and intrastate conflict and violence. None of these problems will be solved with tanks, rocket launchers or even weapons of mass destruction.

The destructive potential of modern weapons systems has now become far too great for our ever-closer world to rationally choose between security through weapons or peace through cooperation. Perhaps the senseless killing and destruction in the Ukraine war could be the trigger for us to realize that we need to get back to a peace order that is not built on military superiority and powerful military blocs, but is based on the principles of the UN Charter.

The UN Charter is and remains an expression of humanity's hope for peace. It is now surrounded by a multitude of international conventions and agreements on almost all aspects of our human coexistence, from human rights to climate protection and fairer humanitarian, social and economic relations in the world. What they have in common is their emphasis on non-violence between states, the sovereign equality of all their members, and the equal rights and self-determination of all people.

Thus, the problem is not the UN Charter, but the fact that four of the five veto powers in the UN Security Council, and thus the actual guarantors of the UN Charter, the USA, Great Britain, France and now Russia, have repeatedly violated it and waged illegal wars. These four veto powers are all states of the 'white north', three of them are even leading states of NATO. To secure future world peace, this will have to change. The countries of the 'global south' must be given a greater say and decision-making rights in the UN Security Council. One consequence of the Ukraine war is already that the global position of the 'Global South' has strengthened, while the Western push for a world order dominated by them is beginning to weaken. An unforeseen positive outcome of the Ukraine War may be that it will lead to a more equitable multi-polar world order - a world order for which the UN Charter was originally designed.

The Ukrainian war will also end one day, and we will have to strive again for a new peace order to "save future generations from the scourge of war." A peaceful and fair world for the soon to be 10 billion inhabitants of the earth, 9 billion of whom will be from the 'Global South', must be built on the principles of the UN Charter. The UN Charter must therefore be at the center of every peace movement.


About the author: Michael von der Schulenburg studied in Berlin, London and Paris and worked for the United Nations and shortly after for the OSCE, among others as UN Assistant Secretary-General in many crisis areas of the world, such as Haiti, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, the Balkans, Somalia, Sierra Leone and the Sahel.
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