Peter Fraser and his supporters amongst the smaller nations envisaged that the UN would maintain a standing army or police force that could be used by the Secretary-General of the UN once he/she had approval from the Security Council. However, Fraser’s idealism was all very well in early 1945. Neither he, nor the other delegates, knew of nuclear weapons which were first dropped on Hiroshima several months later. Nobody envisaged a situation that occurred recently when Vladimir Putin as he invaded Ukraine, announced that he was putting his nuclear weaponry on alert. In effect, he told the world that he would use his veto to block any UN retaliation, and threaten nuclear war against any countries that might seek to enter the war militarily on Ukraine’s side.
Fraser and his fellow delegates never envisaged nuclear blackmail. That threat has restrained Ukraine’s friends in this war. Clearly the United States and Britain are ready to assist in some way, and a lot of military kit is going to Zelensky. But the sort of swift military action needed to check Russian aggression hasn’t occurred, and the offender has suffered no more than sanctions and a degree of humiliation because Ukraine has proved such a tough nut to crack. Meanwhile, thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed and five million are refugees.
Wise heads are needed to work out some way of dealing with nuclear blackmail. Over Cuba in 1962 the United States stared Russia down and Nikita Khruschev blinked rather than take responsibility for blowing up the world. This time the US couldn’t be sufficiently sure that Putin wouldn’t push the nuclear button and blow everything up. The problem with high level threats is that one has to presume that both the offenders and the victims are capable of making rational decisions. With modern Russia, this has always been in doubt. Putin has never produced any rational explanation for the invasion he kept denying he intended, and then suddenly launched. There is considerable speculation that after 22 years in office he’s been removed from reality for too long. In his search for some kind of legitimacy for the corruption and looting that he and his oligarch mates have undertaken within Russia he’s become obsessed with Russian Orthodox Christianity which so far has placed a firm stamp of approval on his years in office. Put simply, he seems to have lost it, and to be beyond reason.
If this is so, it raises a further issue that Peter Fraser and the founders of the United Nations hoped they wouldn’t face again once that Adolf Hitler was dead: how to deal with a madman possessed of the wherewithal to blow up the world. In the meantime, a concerted effort to reform the Security Council and remove the veto powers has become urgent. President Zelensky is right.
Historian Dr Michael Bassett, a Minister in the Fourth Labour Government, blogs HERE.