Russia Invades Ukraine
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24, 2022, the United Nations Security Council (Security Council) has been criticised as being dysfunctional. This article aims to outline how multinational frameworks, including the United Nations, responded to the crisis in Ukraine and discuss the measures Japan should take.
The existing multinational frameworks can be classified into two categories. One is a universal international organisation which is open to all the countries of the world regardless of their political ideologies and systems, of which the UN is a typical example. The other one is an international organisation or a forum composed of like-minded countries. For example, the members of the G7 and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), which include Japan, share the values of democracy and respect for human rights. The NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), of which Japan is not a member, is another example.
How did these multinational frameworks respond to the Ukrainian crisis? Let us first review the actions taken by the first group, the universal international organisations.
After a Security Council draft resolution calling on Russia to withdraw immediately from Ukraine was buried by a Russian veto on February 25, the UN General Assembly held an emergency special session right away. On March 2, a resolution recognising Russia’s actions as a violation of the UN Charter and calling for its immediate withdrawal was adopted by an overwhelming majority of 141 votes out of 193 UN member states. Although General Assembly resolutions do not have a binding force, they can demonstrate the public opinion in the international community.
The General Assembly resolution at the time of the Russian invasion in Crimea in 2014, which did not even point fingers at Russia, was adopted by only 100 votes in favour with many countries abstaining. As Japan’s Ambassador to the United Nations at the time, the author lobbied other ambassadors, especially from Asia-Pacific, to vote in favour, but only 22 out of 54 Asia-Pacific countries supported the resolution. This time, the yes votes from the region increased to 37.
On April 7, at an emergency special session, the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution to suspend Russia’s membership of the Human Rights Council, with 93 votes in favour. This figure was much lower than 141, the number of votes in favour for the resolution adopted on March 2. Especially in Asia and Africa, the number of yes votes decreased by 60 %.
According to the Office of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), since the Russian invasion, more than 9 million of Ukrainian’s population of about 40 million people have fled to the neighbouring countries and the number of the internally displaced is estimated to exceed 6 million (as of July 13). The UN plays a central role in the relief efforts for these people.
On March 16, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the judicial branch of the UN, issued an order to Russia to halt its military operation immediately. The ICJ’s order is binding, but Russia is ignoring it. Unlike domestic courts of a country, the ICJ does not have the means to enforce its orders. It is noted that the two judges who opposed to the issuance of the order were from Russia and China.
In the meantime, the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has 123 member states and territories, acted swiftly. An investigation started in March and the chief prosecutor entered the massacre site of Bucha in April. While the ICC may be able to investigate and prosecute the war crimes in the future, Russia is not a member of the ICC and it will not be easy to make arrests and bring cases to trials. However, there is no statute of limitation for crimes handled by the ICC. As Japan is the biggest contributor to the ICC, it is hoped that Japan also makes a human resource contribution, such as dispatching investigators.
G7 and NATO
The military and economic responses to Russia were led by the G7 and the NATO which are the second group of multinational frameworks. Although the United States warned Russia that it would impose stringent economic sanctions if Russia took military actions, the deterrence did not work. Some said that the fact that the US statement that it had no intention of fighting Russia was a reason why the deterrence did not work. However, the US and G7 moved quickly after the invasion. On the day of the invasion, the G7 issued a joint statement condemning Russia and imposed strong economic sanctions. Japan also coordinated with the G7 to join the sanctions. The G7 is leading economic assistance to Ukraine as well.
Ukraine beyond expectations
Ukraine has been fighting, beyond earlier expectations, against the major offensive by Russia, one of the largest military powers of the world. This is due to the dedication and bravery of the Ukrainian people in defence of their homeland, as well as the massive military support provided by the NATO members, led by the US.
Policy recommendations for Japan’s Policy
In light of the above, the following points can be made concerning Japan’s policy.
Strengthen and expand
Japan is required to strengthen and expand its framework with countries that share the values. The G7 started with the goal of coordinating economic policies among developed countries, but now it coordinates responses to international political issues. It is an important forum for Japan, since it cannot occupy a seat at the Security Council on a permanent basis. Japan is expected to play a leading role in the G7 as it holds the Presidency in 2023. Japan’s active participation in the Quad (Japan, US, Australia and India) is a welcome development.
UN is important
The UN is still important. UN decisions have legitimacy. The Security Council’s authority to make legally binding decisions is particularly significant. Japan, which will serve as a non-permanent member of the Security Council for the 12th time from January 2023, can demonstrate what Japan can contribute to the peace and security of the world. The North Korean nuclear development is a case in point. Japan should also continue to take the initiative on the reform of the Security Council.
Even though the Security Council is dysfunctional, the General Assembly can bring together the voices of the international community. From the author’s personal experience, however, many countries are reluctant to express their views at the UN. Even though the case is a clear violation of the UN Charter, they believe that it is in their national interest to keep their positions ambiguous.
As the Ukraine crisis indicates, in times of crisis, the countries with which Japan shares values, such as the US, Canada, Australia and Europe, expect Japan to exert influence over the Asia-Pacific nations. To meet such expectation, it is crucial that Japan establishes strong bilateral relations and engage in candid dialogue especially with the countries in the Asia- Pacific region. Solid bilateral diplomacy is a basic component of an active multinational diplomacy.
Motohide Yoshikawa is a Distinguished Professor, International Christian University, and Former Ambassador of Japan to the United Nations and served in UNSC.