Since the InterAction Council of former Heads of State and Government last met in 2019, the world has grappled with the most significant health crisis in a century – the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to being a public health crisis, placing a strain on global healthcare systems and resulting in millions of deaths, the pandemic created significant social and economic disruption worldwide. The global economy headed for recession, in large part due to inflationary pressures resulting from government spending that attempted to correct for suppressed economic activities from lockdown mandates.
Then in 2022, in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, Russia initiated an aggressive land war against its neighbour Ukraine, triggering the largest international land war in Europe since the Second World War. The war exacerbated the food and energy crises, which further fuelled inflation and the global economic downturn. It also exposed the existing global system as ineffective in preserving peace and resolving conflicts.
One year later, there is no end in sight to the conflict. The war has caused immense human suffering, with the United Nations recording over 8,000 civilian deaths, 8 million refugees and 17.7 million in need of humanitarian assistance. Western intelligence sources estimate that over 345,000 Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have lost their lives in the war.
It was against this backdrop that the InterAction Council organized a High-Level Expert Group Meeting on "A new agenda for peace and security" on 15 May 2023 in Valletta, Malta, chaired by Bertie Ahern. The meeting sought to re-articulate global governance in our times to build a better tomorrow for generations to come.
Peace in Europe: The role of diplomacy
The InterAction Council condemns Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which was an illegal act of aggression in violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, which “prohibits the threat or use of force and calls on all Members to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of other States.” In the immediate future, the international community should take all necessary means to find a path to cease hostilities and protect civilians. Both parties should adhere to international humanitarian law in the conduct of hostilities. While international frameworks for accountability for any violations already exist, the sanctions regime may be effective at encouraging good conduct and even a resolution. The European Union is currently exploring how to use frozen Russian assets to rebuild Ukraine.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine has exposed the limitations of the current international system to govern international peace and security. When a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council wages an aggressive war, many question whether the international institutions created to prevent wars have failed. Maintaining international peace and security was the basis for the creation of the United Nations as well as regional organizations, such as the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations in 2020, the global community came together to vow its commitment to multilateralism. Member States called on the Secretary-General to report back on recommendations to address the many challenges facing the world. In 2021, he launched Our Common Agenda, which sets out the challenges facing the global community today and called for a New Agenda For Peace. The Secretary-General also appointed the High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism which finalized its report, Breakthrough for People and Planet: Effective and Inclusive Global Governance for Today and the Future in April this year. The report includes comprehensive recommendations to reinforce the global architecture for peace, security and finance, deliver just transitions for climate and digitalization, and ensure more equity and fairness in global decision-making. The report also called for credible and coordinated international efforts to tackle corruption, a key concern of the InterAction Council. The Peacemaking Reflection Group has also contributed with reflections on how to improve the global system of governance.
One of the endemic governance issues to address within the United Nations is the legitimacy of the Security Council, wherein the five permanent members can exercise their veto power on any issues. There are currently multiple parallel proposals on the table for Security Council reform. Expanding the membership of the Security Council to better reflect the membership of the United Nations has been discussed for years. Removing the veto of the permanent five members would balance the power structures within the Security Council. The Liechtenstein Veto initiative proposes that permanent members explain to the General Assembly their reasoning after using the veto.
The Ukraine crisis is by no means the first time that the United Nations Security Council is incapacitated to respond to threats to international peace and security. During the Cold War, the Security Council was more often than not faced with a stalemate as its permanent members were adversaries with competing geopolitical interests. Thus, the current situation is not new but a return to the status quo before the end of the Cold War. While the UN Charter bestows upon the Security Council the primary responsibility to respond to threats to international peace and security, its role is by no means exclusive. In the past, when the organization was faced with impasses due to the veto in the Security Council, the UN General Assembly took on a more active role in promoting peace and security. Today, once more, the General Assembly should take a more prominent role in the maintenance of international peace and security, in accordance with the Charter. An example of this is the Uniting for Peace resolution from 1950, which allows the General Assembly to take action on peace and security when the Security Council is incapacitated. Since 1950, the framework has been used 13 times. The rarely used article 27(3) of the Charter requires that Security Council members abstain from voting when they are party to a dispute under Chapter VI. In such cases, a permanent member would not be able to use its veto. However, it is questionable whether the voting rule is applicable to Chapter VII concerning breaches to the peace and acts of aggression. A viable option is that the General Assembly requests an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice on the usage of the veto by permanent members of the Security Council. Indeed, existing options to improve governance within the UN should be explored in parallel with more substantial reforms.
It is imperative that Russia as a state is held accountable for waging a war of aggression against Ukraine and that individuals are held accountable for international atrocity crimes committed in the war. The crime of aggression is an international crime for which the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction. Where the ICC will not be able to prosecute and indict all relevant actors for the crime of aggression, other options should be explored. These may include national proceedings under the principle of complementarity, proceedings in third states based on universal jurisdiction or the establishment of a special international tribunal for the crime of aggression.
Beyond investigations and potential prosecutions at the International Criminal Court, or in third states based on universal jurisdiction, financial responsibility should be explored. Third states have frozen vast amounts of Russian assets. More than 1,200 Russian individuals, 120 entities, and 19 banks have been sanctioned equaling approximately $1.14 trillion. At least the EU, US and Canada are currently exploring options of repurposing the frozen assets for the benefit of Ukraine to cover the over 700 billion USD damages thus far caused by Russia’s aggression. The legal aspects of when and how to potentially confiscate the assets for the benefit of the damages requires further thought. Several legal obstacles, including sovereign immunity of states and property rights need to be solved before such steps can be taken. In addition, states need to keep in mind any potential reparations that may be awarded to victims in future proceedings by the International Criminal Court or in potential judicial proceedings held in third states based on universal jurisdiction. It should also be noted Russia has confiscated Western owned assets present in Russia, for example over 400 aircraft leased by Western companies, and more recently, the assets of Uniper, a German energy company and Fortum, a Finnish energy company.
- States and individuals responsible for aggression and grave violations must be held legally and financially accountable. In this regard, states should support efforts to investigate and prosecute the crime of aggression, and other violations, in Ukraine by the International Criminal Court, courts in third states or by a specialized international tribunal for the crime of aggression.
- States and international organizations should continue freezing Russian assets until there are mechanisms in place for confiscation and distribution of assets for the benefit of post-war reconstruction and victims of grave violations.
- In accordance with the roles bestowed upon it in the UN Charter, the General Assembly should immediately take action on international peace and security when the Security Council is unable to do so.
- Reinforce and reform existing international organizations. Provide them with adequate resources and mandates to increase their effectiveness, transparency, and accountability.
- The General Assembly should request the International Court of Justice to give an advisory opinion on the veto powers of the permanent members of the Security Council.
- Encourage countries to prioritize multilateral approaches over unilateral actions through diplomacy, negotiation, and compromise to resolve disputes and foster cooperation.
- Foster global science-based action and collaboration on pressing cross-border challenges such as climate change, pollution, public health, cybersecurity, gender parity and poverty alleviation
- Promote the adherence to and enforcement of international law and treaties. Encourage countries to ratify and implement key agreements, such as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
- Encourage a culture of ethical and responsible citizenship and leadership anchored in accountability as laid out in the Universal Declaration on Human Responsibilities.
The war in Europe and its impact on energy and food security
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has not only brought death to thousands, but it has also disrupted energy infrastructure, impacted energy supply, and created broader regional energy security implications. Russia has always been a significant source of energy for Europe. In 2021, the EU imported more than 40% of its total gas consumption, 27% of oil imports and 46% of coal imports from Russia. Infrastructure was built, mainly pipelines, to bring in Russian natural gas to accommodate European energy needs. However, since the invasion in Ukraine, the European Commission has committed to reaching independence from Russian energy sources before 2030 using tactics such as diversifying supplies, reducing demand and increasing use of green energy.
The diversification of suppliers – namely, the U.S. – has already significantly reduced the EU’s reliance on Russian gas, which now accounts for only 17 percent of the EU’s import needs.
Reliance on renewable energy sources comes with its own challenges, as the infrastructure needed to support a transition to green energy is heavily reliant on precious minerals. Currently, this industry is highly concentrated: China, for example, is responsible for processing around 35 percent of global supplies of nickel, 50 to 70 percent of lithium and cobalt, and almost 90 percent of rare earth elements. The majority of precious minerals mined for renewable energy production and storage are also located in some of the most unstable countries in the world.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, food exports from Ukraine have been severely disrupted. Ukraine’s main food exports (wheat, barley and sunflower) were responsible for feeding 400 million people worldwide. Russia and Ukraine together produce over 40 percent of Africa’s total wheat supply. Before the war, the World Food Programme bought half of its stock from Ukraine. The conflict has impacted food insecurity by disrupting agricultural activities, displacing farmers, restricting access to markets, and hampering the delivery of humanitarian aid, with a local, regional and global reach. The consequences of a food security crisis are severe. It can lead to malnutrition, increased vulnerability to diseases, and even death. Social unrest, migration, and conflicts can arise as a result of food shortages, further exacerbating the situation.
Resolving the conflict and addressing these impacts are crucial to improving food and energy security in the region.
- Enhance energy security measures at both regional and global levels by diversifying energy sources and supply routes to reduce dependence on a single country or region.
- Encourage investments in alternative energy sources, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable practices to decrease reliance on fossil fuels.
- Enhance international energy governance frameworks and mechanisms to address the geopolitical implications of the energy crises.
- Facilitate and support diplomatic efforts to ensure that grain transports can continue from Ukraine.
- Explore FAO’s recommendation to implement a Food Import Financing Facility (FIFF) which would help vulnerable countries in food import financing costs during emergencies.
- Develop and implement policies that prioritize food security, sustainable agriculture, and rural development. Revise current subsidy policies that distort global food trade.