He begged them to do something to stop the war in his country, criticizing the Security Council’s inaction directly. And he called out the elephant in the room: Russia, one of the five permanent members of the Council, whose status gives it the ability to veto any action it disagrees with.
“We are dealing with a state that turns the right of veto in the UN Security Council into a right to die,” Zelensky said.
It was a blunt message urging the Council to reform, and if that won’t work, he said, “the next option would be to dissolve yourself altogether. And I know you can admit that if there is nothing you can do besides conversation.”
Many people who have watched the UN for years agree that the UN Security Council looks impotent in this moment, with the world watching. The Security Council was designed in a different era, after World War II, with a membership and veto system that have ultimately restricted its effectiveness in dealing with this global conflict. Other parts of the UN have responded more effectively to the humanitarian and refugee crises the war has created.
FormerUS Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who served under Republican Presidents including George W. Bush and Donald Trump, agreed with Zelensky’s assessment. “I thought he was absolutely right,” Bolton told CNN’s chief political analyst Gloria Borger. “And I thought one more convert to understanding what’s wrong with the United Nations. Its political institutions are fundamentally broken.”
Bolton has never been a big fan of the UN. He’s famous for saying, back in 1994, that if the UN Secretariat building in New York “lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”
There have been many moments of deadlock before in the Security Council when the big powers disagree. But this moment has drawn outsized attention globally.
“This is the single biggest crisis to hit the UN since the end of the Cold War,” said Richard Gowan, the UN Director for the International Crisis Group. “It is possible that this does mark the beginning of a sort of fundamental rupture amongst the great powers that will make UN diplomacy see vastly harder going forward.”
The system was designed this way: to prevent global conflict but also to reward the main winners of World War II, according to Gowan.
Key veto power
When the United Nations charter was signed in 1945, it established the Security Council with five permanent members and six nonpermanent members. The permanent members — the US, the UK, France, the Soviet Union, and the Republic of China — were each given the power to veto any resolutions they opposed.
“It was Franklin Roosevelt who wanted to set up an organization that would police the world after the defeat of Nazi Germany,” Gowan said. “But the only way he…