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1) Luis Moreno Ocampo, “Call what is happening in Nagorno-Karabakh by its proper name,” Washington Poar, September 22, 2022 (8:00 a.m. EDT);
2) Pavel Lokshin: “Das Ende von Bergkarabach,” Die Welt, den 22. September 2022;
3) Pavel Lokshin, “The end of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Die Welt, September 22, 2023;
4) Geoffrey Robertson, “A democratic nation has been allowed to die – the UN has failed once more; The destruction of Nagorno-Karabakh shows that the West has again failed to stand up to international aggression,” The Telegraph, September 30, 2023 (8:00am);
Geoffrey Robertson AO KC is a former UN war crimes judge and author of An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Now Remembers the Armenians?
5) “Turkey appears behind Azerbaijan move to retake Nagorno-Karabakh,” The Trenchant Observer, December 29, 2020;
6) “Fighting continues over Nagorno-Karabakh; ceasefire does not hold,” The Trenchant Observer, October 14, 2020;
7) “Nagorno-Karabakh Update (with latest dispatches),” The Trenchant Observer, September 30, 2023;
8) “Armenia and Azerbaijan on the brink of war,” The Trenchant Observer, September 28, 2020;
In a September 30, 2023 column in The Telegraph, Geoffrey Robertson, the author of a book on the history of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian genocide, offers an excellent overview of the history of the Armenian enclave, noting that “the West” failed to deter Azerbaijani aggression and the recent subjugation of the region.
Like many, he blames the United Nations for this latest failure to deter military aggression.
Like many, he throws up his arms in despair and declares “the only way forward is to replace the United Nations. In the op-ed, he concludes,
The only way forward is to replace the United Nations, because its Security Council is not fit for purpose. It is incapable of reform, because Russia and China will veto reform. ‘Security” will only come from an international representative body with the moral, military, economic power to deter authoritarian aggression.
If only it were that simple!
As a distinguished lawyer (King’s Counsel) and former international judge, he should know better than to throw out such a totally unrealistic idea. He makes three fundamental conceptual errors.
First, he assumes that the United Nations has a power of agency independent of what its members acting collectively decide. This is false. In the case of the Security Council, as he recognizes, no binding action can be taken over the veto of Russia or China. The sad truth is, to quoto Pogo, “We have met be enemy and he is us.”
Second, he blames “the West” for the U.N.’s failure to deter Azarbaijani aggression and to maintain international peace and secutity. It may seem like a small point, but the failure is not just that of “the West” but also that of the entire international community of states who constitute the membership of the United Nations.
It is a huge mistake to think of the United Nations as “the West”. It let’s the other states off the hook for failing to uphold their responsibilities to uphold international peace and security. Many won’t even condemn Russian aggression against Ukraine (some) or join the international sanctions regimes against Russia (many more).
Third, he argues that the United Nations should be replaced, without advancing the slightest hint of how that might be done. mGiven the express terms of the U.N. Charter, which provide that it can only be amended with the concurrence of the five Permanent Members of the Council (including Russia and China), the only conceivable way to amend the Charter would be to strip Russia of its Permanent Member status and to persuade China to abstain.
Ukraine has a legal theory according to which Russia has never been recognized as the successor state to the Soviet Union and therefore is not legally entitled to occupy the Soviet seat and wield its veto.
One can imagine an eventual vote by more than two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly endorsing this theory, and China ultimately abstaining on votes in the Security Council. This appears to be the only path within the framework of the Charter that might lead to a restoration of the proper functioning of the Security Council, absent a radical change in the regime and tge regime and the policy of Russia.
The other alternative would ne to try to found a new U.N. with the participation of willing states. The likelihood of this happening is next to zero.
All reformers should bear in mind that a collective security organization like the United Nations may have no influence over powerful states that have withdrawn from or are not members of the organization.
This indeed is the lesson of Germany and the League of Nations.
Germany formally withdrew from the League of Nations on October 19, 1933, nine months after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor and after he became an absolute dictator following enactment of the Enabling Act by the Reichstag in March 1933. mAs will be recalled, Germany then proceeded to break international treaties banning its rearmament, occupied the Rhineland in 1935, invaded Czechoslovakia in October 1938 with the approval of England,France, and Italy in the infamous Munich Pact, invaded and seized the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939, and invaded Poland on September 1, 1939–exactly 84 years ago.
The impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 is contributing to a weakening of the prohibition of the use of force contained in Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter.
According to the 1970 U.N. General Assembly Resolution on Friendly Relations this prohibition also applies to the use of force across international armistice lines.
Azerbaijan, with the backing of Turkey, violated this prohibition in 2020, and has now again violated the prohibition by attacking the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and forcing its capitulation in the face of Azerbaijan’s overwhelming military superiority.
As Article 2 (4) weakens in the face of Russia’s direct rejection of the basic provisions of international law governing the use of force, acts of aggression such as those of Azerbaijan receive decreasing attention. Turkey, for its part, has violated Article 2 (4) by placing its troops inside the Syrian border in a purported effort to counter those it terms as Syrian Kurdish “terrorists”.
This is just one brick in the wall represented by international law and the U.N. Charter.
But this one brick shows us how that edifice is beginning to crumble, as other countries observe the continuing invasion of Ukraine and its apparent acceptance by China, India, and many nations of the Global South. These countries fail to condemn Russian aggression and to participate in the international sanctions regimes prohibiting trade with Russia.
Their fence-sitting has a high cost.
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