Brazil International Juan Cole

Lula is Right — The UN Security Council Can’t Resolve Major Conflicts

28.04.2023 – 23 PLN 2 sanctioning ceremony and signing of the Provisional Measure granting a 9% readjustment to federal Executive employees Foto: Ricardo Stuckert/PR. Palácio do Planalto from Brasilia, Brasil, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Juan Cole / Informed Comment

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made a state visit to Portugal and Spain last week. He was primarily seeking trade agreements, and especially wished to prepare the way for agreement this summer on a huge European Union – Latin American free trade zone.

He was, however, also dogged by questions about Ukraine and Russia.

He replied, “There is no doubt that we condemn Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s rights with the invasion, but it is of no use to say who is right or wrong. The war must be stopped.”

Resumenlatinoamericano reports that he complained that the current international mechanisms for peacemaking are broken. He said, “We live in a world where the UN Security Council, the permanent members, all of them are the world’s biggest arms producers, they’re the world’s biggest arms sellers and they’re the world’s biggest war participants.”

He pointed to the invasion of Iraq by the US without a UN Security Council resolution as an example of lawlessness by members of the UNSC. MEMO quotes him as saying, “When the United States invaded Iraq, there was no discussion in the Security Council. When France and England invaded Libya and when Russia invaded Ukraine, there was no discussion either.”

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He added,

“Why aren’t Brazil, Spain, Japan, Germany, India, Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa [permanent members]? Those who currently make decisions are the winners of the Second War, but the world has changed. We need to build a new international mechanism that does something different. I think it is time that we start to change things and it is time that we make a G20 of Peace, which should be the UN”.

Lula has spoken before about his notion of a G20 of Peace, countries with the weight in world affairs to mediate peace agreements but which had the respect of both sides in major conflicts. These would include Indonesia, India, China and some Latin American countries.

He complained that the UN is no longer intervening effectively to resolve longstanding disputes.

“The UN was so strong that, in 1948, it managed to create the State of Israel. In 2023, it fails to create a Palestinian state.”

Lula was presumably referring to the 1947 United Nations General Assembly resolution proposing a partition of British Mandate Palestinian into a Jewish and a Palestinian state. This resolution did not actually create Israel, though it gave the idea international legitimacy and supporters of Israel have often cited it for that legitimacy.

In fact, the UNGA is a deliberative body and had no authority to partition Palestine, which the 1939 British White Paper had promised to the Palestinians for a state of their own.

Pro-Israel propagandists often say that the Jewish community in Palestine accepted the UN partition plan whereas “the Arabs” did not.

This allegation assumes that it was virtuous to accord the UN General Assembly an authority it did not have. It is also incorrect, since the Jews in British Mandate Palestine fought hard in 1948 to subvert the borders proposed by the UNGA, much expanding the territory claimed for the new state of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians, over half of whom were ethnically cleansed. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding father, noted in his diary in May 1948 when Israel came into existence that it had no fixed borders, just as the US had not. He clearly envisaged a big expansion. Ben Gurion later launched the 1956 war on Egypt in a bid to seize Egyptian lands for himself. So nothing in the historical record would make a dispassionate observer conclude that the Israelis accepted the UNGA partition plan, despite its vast generosity to them far beyond what their land ownership (6%) or population (1/3) would have warranted.

As for the Palestinians, they never got their state, in large part because Israel illegally seized Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 and have squelched Palestinian aspirations ever since, while sending in hundreds of thousands of Israeli squatters to steal Palestinian privately-held land and build Jewish-only housing on it.

Lula is correct, however, that the United Nations has not played the sort of role in midwifing a Palestinian state in 2023 that its founders would have wanted for it. That is because the United States systematically vetoes any UN Security Council resolution that would advance the cause of Palestinian statehood.

That obstreperousness was what Lula was complaining about. He was saying that the Security Council can’t make peace in the world because the five permanent members are themselves serial aggressors and they are not honest brokers in the major conflicts the world faces.

His point is a smart one, that the architecture of international peacemaking envisaged by the framers of the UN in San Francisco in 1945 has proven inadequate to the task or been subverted by the warmongering of the five permanent members. Whether his proposed fix has any life in it remains to be seen.

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Juan Cole

Juan Cole, a TomDispatch regular, is the Richard P. Mitchell collegiate professor of history at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: A New Translation From the Persian and Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires. His latest book is Peace Movements in Islam. His award-winning blog is Informed Comment. He is also a non-resident Fellow of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Doha and of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

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