Douglas Roche


September 14, 2015

Conflict and persecution have forced 60 million people - more than at any other time in recorded history - to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere. If refugees were the population of a country, it would be the world's 24th largest country.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said, "It is terrifying that . . . there is a seemingly utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace."

The sober-minded Carnegie Council says the troubled U.S.-Russia relations are "now on life support." Russia's seizure of Crimea and the West's determination to protect Ukraine at all costs have led NATO to virtually encircle Russia's western border with war exercises.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has stepped up the nuclear weapons rhetoric. The U.S. continues to challenge Russia with the development of a ballistic missile defence system. The two countries, which possess 95 per cent of all nuclear weapons, idly watch the undermining of their nuclear agreements.

Sadistic jihadis fighting for the Islamic State in Syria have brutally executed more than 3,000 people over the past year, including 86 women and 74 children.


The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the extremists have carried out a huge number of sickening public executions - ranging from beheadings and shootings to stonings and crucifixions.

The destruction of priceless artifacts, testimony to the cultural heritage of the area, is additional evidence of barbarism.

Is there a link among these tragedies of our time?

The refugee numbers, the breakdown in U.S.-Russia relations, the terrorism in the Middle East, are all rooted in the lack of a global social order. Well, that's obvious, some might say. People have always fought and produced human suffering and the best you can do is put out one war at a time.

What nonsense!

States had the wisdom and foresight to create, out of the ashes of the Second World War, the United Nations. The organization was designed to stop the scourge of war and protect vulnerable people.

The Security Council was given "primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security." The UN Charter, says former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, "leaves no ambiguity that the UN is the authoritative central piece of the international system."

But what happened? The five permanent members of the Security Council - the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France and China (known as the P5) - gave themselves veto power over any Security Council resolution. When they agreed, they could accomplish great things, such as establishing peacekeeping forces in troubled areas and instigating peace-building measures with judicial and police systems.

They even accepted the new idea of the Responsibility to Protect, by which the international system would intervene to stop a government's committing genocide on its own people.

Libya and Mali are but two examples of the Security Council using this power.

But Western powers over-reached in the Libya mandate when they deposed the national leader, Muammar Gaddafi. This resulted in Russia and China withholding their assent for a united military intervention in Syria because they sought to protect the leader, Bashar al-Assad.

International trust broke down. The Syrian war was allowed to continue and refugee numbers bulged.

Syria is only one example of national short-sightedness resulting in tragedy. The Iraq war of 2003, which former Secretary-General Kofi Annan called illegal, began the series of human disasters that continue to this day.

It laid the groundwork for the emergence of the terrorist movements. It corroded the post-Cold War relationship between Russia and the U.S.

The UN has been made to appear ineffective when, in reality, it is the refusal of the major powers to follow international law and protect global interests that is the real culprit.


The Security Council should create a permanent UN Peacekeeping Force (which has been called for since day one of the UN), establish a global treaty against all nuclear weapons, and rigorously enforce the Arms Trade Treaty so it cuts off the flow of weapons to terrorists.

This would require co-operation rather than confrontation in stepped-up diplomatic action. But the hard-liners don't want diplomatic solutions to the world's problems - as the acrimony over the Iran nuclear deal attests.

Incidents of the disorder in the world will continue to pile up, doubtless discouraging many people who think the world cannot get any better. But the institutions of the world, led by the UN, are capable of strengthening global order and greatly lessening human suffering.

Only a co-operative multilateral approach can build a world of peace.

Canadian politicians, please take note.