Many member countries of the UN seem not to notice that one of the Security Council’s permanent members that is leading calls for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza is unfit to do so. Or perhaps it has become acceptable for any country, even one that is currently actively bombing power plants, water systems, non-military dwellings, and other civilian infrastructure in an unprovoked invasion of another country, to request a humanitarian ceasefire in another war.
The Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s response to it have intensified the long-running debate about America’s historical role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Biden administration has been widely criticized, both in America and around the world, for giving blanket support to Israel in its current war with Hamas. The war, and America’s official stance on it, are expected to be pivotal issues in next year’s U.S. presidential elections. The rest of the world has meanwhile loudly expressed its displeasure through a variety of avenues.
But why didn’t the global community extend the same level of sympathy to the Ukrainians who lived through hell during the Russian siege of Mariupol and Bakhmut? Russia has bombed hospitals, killing pregnant women, the elderly, and children in the process. It has bombed schools and apartment building all across Ukraine. According to a UN report, at least 10,000 Ukrainian civilians, including 560 children, have been killed since the start of the war, with over 18,500 wounded.
The Wall Street Journal just reported that earlier today, Russia unleashed a barrage of drones and missiles on major Ukrainian cities in one of the largest attacks in that war thus far. Kinzhal ballistic as well as cruise missiles were reportedly used in the attacks. At least 30 people are said to have been killed, with over 160 injured. According to the report, a maternity ward, educational facilities, and multi-story residential buildings were among the structures destroyed.
The numerous votes that have been held at the UN on the Ukraine war have mostly called for the condemnation of Russia’s wanton aggression. Shockingly, many countries couldn’t even vote for something as straightforward as that. There were some who actually blamed Ukraine for provoking Russia into attacking it. To the extent that anyone called for anything remotely resembling a ceasefire, it was only to allow grain shipments from Ukraine to far-flung countries whose citizens were starving because of the war. Many of those needy nations had earlier said that the war was a European problem and none of their business. It turns out it was their business all along.
There is clearly a selective outrage problem at the UN. Whataboutism is the primary instrument that many countries use to rationalize this hypocrisy. They say because America has had its own share of bombings and invasions of other countries in the past, they should not be called upon to criticize Russia or any other major power that does similar things. Circumstance and passage of time don’t matter to these people.
The problem is that this bending over backwards to justify some wrongs while loudly calling out others of similar nature creates moral confusion. Without a clear and universally consistent set of principles, sooner or later, everyone starts to find ways to absolve themselves of their deeds, regardless of how evil they are.
Last winter, Russia deliberately and systematically bombed power plants and other energy infrastructure in an attempt to freeze Ukrainians to death. The goal was obviously to sap Ukraine’s will to fight. As far as war crimes go, it is one of the worst, but there was no universal outcry over it. Russia has resumed this sinister campaign this winter, and again there is deafening global silence.
I lived through six Ukrainian winters during my time there as a student so I am quite familiar with the severity of that wintertime weather. The cold is bone-chilling. Even with the war still raging, there are reportedly hundreds of foreign students who have remained in Ukraine to continue their studies because that is the only option they have. Many of these students grew up in tropical climates so I can only imagine how dire their situation is as they shelter in their freezing dormitory rooms and apartments without heat.
The world seems to be imploding right now. Someone or something is desperately needed to hold it together, and the UN is about the only hope there is. By its treatment of Russia as a normal member at this particular time, as it just did during the Gaza ceasefire negotiations, the UN risks letting its moral inconsistency turn that vital institution into a joke.