Time to Negotiate an End to the Ukraine War
by Jerry Tetalman
The war in Ukraine has destabilized and polarized the international order. It pits two nuclear-armed superpowers, the United States and Russia, against each other. Any miscalculation can take all of us to nuclear Armageddon. This war has created untold human misery. Ending this war should be a top priority for humankind. How can the war be ended and on what terms?
Conventional wisdom holds that wars end in one of two ways. Either one side wins and the other loses or they negotiate a peace agreement by coming to an understanding that both sides can live with. The Russian invasion of Ukraine currently looks like a stalemate, with little territory being won or lost this year and both sides seemingly adhering to a position requiring total victory.
Russia seems to be playing the long game, of waiting out the resolve of the West to fund and support Ukraine. Sanctions on Russia have had an effect, but it still sells oil to China, India, and much of the world.
Ukraine’s goal is to regain its lost territory, maintain its current territory, and achieve security against future invasions. Russia wants to control all of Ukraine and wants to prevent it from joining NATO. The question is, can a peace agreement be made that both sides can live with?
Countries at war start to look for alternatives when victory is no longer assured or even likely. This war has reached that point. Negotiations give countries options in a no-win situation. Are the parties ready to negotiate?
Peace agreements are reached by making a win-win deal where both sides get something they want out of it. Of course, they need to compromise and give up some things as well.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is a key to any peace deal, for he must be willing to negotiate and implement any agreement reached. But the other key is Ukraine, whose territory has been invaded, occupied, and annexed by Russia.
The “deciders” will be Russia (essentially Putin) and Ukraine (the Zelensky administration). They will be the ones with representatives at the negotiating table.
Beyond “the table,” there are other influencers, such as those who support Ukraine with arms and funding–the European Union and the US. There are those who tacitly support Russia by continuing commerce with Putin and by not voting in the UN to sanction Russia.
If an understanding and peace settlement is to be reached between Ukraine and Russia, we must consider what institution is most capable of facilitating the necessary negotiations. The United Nations is the logical party, for this task, according to its charter, its goal is to “prevent the scourge of war.”
Unfortunately, the UN Security Council is hobbled by the fact that Russia and the other great powers that emerged victorious in World War II?the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and China?exercise veto power. And Russia has vetoed Security Council action in connection with the Ukraine war.
The International Court of Justice was foreseen by the UN Charter as the primary method of resolution of disputes between Countries, offering law as an alternative to war. But the law needs enforcement, and the ICJ has none. Its ruling against Russia nearly two years ago was utterly ignored.
But this does not prevent the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, from organizing serious peace negotiations. The role of the Secretary-General is that of chief diplomat for all nations. That official is charged with mediation and appointment of envoys to broker peace agreements. In getting such negotiations off the ground, he might find it useful to draw upon countries such as China or Turkey, both of which have a rapport with Putin.
The United Nations which is the world’s largest and most important international peace organization is the logical place toorganize these negotiations. It must also move forward with reform of the UN Security Council, thereby ending its paralysis when it comes to enforcing world peace and security.
We can move from war to law by reforming and strengthening the United Nations, but it will take some creative thinking and action by all of us.