A world in disarray – we can do better than this

In search of world peace_composite picture_Francis M. O'Donnell_9Dec2023

America’s last chance to lead

Yesterday, 9 December, was the International Day of Commemoration & Dignity of Victims of the Crime of Genocide & Prevention of this Crime. Yet, the international community continues to fail abysmally to prevent it, and to intercept, arrest and hold accountable those directly responsible; nor to adequately uphold Human Rights, whose day we mark today, on 10 December.

Hamas’ refusal to release all hostages, and continuing missile assaults on Israeli population centres, massively squander thousands of innocent Palestinian lives used as human shields. Whilst recognising Israel’s right to self-defence, the Netanyahu régime has massively squandered global sympathy for the victims of the atrocious assault and murders by Hamas on 7 October. And this is not to ignore the egregious Russian invasion of Ukraine, nor wars elsewhere, especially in Africa, nor looming Venezuelan aggression against Guyana.

My former United Nations colleagues in our “Peacemaking Reflection Group”[1] and I are disgusted. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ position now seems untenable, as he invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter for the first time in over 30 years, calling for a ceasefire to prevent further catastrophe and save innocent Palestinians, especially thousands of women and children, from a fate worse than their tragic Nakba, and to prevent further Hamas attacks on Israeli cities, towns and kibbutzim[2]. Guterres’ possible resignation, or even a statement to the effect that he is “reconsidering his position as SG”, might serve to send a politico-diplomatic shockwave around the world. But would it be enough anymore for a breakthrough consensus among the P5, the permanent veto-wielding UNSC members to whom the primary responsibility for global peace and governance is anachronistically entrusted? Let us see first how the vastly more-democratic UN General Assembly now considers that veto, within ten days of its casting, as it must in accordance with its own resolution (document A/77/L.52)[3].

America’s veto on the latest draft UN Security Council resolution[4], after Guterres invoked Art. 99, nonetheless undermines the UN & its secretary-general and prolongs Hamas’ dwindling capacity to wage its ruthless terror campaign. It also empowers Netanyahu’s régime to push Palestinians to south-west Gaza, the only area Israel dubiously says will be “safe”, i.e. “to the sea”. Ironically this reverses David Ben Gurion’s paranoid canard in his speech of 27 October 1961 to the Knesset[5], his suggestions of resettlement of Palestinian refugees notwithstanding. It is echoed today by the current Israeli government’s mooted plans for resettling Palestinian IDPs from Gaza, as reflected in recent exposures of the policy documents[6] and statements by its Minister of Intelligence, Gila Gamliel[7].

In retrospect, UNRWA’s remit is considered by some to have only prolonged and not resolved the displacement fate of millions of Palestinians, now into their 4th or 5th generation. It may have been better to have folded it into UNHCR which was created a year later in December 1950.

As for USA, if some lose faith in President Biden’s leadership even after the UN Secretary General, The Elders led by former Irish President Mary Robinson, and prevailing world opinion all urged him otherwise, some may abandon hope. On the other hand, US naval deployment in the eastern Mediterranean, two carrier strike groups[8], whilst ostensibly preventing any military adventurism by Israel’s neighbours or Iran, may also serve as a springboard for an eventual multinational force, preferably UN if not NATO, to impose a security cordon around Gaza, and enable reconstruction with international aid and the establishment of a civilian administration initially with UN support as done in Kosovo with NATO involvement, or in East Timor after Australian military deployment over two decades ago.

In these times of desperation at failures of global governance and multilateralism, and erosion of global norms, the rule of law, and human rights, it is from ancient Egypt that we have humanity’s first book. Ptah-Hotep’s brief wisdom literature can inspire us forward, written 4,500 years ago and long before the Torah, Bible, or Qu’ran, and their “modern” extremist religious fanatics, or corrupt ideological demagogues and their tyrants. Too few follow his 5th aphorism: “if you are a leader, who controls the affairs of many, then seek the most perfect way of performing your responsibility so that your conduct will be blameless[9].

So why can we not do better than current geopolitical disarray? Perhaps we CAN….

America’s primary role in the founding of the UN, vigorously and in a matter of months, pulling out all the diplomatic stops to do so, in what Stephen C. Schlesinger has rightly called an “Act of Creation”, places a very special responsibility on it to rediscover its creative influence at a time of rising global geopolitical competition[10].  There is less than a year to go now, for the UN Summit of the Future to re-engineer multilateralism and its primary global architecture. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict represents an almost unique opportunity for the P5 to forge a consensus that at least begins to resolve the world’s most intractable and dangerous conflict. More than anyone else, the ball is decidedly in Biden’s court, including to save American democracy, Israel’s, and multilateralism’s ailing life support.

[1] Peacemaking Reflection Group: https://www.foggs.org/prg/

[2] UN Secretary-General’s letter of 6 December 2023 to the President of the UN Security Council: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N23/387/09/PDF/N2338709.pdf?OpenElement

[3] UN General Assembly resolution: https://press.un.org/en/2022/ga12417.doc.htm (initiated by Liechtenstein; adopted by consensus on 26 April 2022); see also: https://reliefweb.int/report/world/general-assembly-adopts-landmark-resolution-aimed-holding-five-permanent-security

[4] American veto: https://press.un.org/en/2023/sc15519.doc.htm

[5] Speech of Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to the parliament, the Knesset: https://www.gov.il/en/Departments/General/13-statement-to-the-knesset-by-pm-ben-gurion-27-october-1961

[6] https://www.972mag.com/intelligence-ministry-gaza-population-transfer/

[7] https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/likud-minister-suggests-world-should-promote-voluntary-resettlement-of-gazans/

[8] https://cepa.org/article/huge-us-naval-force-off-israel-comes-with-costs/

[9] The Teachings of Ptah-Hotep (on less than 20 modern pages in translation by Battiscombe G. Gunn, 1912): https://archive.org/details/instructionptah00amengoog/page/n6/mode/2up?view=theater

[10] Schlesinger, Stephen C. The Art of Creation – The Founding of the United Nations – A Story of Superpowers, Secret Agents, Wartime Allies and Enemies, and Their Quest for a Peaceful World, Westview Press, 2003.


Francis M. O'Donnell

Francis M. O’Donnell was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Sovereign Order of Malta to Slovakia from 2009 to 2013. He previously served as a United Nations official for 32 years, including as UN Resident Coordinator in Ukraine, from 2004 until 2009.


  1. 20 December, 2023 @ 16:53 Eibhlin Counihan

    I am lost for words to describe my thoughts and feelings, with the whole world watching the unrelenting violence against an entire population. There is no hiding, this conflict is a vindictive no limits response, that also ruthlessly killed three of their own and yet denies its actions. It was no accident and even that has not commanded a re-think by those who gave the Order. Shame on them, cowards safe in their ivory towers.


  2. 12 December, 2023 @ 01:17 Desmond Carroll

    I’m appalled at Americas abuse of the Veto and also the lack of the UK inputs abstinence. We are eternally shamed as Catholics and Knights in showing our solidarity with our colleagues in the Red Cross . It sure is time to remove the power of Veto as two of those have this gift of peace and both dare to fight and supply the means of death over their over sized EGO or Edging. god Out


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