The crisis in Crimea is clearly of grave consequence to the people in the region and to global security. It will also test the UN system, which was designed in large part to give major world powers a forum to peaceably discuss their conflicts and come up with diplomatic solutions when a crisis like this arises.
The UN has not stopped global conflict. But it has put an end to conflict between major world powers. In the 69 years since the UN’s founding there has been no major war between big powers. Compare that to the 69 years prior to the UN’s founding in which there were no fewer than six major wars, including the two World Wars, the Spanish-American War, the Russo-Japanese War, the Russo-Turkish War, and the Boxer Rebellion.
The UN system, designed in the aftermath of World War Two, established basic codes of conduct that have helped to eliminate armed conflict between the world’s biggest powers. Those mechanisms will be tested in the coming days. There will be meetings of the Security Council, negotiating by international diplomats, statements by the Secretary General, and perhaps even the dispatch of some sort of UN observer mission.
The formal role of the UN in mediating this conflict may or may not be limited, but the global system that it reflects will help ensure that this crisis does not escalate.