The ''appalling'' shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines
passenger jet with the loss of about 298 lives highlights the
need to rejuvenate the United Nations and its
conflict-resolving machinery, Prof Robert Patman says.
Patman, who is a University of Otago specialist in
international relations, said the ‘‘dreadful'' act was only
the latest of a growing mass of civilian deaths arising from
intense internal and interstate conflicts, both in eastern
Ukraine and in the Middle East.
Many of the latter deaths - including children playing on a
beach - had arisen from the Israeli bombardment and later
invasion of Gaza, after Hamas-linked rocket attacks on
And about 170,000 people, most of them civilians, had been
killed in Syria in the past three years.
Patman, who heads the politics department at Otago, said the
United Nations was deliberately being kept weak by some big
But, paradoxically, countries such as Russia and the United
States could not alone resolve the civil wars and regional
conflicts at the heart of the airliner disaster and the
soaring civilian death toll in Gaza, Syria and Iraq.
If the big powers were not willing or able to resolve
regional conflicts, small or medium-sized countries,
including New Zealand, ultimately needed to play a much more
Although details about the Malaysia Airlines disaster were
yet to be fully clarified and confirmed, it seemed a
Russian-built ground-to-air missile might have been involved
and might have been fired by Russian-supplied separatist
rebels in east Ukraine.
Although he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin had not
wanted the aircraft to be destroyed, the outcome was among
the indirect results of a wider and serious foreign policy
‘‘miscalculation'' by Putin.
That miscalculation lay in trying to impose an old-fashioned
‘‘muscular approach'' to Ukraine and other countries he
perceived to be in the Russian ‘‘sphere of influence''.
Putin's poll ratings in Russia had soared after his earlier
annexation of Crimea.
But the Russian economy was starting to pay a heavy price
resulting from Western sanctions and disinvestment, and his
popularity, ultimately, was likely to suffer.
A total of $US77 billion ($NZ88.7 billion) in overseas
investment in the Russian economy had been withdrawn this
year and the value of the Russian rouble was falling.
‘‘The Russian economy is critically dependent on the outside
world,'' Patman said.
‘‘The costs of Mr Putin's policy on the Ukraine are
escalating dramatically. It's becoming unsustainable.''
Putin had been trying to play an elaborate ‘‘double game''
by, on the one hand, annexing Crimea and arming Ukrainian
separatist rebels, but, on the other, seeking to play the
role of regional peacemaker in ostensibly trying to reduce
tensions following the recent Ukrainian presidential
His approach had ultimately caused Russia's international
standing ‘‘enormous harm'', Patman said.
The shooting down of the airliner was clearly a ‘‘sobering''