Failures of United Nations (part 4 – possible solutions)

As it became clear from the first three parts of “Failures of United Nations,” there is much to do for the UN to look anything like what its charter’s pre-amble sets out for its vision.

To summarize the most generic and underlying (for all UN agencies) reasons of the UN failures are:

  1. The UN has deviated from its primary role of preventing conflicts and over-extended into fields extending from education, to health, to humanitarian issues, to social and cultural fields.
  2. The UN today has emerged as an overextended empire with vested interests to enlarging its extent from New York to Paris to Rome and all sorts of UN advisors present from Africa to East Timor.
  3. The UN bureaucracy is too heavy and flabby with no justifiable functions.
  4. Millions of US dollars are spent on United Nations functions and operations other than the primary role of conflict prevention.
  5. UN operations and functions which could be performed by regional organisations or players are abrogated or duplicated by United Nations organisations.
  6. Millions of UN dollars are spent on various committee meetings and honorariums to their select members which have no connection at all with global security.
  7. Non-traditional security threats are being given priority at the expense of conflict prevention. This again is part of United Nations empire-building by vested interests.

While admittedly there are worthwhile, inspiring stories and exceptions among UN agencies, the large chunk of the UN, like a dinosaur’s rotting flesh and bones, make the stink spread far and wide, obfuscating the few healthy and productive organs it has. As of 2011, the UN remains what it has always been: for most part a debating society, a humanitarian relief organization, and an occasionally useful resort for power diplomacy.

The part blame of UN failures rests with the mindset of UN administrators, who think that no problem in the world is too intractable to be solved by negotiation. These mandarins fail to grasp that men with guns do not respect men with lotus flower. A good example of this incomprehension was Annan’s negotiations with Saddam Hussein. In 1998, Annan undertook shuttle diplomacy to Baghdad, reached a deal with Saddam to continue weapons inspections, and declared him “a man I can do business with.” Almost immediately Saddam flouted his agreement with Annan.

No doubt the UN, conceived in the context (before discoveries/inventions/introduction of DNA, cell phones, computers/Internet, neurosciences, global economy, reserve currency, and the list goes on) and accordance to its own times and needs, must be either dissolved or reorganized into a modern, 21st century global entity. The UN is highly bureaucratic, inefficient and obsolete as it stands today, a far cry from a modern global and efficient framework assigned to address and solve virtually every problem the world has been facing since millennia and only became aware in the beginning of 20th century.  The immediacy that is common place today did not exist when the UN was founded. Much of the activities of the UN were not known to most of the world. This is why in the first 40 years sanctions by oppressive governments were largely ignored.

Soem of possible ways of fixing the UN, include:

  1. Abolish the SC. Can anyone envision PRC, Ghana and the Republic of Congo adheres to the same principles of human rights as Belgium, Italy and United Kingdom do? In practice, even if those conventions are ratified, there is little effort put in monitoring or enforcing them.
  2. Perform SWOT analysis of all UN agencies and either downsize or fully eliminate those which do not adhere to a number of pre-defined strict criteria. Agencies such as UNAIDS need to go or reinvent themselves dramatically.
  3. Drastically downsize the UN Secretariat and associated bureaucratic apparatus – it stands along the way of idea exchange, institutional innovation and cross-pollination. Bureaucracy needs to become a friend instead of being an enemy.
  4. Initiate a strong reassessment of UN human resources – downgrade/upgrade accordingly, in addition to tieing some of salary or other incentives to employee performance – yet another good business practice the UN can benefit from.
  5. Bring in network theory specialists and a study of how its practices can possibly be implemented inside various UN agencies in in order to increase impact and efficiency of their performances.
  6. The UN must loose/divert its military (and those adjacent complementing and leading to military) muscles. Passing meaningless resolutions against Israel, China, Russia, and the US with political agendas attached, historically served no purpose except to expose the UN’s weaknesses and soft political underbelly.
  7. Divert funds into world education, health and social development, letting go of political and economic aspirations in member countries.
  8. All UN member countries come to an agreement of having a “world police” –  the US tipped the prime first candidate (it can be rotational and performance-based). This country will not act under jurisdiction or other legal tie of the UN but independently as a legitimate representative of all the UN (and few non-UN) countries.
The above list is not comprehensive, but it can serve as a beginning.

The UN was designed to prevent the occurrence of another global war, which it did, without being able to prevent smaller wars/conflicts with even bigger human and other resource loses. Making the UN a more viable organization, more non-political and more relevant for the 21st century is essential for its survival and relevance in a modern world. Otherwise it should be relegated to the bone yard where its present course is now headed.

Failures of United Nations (part 1 – Security Council)

January 1, 1942. WW2 is raging. There is misery, chaos and destruction. Representatives of 26 countries, including America, are gathered and pledge in “Declaration by United Nations” – Franklin D. Roosevelt coins the term “United Nations” – to continue fighting the evil of Axis powers.

1945. War is over, but the term coined by FDR lives on as representatives of 50 countries meet in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter, which has the following pre-amble.

  • To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • To establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

What about results it has achieved in its 60 years of history? According to one groundbreaking report UNICEF conducted in 1996:

  • Increasingly, wars are fought in precisely those countries that can least afford them. Of more than 150 major conflicts since the Second World War, 130 have been fought in the developing world. The per capita gross national product (GNP) of war-torn countries in 1994 included: Afghanistan (US$280), Angola ($700), Cambodia ($200), Georgia ($580), Liberia ($450), Mozambique ($80), Somalia ($120), Sri Lanka ($640), the Sudan ($480).
  • Since the 1950s, more wars have started than have stopped. By the end of 1995, wars had been running in Afghanistan for 17 years, Angola, 30; Liberia, 6; Somalia, 7; Sri Lanka, 11; Sudan, 12.
  • The global case-load of refugees and displaced persons is growing at alarming speed. The number of refugees from armed conflicts worldwide increased from 2.4 million in 1974 to more than 27.4 million today, the report notes, with another 30 million people displaced within their own countries. Children and women make up an estimated 80 per cent of displaced populations.
  • In 6 out of 12 country studies prepared for a research report … the arrival of peace-keeping troops has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution.

The UN’s elephant in the room that no one pretends to heed is the infamous UN Security Council (SC), which issues resolutions, which – the SC is the only UN agency with such power – are binding by law for all UN members. Not only the balance of power is tilted towards the UK, France, the US, China and Russia – the veto-wielding powers that can block any decision even if remaining ten non-veto members vote yes – but this tilt itself is archaic, driven by the then political and economic realities, and not representing 21st century power distribution.

It is not only this but the fact – and this is the most important factor in deciding the “usefulness” of the SC – that scrambling over each other at times and staying mum at other times and closing their eyes and ears at yet others is a typical mode of functioning of this UN body. Furthermore, if it were only numerous debates with foregone decisions, meticulously planned and executed-to-perfection speeches containing no sense or petty, nitpicking droolings over a single word resonating in the halls and assemblies around the world, that would still be bearable. Reality is different. The result is a list of failures, lack of actions sanctioned by and plain inactivy on the part of the SC, notably:

  • UN voice re Hungary and Czechoslovakia was ignored by the Soviet Union in 1950s.
  • No emphatic role/inefficiency/late action in crisis of worst kinds such as  Sierra LeoneCuban Missile Crisis, Korean War, Vietnam War, Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan, the US-sponsored Islamic Jehad via Pakistan on Afghanistan against the Soviets, the three Gulf Wars and the wars leading to the break up of Yugoslavia.
  • Number of nuclear powers (and their nuclear activities) has been increasing despite UN’s and its nuclear watchdog IAEA’s best efforts. Notably, China’s assistance in development of nuclear weapons and its supply of nuclear capable missiles and missile technology to Pakistan, assistance in building up of DPRK’s long-range and nuclear capable missiles, and finally, Pakistan’s supply of nuclear weapons technology to DPRK.
  • Iraq (American intervention was bereft of a UN SC mandate) and Afghanistan have large contingents of UN peacekeepers – yet the situation has become worse despite – or perhaps because of – their arrival and inefficient operations.
  • Inability to resolve/mediate in politically unstable or conflicting situations diplomatically.
  • Inability to define, grasp the scope of and resolve the war on terrorism.

According to the UN entry on Wikipedia the main issue is the UN’s intergovernmental – and that’s 192 governments with different agendas – nature, which defies its consensus-based logic. The UN itself published and acknowledged its two biggest blunders: Rwanda (1994) and Srebrenica (1995). UN peacekeepers in Rwanda stood by as Hutu slaughtered some 800,000 Tutsi. In Bosnia, the UN declared safe areas for Muslims but did nothing to secure them, letting the Serbs slaughter thousands in Srebrenica.

Additionally, petty disagreements, procrastination and narrow-minded bureaucracy of the SC delegates failed to provide humanitarian aid in the Second Congo War, failed to relief starving Somalia and Uganda, failed to intervene and save countless lives in Sudan, failed to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue.

The UN was the very reason, back in last months of 1947, reluctant to decide upon partitioning of Jews, the minority, and Palestinians when the UK handed it the sovereignty mandate that caused Jews to take on all strategic administrative posts – they were better educated thus more fit – the subsequent outcry of Arabs who were a majority to take to streets with weapons, ushering in a full-fledged civil war, which in May 1948 turned into a war between Israel and neighboring Arab countries.

The much touted and hope-inspiring UN peacekeepers have been marred with problems of their own. They were accused of child rape and sexual abuse during various peacekeeping missions in Congo, Haiti, Liberia, etc. Around 100,000 UN peacekeepers make up UN peacekeeping operations – currently, Pakistan, Bangladesh being the biggest contributors – are sent by a number of contributing governments in exchange for a monthly stipend of about US$1,400 per soldier – a significant amount for main contributing countries. Trying to coordinate all the disparate, differently-trained and equipped, multi-lingual units is quite a challenging, if not impossible, task.

The only interventions that achieved anything worthwhile in the 1990s were conducted outside the standard UN “jurisdiction.”  They were achieved through great-power action and traditional balance-of-power calculations – both anathema to orthodox UN mentality. In Bosnia, a Croat onslaught and NATO bombing and artillery bombardment combined to roll back Serb forces and to push Slobodan Milosevic to cut a deal. In Kosovo, a rebel ground offensive, NATO air power, and the threat of a NATO invasion again bludgeoned Belgrade into submission. The UN’s role was negligible in both cases.

NATO won a victory in Kosovo and unwisely turned over its management to the UN and its chief Bernard Kouchner, who faced the challenge of running Kosovo but inability to prevent its eventual return to Serbia, resulting in delayed schedules, lags in reconstruction and suffering/dispossessed population.

Thus the SC is clearly problematic and not in some aesthetic or theoretical, but in a manner that caused and causes suffering, death and abuse in many corners of the world, the very opposite of their claimed objectives.

But what other alternatives are there, at least as far as global peace and security are concerned? “Might Is Right” cause is as arcane as one country being the leader of world peace. What government would accept that? Also, we can safely assume that no country has the moral high ground or a universally accorded carte-blanche or even a sheer logistical capacity to become the world police, peacemaker/keeper/sustainer.

There are proposed alternatives (a bit paraphrased and complemented by links).

David Rieff has argued for the US and its allies to undertake “liberal imperialism,” while William Kristol and Robert Kagan have called for the US to assume a “benevolent global hegemony” – which will imply fighting wars in places like Kosovo. Contrary to received wisdom, this would not be a new role for the US, for it had been involved in other countries’ internal affairs since at least 1805, when, during the Tripolitan War, the US tried to topple the pasha of Tripoli and replace him with his pro-American brother. US Marines landed abroad 180 times in the period of 1800-1934. In the 19th century, they stayed only a few days but still helped open up the world to Western trade and influence, their most spectacular successes being Commodore Perry’s mission to Japan and the defeat of the Barbary pirates. After 1898, US forces stayed longer in order to run countries such as the Philippines, Haiti, and Cuba. The US rule was not democratic, but it gave those countries the most honest and efficient governments they have ever enjoyed.

Another way that the UN shows its archaic nature is its inability to cope with the new and increainslgy popular networked terrorism. The UN does not formally recognize any country as a terrorist state, nor has its own definition of terrorism, vowing for “operational definition” of a specific terrorism act.

“Is it worth (read: pros/cons analysis) having a Security Council at all, given all its past and present fails?” is the question we need to really think about.

The UN and human rights failures

August 2006. Although hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel had been raging for nearly a month, both sides waited for a green light from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) special session on 3 August in Malaysia before demanding an United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) special session on Lebanon. There was no debate, elaboration or explanation. The special session represented a series of monologues and declamations in complete isolation from the outside world. The passed resolution condemned Israel unilaterally without the least reference to Hezbollah attacks on civilian targets in northern Israel. Only a paragraph added by Pakistan to the initial draft urged all the parties involved to respect the rules of international humanitarian law.

This was not the end of the story. The HRC session was held the same day that the Security Council (SC) was adopting the resolution 1701 calling for a cessation of hostilities (in a glaring breach of Article 12 of the UN Charter, which forbids the GA to make recommendations w.r.t. a dispute at hand while the SC is holding a session about that dispute).

Issues related to human rights have historically been (mis)interpreted and disregarded during the entire human history, but the WW2 was the last straw. The idea, shortly after the inception of the UN, to establish an international body, United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), responsible for monitoring and reporting on human rights issues prompted all the nations assembled in 1948 for a GA session to sign a founding text, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, arguably the Most Translated Document in the world. One of its main architects, the French jurist René Cassin, had to fight for the declaration to be “universal “and not just “international.” He thought that the suffering of victims is the same everywhere. The Declaration was drafted not only by European jurists but also a Lebanese diplomat, a Chilean, and a Chinese academic, Peng-chun Chang.

Ever since its creation, the Commission has seen a mounting criticism not only for its obtusely bureaucratic practices but also for the composition of its membership. In particular, several of its member countries (Sudan, Saudi Arabia, PRC, Pakistan, Vietnam) themselves had dubious human rights records, including states whose representatives have been elected to chair the commission (Lybia in 2003). Another criticism was that the Commission did not engage in constructive discussion of human rights issues, but was a forum for politically selective finger-pointing and criticism. The desire of states with problematic human rights records to be elected to the Commission was viewed largely as a way to defend themselves from such attacks.

In 2005, Kofi Annan admitted that the commission has “cast a shadow on the reputation of the UN system as a whole.

There was also the problem of the exploitation and sexual abuse of refugees. It was bad enough that UN “peacekeepers” were notoriously unable to protect women in UN camps in western Sudan. It was even more deplorable that UN peacekeepers themselves were part of the problem. In 2004, Kofi Annan finally admitted that there were 150 allegations of abuse by UN peacekeepers and staff in the DR Congo, including UN military and civilian personnel from Nepal, Tunisia, South Africa, Pakistan, and France. The victims were defenseless refugees — many of them children — already brutalized by years of civil strife and war.

Finally, UN attitude toward some of the most important defenders of human rights – the charities and faith-based groups – might seem weird to the uninformed. Most of the UN’s favorite NGOs use international rulings to overturn democratic protections in their home countries. The UN vision of civil society, in other words, seems to be a penumbra of activist groups that simply endorse its agenda of centralized economies, large welfare states, and massive social engineering.  Many function simply as front groups for despotic and totalitarian governments such as Cuba and Saudi Arabia.  On the other hand, organizations that work to assist AIDS orphans, eradicate human trafficking, curb prostitution, or defend religious liberty don’t get much air time.

The UNHRC was established in 2006 to replace the discredited UNCHR. Despite minimal safeguards against capture of the HRC by human rights abusers, HRC supporters, including UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, were quick to declare that the new body represented the “dawn of a new era” in promoting human rights in the UN. Noteworthy to mention that the US was one of only four countries that voted against the GA resolution that created the Council.

But the hopes placed in the UN’s new guard dog were quickly dashed. When the first council was elected in May 2006, its members included countries in which the death penalty, torture, impunity, arbitrary detention and denial of basic rights seem to be essential components of their societies. The UN put Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, China, Cuba, Nigeria and Russia in charge of defending the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The machinery was still brand new but it was already beginning to squeak. Some of teh other inadequacies and short-sighted decisions concerning the creation, membership and structure of the Council included:

  • The Council has no criteria for membership other than geographical representation.
  • The Council has no criteria for membership other than geographical representation.
  • The resolution set a higher bar to suspend a HRC member—a vote of two-thirds of the General Assembly—than the simple majority necessary to win a seat.
  • The Council is only marginally smaller than the Commission, from 53 members to 47.
  • While the Council is charged with conducting a universal periodic review, the conclusions of the review would not prevent those countries found complicit in human rights violations from participating in the Council.

In less than two years, the council has terminated the mandates of its independent experts – only UN officials who escape the dictates of a government – in charge of monitoring the situation in Cuba, Belarus and even DR Congo, where the recent years have witnessed mass killings and flood of refugees. The Council also refused to appoint an expert for Turkmenistan, one of the most oppressive regimes in the world.

In the meantime, China, Uzbekistan, Russia and others have been maneuvering behind the scenes and struck deals to ensure that their and their allies’ interests would be safeguarded. Votes are not cast according to the seriousness of the situation in a country but according to the possible advantages that the country or its allies can offer in return. China is the champion in this game. Using its enormous economic power, it ensures that it is systematically supported by countries on whom it lavishes loans, subsidies and other material and economic advantages.

Meant to defend the universality of values, the UNHRC has so far tackled human rights issues, even the most appalling of violations, in a little better than a condemnable manner.