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 Leone, Cuban 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.