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The UN, a panacea for peace or an inept collection of states | Blog

Current Affairs

Last month, Saudi Arabia declined the opportunity to seat in the UN Security Council. Most member states would relish the opportunity to seat in the Security Council alongside the five most powerful member states who hold veto power: US, UK, France, China and Russia. The move was an act of protest against the UN Security Council’s inability to rein in Bashar Al Assad and put an end to the civil war that cost thousands of lives, which is a result of a polarization of positions by the US and Russia who have fundamentally differing interests in the conflict. Although, the move by the Saudis was largely symbolic, it does raise questions about the UN's ability to solve conflict in the world.

The UN was formed after the Second World War; the victorious Allied coalition (US, UK, France, USSR and China) vowed to set up a multilateral institution that would promote peace. The precursor, the League of Nations, failed catastrophically to prevent the looming World War. It was criticized for being a hapless bystander in the face of Germany's aggression. Evidently, the new organization empowered the victors granting them veto power, while losers Germany and Japan, were granted nothing of the sort. They are respectively the fourth and third largest economies in the world. Currently, Japan is one of the largest financial contributors has since been lobbying for a seat at the prestigious Security Council. Critics have pointed out that the make-up of the Security Council reflects the Post-World War order and does not recognize the emergence of new powers such as Brazil and India. This criticism is not only levied on the UN itself but other multilateral institution such as the World Bank and the IMF.

The Allied Forces started what is commonly referred as the Nuremberg trials, these trials were meant to persecute the perpetrators of the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime. A historic attempt by the international community to seek justice for the war crimes committed including the Holocaust. The modern day equivalent is the International Criminal Court.

UN bodies have played a critical role in mitigating global problems such as; UNEP i.e. dedicated to environmental degradation, UNHCR that deals with refugees. Important treaties and declarations have been put in place by the UN such as the UN Declaration on Human Rights 1948 and the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, have been great initiatives aimed at making the world a better place. The UN has provided a global platform where states can resolve can try to resolve disputes diplomatically and military options are often viewed as a measure of last resort. Threats of sanctions are often applied to states that are deemed to be aggressors.

There have been notable failings in the UN, such as the failure to resolve the dispute over Kashmir region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the failure to avert the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Its biggest failure, in my opinion, was its inability to act decisively to avert the Rwandan Genocide 1994, the worst mass killing since the Holocaust.

The “Responsibility to protect” is a special charter that allows members to militarily intervene in a conflict where there is a likelihood of large scale civilian casualties. This principle successfully worked in Kosovo 1999, whereby NATO airstrikes helped end the crisis. Though, it is a fast way of dealing with problems it is highly controversial and political. This clause was used again to quell Gaddafi’s push to counter the prodemocracy protests that were sparked by the Arab spring. NATO airstrikes destroyed the Libya’s military capability. The mission’s objective was solely to protect civilian lives but it paved the way for regime change, a consequence that has not necessarily made Libya a safer place. This has led to the current impasse in the Security Council between the US and Russia over the Syria crisis. Russia felt it was duped and does not want similar action taken against Bashar Al Assad. The death toll currently stands at over 100,000 and millions displaced with no end in sight.

In conclusion, the UN has provided a much needed platform whereby states can resolve conflicts diplomatically rather than resort to military options. It has provided much needed assistance to mitigate global problems with UN specifically mandated to deal with a range of problems. But the UN Security Council has at times been an impediment to peace, particularly, when a member of the Security Council has a vested interest in a conflict. Unless there are widespread reforms to the UN governance structure, it will inhibit its ability to solve conflicts amicably.


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