Is the United Nations a Vast Failure?

From Thinking Outside the Boxe’s Manila Correspondent

Academics, students, and enthusiasts of international relations are undoubtedly familiar with the theories that shape its study. Often, as is the case with many other debates, people tend to take the side or the theory that resonates most with them, and it can be contended that international relations is no different. In particular though, liberalism is useful for understanding the role which the United Nations plays in the international system.

Proponents of other theories often discount the role of the United Nations, and some of realism’s most stark adherents go so far as to say that the United Nations has achieved very little in the time it has been in existence, citing the self-interest of states and the fundamental darkness present in human nature which projects itself in a state’s collective behavior.

However, it cannot be discounted that the United Nations is now a platform for international cooperation and conflict resolution, a source of aid and funding for development, as well as a crucial actor in the international system. Thus, this article makes a case in defense of the United Nations, examining the context that brought it into existence, the Charter that guides its work and the changes it has effected in the world.

Firstly, despite its current role in peacekeeping, the UN owes its existence to the stain of war. In answer to the devastation of the First and Second World Wars, the world and its leaders began to understand that the future relied on stability and lasting peace. The extreme upheavals which the international system experienced during and after the two world conflicts were in no way positive, which contributed to the discontent of the public who began to clamor against any sort of future discord, especially discord as devastating as the World Wars.

For example, the end of the First World War brought with it a renewed sense of idealism and a new collective outlook. However, its devastation also cannot be forgotten and this creates two sides to the same coin of experience, an experience which most rather did not wish to have again.
During the turbulent years following the end of the First World War, the League of Nations was brought into existence to prevent another global conflict on the same scale. The philosophy behind its existence directly underlies the future philosophy which the United Nations eventually adopted and which it uses up to the present. The League, like the present UN, had no standing army and depended on the great powers to enforce the measures it passed. As of the present, the UN also bears no standing army, and its peacekeeping and aid operations are backed by the forces sent by member states. In other aspects, such as collective security and disarmament, the United Nations also has a template in the League of Nations. All of the changes in the League reflected a shift in mindset, and this shift in thinking continues today as the UN continues to find new, more effective ways of broadcasting its message and living its mandate.

All that said though, no matter how far we look in the past, there is also much to be learned in the present. As of today, the United Nations is a vibrant 193-member association of nations which operates the world’s largest humanitarian organization, the World Food Program. Many of its institutions and satellites also serve important, varied functions in world progress. Its institutions and scope range anywhere from labor to food aid, world development and financing, as well as serving as platforms for dialogue and debate over new resolutions that have changed the landscape of international legislation.

It is the birthplace of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which afforded a new framework for ensuring the universal rights possessed by each person in equal measure. In addition to this landmark document, the UN is also the home of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Protocols on Economic, Social, Political and Civil Rights, as well as many other multilateral treaties and agreements that have served to help lessen if not eradicate world crimes, ensure the flow of trade, promote development and maintain international goodwill among nations.

Thus, it would be foolish to remain hedged about the United Nations. Certainly, there are obstacles ahead for all humanity, and we never know what really lies ahead. In any case, for as long as peace prevails among the many human ideals we all share, as long as material and human development remain priorities among nations, as long as we keep to the belief that there is a dawn ahead for all of us, there will always be a place for the United Nations.

Certainly, there will be doubts about the future and what it holds, but it is my belief that the United Nations will remain strong in its conviction and in the goals it set out for itself in its Charter. I believe it will continue well on into the future with the valuable work it performs.

And, even in a world divided by class, religion, economic station, prestige or power, there is hope for the human race. Despite the mutual challenges faced by all citizens in a world that is both connected and estranged, where people may feel a loss of connection and hope with the rest of their fellowmen, where it seems like hope is just a precious commodity like the many material needs we all desire to fulfill, there is a single sentence which the UN can use to give us the courage to face our collective future. The sentence is simple, but it sums up the progress of the human race and our immutable spirit. As the UN says, it’s your world.

The challenges that lie ahead are truly ours to face, and yet ours to conquer. So no, let others think what they may think, but I believe I am justified when I say: the United Nations is not a failure at all.

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