Is the United Nations a Vast Failure? Part I

From Thinking Outside the Boxe’s Sydney Correspondent: The United Nations was formed in 1945, following the Second World War. The UN is mainly known for its peacekeeping efforts but is also actively involved in disaster relief, disarmament, the promotion of democracy, the promotion of gender equality, as well as a number of other things. The four main purposes of the UN are:

To keep peace throughout the world;

To develop friendly relations between nations;

To help nations work together to improve the lives of poor people, to conquer hunger, disease and illiteracy, and to encourage respect for eachother’s rights and freedoms;

To be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations to achieve these goals.

In order to assess whether the UN is in fact a vast failure it is important to look at some examples that show whether or not it is succeeding in fulfilling its own objectives. The New Zealand arm of the UN contains on its website an interesting article that claims the UN has been successful because there have been no World Wars since its formation and because it “..have achieved what is arguably the greatest level of global peace and prosperity in the history of the world”. The author does admit there is a long way to go and states that “UN members also need to overcome their narrow interests to achieve the much needed reform of the organization”. This ‘much needed reform’ is an issue we will explore in more depth shortly but is it possible to give the UN credit for the global peace and prosperity the world enjoys? It is true that since the formation of the UN there have been no more World Wars as such, however there has been a Cold War and regional conflicts, often supported by global powers, have continued unabated. While the UN has had its successes, it has just has often been criticized, and perhaps on many occasions, fairly.

It would be reasonable to say that the area in which the UN has been most criticized is its peacekeeping efforts. Critics point to examples such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide; the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, and by failing to authorise peacekeepers to use force the UN was unable to deliver food to starving people in Somalia. UN peacekeepers have also been accused of child rape, sexual abuse, and soliciting prostitutes in the Congo, Haiti, and Sudan among others. It can be very easy to pick a handful of examples and be critical but while these failures should rightly be condemned, it is not necessarily a fair analysis of the work of the UN. In 2005, a RAND Corp study found that the UN had been successful in two out of three peacekeeping efforts. When comparing UN nation – building efforts to those of the United States the study found that seven out of eight UN cases were at peace compared to four out of eight cases where the United States was involved.

Where the UN really draws fair criticism from within (as stated by the NZ report) and without is its organizational structure. Currently 192 nations are members of the UN with 15 members on the UN Security Council, five of those being permanent members with the right of veto. As mentioned, the competing political ideologies and interests has often hamstrung the United Nations and led to widespread criticism. After all, how can such an organization achieve its aims in such a politicized environment? A recent editorial written in the Jakarta Post, dated 10/8/2011 picks up on these intergovernmental complexities when writing about the failure of the UN Security Council to act against the Syrian Government’s brutal repression of Syrian protesters. The editorial reports that a UN proposal that had been severely watered down in order to gain agreement failed by 9 votes to 2 (vetoed by China and Russia), with four nations abstaining. The ineffectually of the resolution is commented upon in the editorial, “It made no mention of any embargo or specific action to be taken against the regime even if the resolution was supposed to be binding. It did not even invoke the UN principle of the responsibility to protect”. By this final measure, the inaction of the UN can only be considered as a failure.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s