Today marks the 34th United Nations International Day of Peace. Although this is a great way to promote a more co-operative world, it’s ironic that at this point in time the world couldn’t be any less peaceful.
Formed at the end of WW2, the UN was set up with the aim to seek world armistice in the years to come. After the complete failure of the ‘The League of Nations’ (the pacifist organisation before the UN) in preventing a Second World War. Nations wanted an international organisation which could actually do something about rogue states, terrorists, and threats to international order and security on the whole.
The UN currently has 193 member states, five of which have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (the USA, the UK, the Russian Federation, China and France), and ten others which are elected every two years by the UN General Assembly.
The main founding mission statement for the United Nations was “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” But how successful has the organisation been in doing this? Despite there being some successes e.g. providing aid for world hunger, there have been many failures of this group.
The United Nations condemned what many experts agree was the first case of “modern” terrorism, the 1968 hijacking of an Israeli plane by a Palestinian terrorist organisation. Apart from the condemnation, they failed to take any further action. These terrorist acts continued frequently throughout the remainder of the twentieth century, but the UN chose to do nothing else about it.
With the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the UN finally took action, outlawing terrorism and punishing those responsible for the attacks. Unfortunately, this applied only to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. State-funded terrorist programs—such as Hamas – were unaffected.
Nations that support groups that are widely linked to terrorism, such as Iran, are not held accountable specifically for these actions. To this date, the UN still does not have a clear definition of terrorism. Does the feeble denunciation by the UN stop terrorists and militants? Of course not.
In addition to this, much of the international peace progress made since 1945 has not involved the UN at all. Generally the so called ‘mutually assured destruction’ kept the peace between the great world powers, while institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, GATT and the WTO have functioned independently in increasing wealth without the help of the UN.
A 1970 UN nuclear treaty committed most members to getting rid of all nuclear weapons. Some countries like South Africa have got rid of their weapons. Yet in 2015, there are still around 15,000 nukes in the world. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only case of disregard for UN proposals.
For example, in 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was published, which gave rights to those suffering injustice in many corners of the globe. However, the USSR chose to violate this act completely and had no sanction. Civic rights were virtually non-existent. Uprisings demanding the rights established in the UDHR were destroyed with brute force. With the United Nations unwilling to act upon such atrocities, the words in the charter truly were rendered meaningless for those who needed them the very most.
The UN has also been greatly criticised for its inability to successfully carry out peacekeeping missions. A prime example was in Rwanda, when the UN failed to stop around a million of the Tutsi minority from being murdered by the Hutu majority (an act of genocide). It’s claimed that the UN knew it was going to happen beforehand. The Rwandan genocide of 1994 details the gross inability of the United Nations to carry out its sworn duty to maintain peace and security.
One focal point of the organisation is to reduce friction between different states. However, the USA and the Russian Federation, who have permanent seats on the UN Security Council, have hardly been the best of friends over the years.
An important question we must ask is, does anyone actually listen to the UN? Sure, when it’s appropriate, the particular government may use the words of the UN as reasoning for their actions. But what about when it’s not? Iraq in 2003 springs to mind. Blair and Bush both sent in military forces against advice from the UN. The minutes were on the website of the Security Council for all to see. They quite clearly stated that there was no reason to assume there were any Weapons of Mass Destruction or that the Iraqis were not complying with weapons assessors.
But Saddam is dead, Obama is in the place of Bush, Blair is no longer in power and there are civilians in Syria who are being killed, injured and made homeless by their own government. That exemplifies the fact that the UN has no real fortitude. Nations will carry out their ambitions regardless because after all, the UN will do nothing to stop them. Unfortunately in times of real crisis the UN have seemed toothless in their actions.
To top it all off, The United Nations is (much like the European Union) subject to a pompous bureaucracy. Ability is not always rewarded, as most of the time seniority is prioritised in governing within the UN. In times of hardship, such as in Yugoslavia, this has resulted in extremely slow decision making which has proved fatal to operations, and sometimes lead to complete failure.
The deficiencies mentioned above pose the question of what can the UN do in times of desperation, and equally of whether or not the UN is needed anymore. At a time of global unrest and in some cases political turmoil, it is a necessity that we have an organisation with a backbone that can guide the world in the right direction.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the UN is up to scratch. Yes, we still need a peace organisation to help us, but it needs to have clear priorities, clear ambitions and clear means of handling situations. An organisation that will promise to physically help us eliminate terrorist threats, promote peace, reduce corruption and conclusively strengthen world co-operation amongst everyone.