THE UNITED NATIONS Failures, Snags and Reforms


By: Abdul Rasool Syed

Ensuring peace has been a primordial and universal aspiration of the mankind inhabiting the globe. The enlightened people, groups and nations have, from time to time, taken various initiatives in this respect. The urgency to establish an international organization for building peace was vehemently felt for the first time after the catastrophic events of the two World Wars that resulted in casualties of millions of people. In the aftermath of World War I, the League of Nations was established, but it had the seeds of its own destruction since its very conception. With a maximum membership of fifty-nine, it remained predominately a European organization. It made some progress in economic and social spheres. However, the outbreak of the Second World War was the death knell for this bloc as it abjectly failed to thwart the war and its members openly flouted the principles of peace.

However, the longing for a world body having the mandate to build and maintain peace did not wither away; rather it grew sharper with the eruption of the WWII. Consequently, in 1941, the western allies in concert against Hitler’s Germany started calling themselves “United Nations”. The Moscow Declaration of 1943 stressed the necessity of the establishment of an international organization for peace. As a result, fifty nations sent their representatives to the San Francisco Conference in 1945, which drafted the Charter. It formally came into existence on October 1945.

It is an undeniable fact that the UN had, in more than seven decades of its existence, been successful in averting the large-scale wars. This, indubitably, is its remarkable achievement. Even during the Cold War, when the two superpowers remained at daggers drawn, no direct armed conflict ever took place, thanks to the United Nations.

However, despite all the resources and the elaborate paraphernalia it always has at its disposal, the performance of the UN in dealing with the burning international issues has not been up to the mark. It has not been able to achieve the objectives its founding fathers had desired for and it has not really discharged its functions, in its operations and activities, in a manner a world organization is expected to. It has failed to live up to the expectations of the people of the world. What U Thant, the third Secretary-General of the United Nations (1961-1971) said more than three decades ago probably holds good even today. He said, “The United Nations born of the Charter has done well, but it has not done well enough. In a sense, it is a great parliament of mankind to which evils, injustices and aspirations of man are being brought, it has helped to prevent local conflicts from turning into world-wide conflagrations … it has condemned and fought colonialism, discrimination and racism in all its forms … it has looked for into the future, warning nations and men of world-wide dangers ahead. But the United Nations has done well enough.”

Undoubtedly, history would have been different had the UN taken a firm stand against the Zionists when they were driving out the Arabs from their homeland; had the UN intervened when Kashmir, historically, culturally and religiously an integral part of Pakistan, was snatched by Hindu imperialists; had the UN been effective and strong enough, thousands of innocent civilians would not have died in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Myanmar, Vietnam and in other parts of the world.

Read More: 70 Years of the United Nations | Successes, Failures and Way Forward

Why UN fails is the question often asked by the people. If we take UN’s past experience into account, we find many snags in its operating system that make it a damp squib. One of the key snags that inhibit its independent working of the UN is the veto power enjoyed by the permanent members of the Security Council. During the Cold War era, the veto power was so liberally used by the two big powers that it became virtually impossible to pass any resolution concerning the matters of great import and value.

Furthermore, another snag that hampers the growth and development of the UN is the undue influence and dominance of the big powers that have, without any restraint or restriction, sheltered and protected their favourites. The enormous influence wielded by the five big powers makes it difficult to treat each and every case on merit. For instance, the UN was incapacitated to take any step against Jewish atrocities in the Arab lands because they were, and are still, patronized by the United States. As a matter of fact, the big powers give the consent to the action of the UN where they feel their vested interests are served. For example, American forces and their allies landed in time when Iraq attacked Kuwait because they knew that a lot was in store for them. Same has been the case in Somalia, Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua, and so on; however, the big powers seem least interested in these areas as here they have no significant interests.

Another issue that eclipses the performance of the UN is Article 2(7) of its Charter. This article enunciates: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.”

In fact, the superpowers have deliberately adopted the phrase “essentially within the domestic jurisdiction” in order to justify their unjustified actions in another independent state. Thus, France maintained that Algeria was a domestic concern of France, ergo out of the UN jurisdiction. Similarly, nothing could be done to stop bloodshed in Chechnya since it was declared as Russia’s internal matter.

Additionally, the absence of effective mechanism to punish the offending states also contributes to the impotence of the world body. Consequently, the UN is not able to help the weak and innocent states. Besides, it cannot take any action against big powers that have armed themselves to teeth and insist that the UN has no authority over them.

All of the aforementioned facts warrant inevitable reforms in the UN. “The UN has a critical role to play,” remarked Chuck Hagel, “in promoting stability, security, democracy and human rights and economic development. The UN is as relevant today as it was at any time in history but it needs reforms.”

Following is a blueprint of the reform package that in this writer’s view will help in reforming and improving the performance of the world’s peace organization.

(i) The veto power of the big powers in Security Council should be abolished as it is contradictory to article 2(1) of the UN Charter which guarantees the sovereign equalities of all its members. Hence, the important decisions should be taken by a simple majority.

(ii) The Security Council should be enlarged in view of the existing objective realities. The present composition of the UNSC is unfair as Asia, which hosts the majority of the world population, has only one seat whereas Europe holds two permanent seats. Africa and South America have no permanent seat at all.

(iii) Apart, Muslim world with population of over 1.6 billion representing over 23 percent of world population that is currently faced with multiple political, social, economic and religious challenges has no voice in the Security Council. It is, therefore, advisable to designate one chair for the representative of the Muslim world in the Security Council.

(iv) International Court of Justice (ICJ) must also be fully empowered. An appeal against the decisions of the Security Council should be decided by a simple majority. However, the final appeal should be heard by the ICJ.

(v) For financing reform, it seems apt to quote a proposal made by noted Amrican environmentalist, entrepreneur and author, Paul Hawken, in his book “The Ecology of Commerce.” He proposes that “a tax on missiles, planes and tanks would provide the UN with entire budget as well as pay for all peacekeeping efforts around the world, including the resettlement of refugees and reparations to the victims of war.”

(vi) All the decisions pertaining to the restructuring and reformation of the Security Council should be made in accordance with the consensus as advocated by the Coffee Club or UFC.

To conclude, the overhauling of the United Nations is extremely necessary to make it more vibrant, effective and potent organization. It should also work to improve its credibility and thereby dispel the prevailing impression that it is a puppet organization whose strings are pulled by the big powers.

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