By: Asadullah Khokhar
Since time immemorial, the humankind has been coveting for peace. All religions, philosophies and civilizations have praised the virtues of peace and have strove for its attainment. The abhorrent ugliness of war and violence compels the suffering humanity, from time to time, to reflect and make concerted efforts to restoring peace. So, harbouring this desire of a peaceful world, the international community created, out of its collective wisdom, the United Nations Organization in 1945 in the wake of the horrendous and excruciating experiences of World War II. In comparison to its predecessor i.e. the League of Nations, the United Nations (UN) proved more successful; given that it averted a large-scale war, helped in decolonizing the world and prevented violent conflicts in many parts of the world. Notwithstanding its feats, today the UN is beset with myriad structural and organizational flaws which hamstring the vital role it can play in achieving what has hitherto proved to be a pipedream: the global peace and security. Therefore, a holistic reform of the UN has become a pressing need of the time. Many nations around the world believe that peace and security will remain a distant dream without a renovated, restructured and fairly-represented United Nations that must be ready to respond, rapidly and proactively, to the perennial problems and newly-emerging challenges in the twenty-first century. Addressing a session of the UN General Assembly, former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed, “I have been pushing hard for the UN reform to make UN faster, more mobile, more effective, result-oriented, transparent and accountable.”
William Hazlitt’s words that “[t]hose who are at war with others are not at peace with themselves” underscore the importance of peace which actually is the raison d’être of the United Nations. The history, dyed red with the blood of the innocent millions, serves as a lesson for those with the penchant for waging wars. The significance of peace can also be gauged from the ruinous results of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was the collective failure of human experience. The worrisome and dreaded presence of deadly nuclear weapons in the world portends ill for the human race which, beyond doubt, is in imminent danger of complete annihilation. The present sabre rattling between North Korea and the United States, with veiled threats to attack each other with nukes, reminds one of the words of a Shakespearian character who said: “Mend your speech a little lest it should mar your fortunes.” Therefore, war is not the solution, peace is; and peace can be achieved only through understanding and dialogue. Hence, the UN is the only forum where nations can iron out their differences peacefully and amicably.
Therefore, in order to ascertain as to how far the United Nations has succeeded in its quest for the peaceful common destiny of humanity, it is important to have a glimpse of the successes the world body has achieved.
One of the greatest successes of the UN, so far, is the prevention of a large-scale war. Furthermore, it was the UN that accelerated the decolonization process post-World War II through certain mechanisms such as the Declaration on the Decolonization adopted on 14 December 1960. Likewise, the UN Peacekeeping Missions –the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, for instance – deployed in most of the conflict-ridden regions of the world reflects the commitment and victory of the UN.
Contrarily, all these accomplishments of the United Nations stand dwarfed by its inaction on matters of peace, which, as discussed earlier, is still a pipedream. The UN triumphed in the areas that matter the least and failed in those that matter the most. In fact, it has fewer successes and more failures to its credit. Resultantly, “such failures defy the very reason the UN was created for,” says Charles W. Kegley in his famed treatise ‘The World Politics: Trends and Transformations’.
For instance, Kashmir dispute is yet to be resolved. The UN has miserably failed to bind the bellicose India to its Resolution 47 which called for holding a plebiscite in Kashmir. So, emboldened by the weakness of the world body, India still keeps cursing Kashmiri souls under the heavy heels of its barbarism and brute force. Another fiasco that stigmatizes the UN is the protracted problem of Palestine. Palestine bleeds under the naked eye of the UN which stands still like a silent spectator with its seventy-nine Resolutions having created no dent to the obduracy and arrogance of Israel. The growing trend of nuclearisation is no less than a mortal blow to the global peace and prestige of the UN. The instruments such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1975), Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (1972), Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) I and II, could not deter the states from going nuclear. Besides, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Vietnam War of 1955-75, brutal and cold-blooded 1994 genocide of Tutsis at the hands of Hutu-led government in Rwanda, which led to the creation of the International Criminal Court in 2002 under the Rome Statute, speak volumes about the abject failures of the UN.
Even today, deafening silence of the UN on the Muslim blood being mercilessly spilled in Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Iraq and Afghanistan, shows that it has become a toothless tiger. Moreover, the tensions brewing up in the South and East China seas and the monster of global terrorism are reflective of the poor performance of the UN, which has let the global community down. It is true that in order to deal with the menace of terrorism, the measures such as the ‘International Convention for the Suppression of the Terrorist Bombing (1997), International Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism (1999), the International Convention on Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005) and the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy’ have been carved out but to no avail.
So, the UN’s failures to keep such acts of aggression in check are numerous. However, one wonders what ails the UN? What causes its failure in delivering on the promises laid out in its Charter? In truism, there are a host of factors that have enfeebled the UN.
First and foremost of them is its outdated structure. In fact, the UN is ill-equipped and incapable of dealing vigorously with the geopolitical and economic realities of the twenty-first century. It serves only the interests of the privileged few. It lacks accountability, transparency, efficiency and innovation, which are traits much needed to respond to the tectonic shifts consistently taking place in a world heading toward multilateralism and global governance. It also cannot cater for the needs and aspirations of the most of the under-represented global community. The UN has become like an old first-generation computer unable to operate faster and smarter and gets hanged while burdened with a little more workload. So, the rust of ages has piled upon it. It needs a complete overhaul; otherwise, it would be useless to expect the twentieth-century machine to respond to the needs of the twenty-first.
Moreover, the second cause of the UN’s breakdown is an unrepresentative, corrupt-to-the-core but tremendously powerful Security Council. Functionally, it is the ‘principal crisis-management body that is empowered to impose binding obligations on the member states to maintain peace and security.’ However, today, it does not truly reflect the current geopolitical realities which have sparked off much debate over its restructuring. For example, there is deep-seated rivalry simmering inside the UN. Japan, Germany, India and Brazil aspire to become permanent members of the Security Council. They voice their demands through an interest group called “G-4”. Their demands are rivalled and opposed tooth and nail by another larger group called “Uniting for Consensus,” which advocates that non-permanent membership of the Security Council must be on regional basis. This group includes Italy, Pakistan, Mexico and Egypt to name a few. Worse, the SC remains bedevilled by the clash of interests among the Big Five – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, the 5 permanent members of the UNSC, also known as the Permanent Five, or P5. This naturally flops the UN. Furthermore, absence of authority and legal force with the UN also emboldens its members to openly flout International Law. And, due to its spinelessness, it cannot bring perpetrators to book.
Worse still is the scourge of veto power exercised by the five permanent Security Council members. The veto gives undue deference to the political interests of the P5; thereby leading to inaction and indecision; the UNSC often gets stuck in, especially amidst the critical crises such as Syria. This keeps the UN ship anchored in the fast flowing waters of change.
Likewise, the UN’s economic dependence solely on the West has made it their puppet. The US alone accounts for twenty-two percent of the UN’s budget. So, no wonder that the Western powers call the shots in the UN. This is evident from the UN peacekeeping missions sent to those areas where are involved the vital interests of its rich masters, while many war-torn regions bear no trace on the radar of the UN.
As a matter of fact, the challenges that await the UN in the twenty-first century might be daunting but not impossible to tackle. The first among them is achieving durable peace and security in the world. Besides, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), global terrorism, transnational organized crime, modern slavery, drug-trafficking, child abuse and smuggling of weapons and illegal goods also are at the heart of challenges which could hardly be tackled by a UN that is outmoded and ill-prepared. Thus, the UN needs to be revamped for the survival of human existence on this planet that is exposed to impending but unknown dangers in the age of science and technology and modernity. In the cogent words of Kofi Annan, “More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that is why we have the UN.”
Besides democratizing itself, the UN needs to promote democracy in the world as well. Other ordeals for the UN to prevail over include the promotion of democratic values such as the dialogue among civilizations, tolerance, freedom of expression, inclusiveness, protection of human rights, religious and cultural diversity and a peaceful coexistence. The UN can achieve this once it is morphed into a modern weapon of cooperation and smart diplomacy.
True, such a response is hardly possible but some key reforms in certain areas of the UN’s structure are indispensable for the cultivation of world peace. At present, the reform of the UN is being vociferously advocated by the anxious global community. Pakistan is also a staunch supporter of the UN reforms. This is reflected from the address of the Prime Minister of Pakistan to the UN General Assembly on 30 September 2015 wherein he said, “We need a more democratic, transparent Security Council, not an expanded club of the privileged and powerful.” In fact, the world needs a new and innovative, simple but sophisticated UN.
In this regard, democratization of the UN General Assembly should be the top priority. As it is at this august forum that the will of the majority should manifest itself and control the conditions that shape the policies and decisions. Besides, the SC should fully and fairly be made representative in a manner that the grievances of all those concerned are comprehensively addressed.
In order to drag the belligerent and rogue nations into the dock of justice for their illegal acts and violations of international law, the International Court of Justice will have to be empowered and reinvigorated to make it a powerful judicial organ of the UN. Moreover, the UN’s financial dependence solely on the Western powers should be reduced and budget of the UN must be made a shared responsibility based on a transparent system of checks and balances. Furthermore, eradication of corruption from UN’s bureaucracy, transparency, efficiency, proactive—not reactive—approach toward resolving the disputes and maintenance of peace and security should be the foundations on which the sophisticated and efficient superstructure of the UN should be rebuilt.
To conclude, all the flaws and failures of the United Nations – though it has a lot of successes as well – point to the fact that without reforming an outdated and anachronistic UN, the humanity’s long-cherished dream for peace to prevail in the world will remain unfulfilled, bringing nothing but misery, war, poverty, hunger, disease, death and decimation of humanity at large. The craving for peace and abhorrence to war requires that the UN must be more relevant to the turbulent times we are mired in at present. No one knows what the future holds for humanity. The United Nations has the ability and power to save the world from the “scourge of war” and pave the way for a peaceful future, lit up with hope and happiness. Moreover, wars, the dreaded nuclear weapons, monster of terrorism, violation of human rights and multiple challenges of the troublesome twenty-first century necessitate nothing but the holistic reform of the UN that if cannot perfect the world, at least, can salvage the suffering humanity from war and ensure a peaceful and prosperous tomorrow. As Dag Hammarskjöld said, “The UN was not created to take humanity into paradise, but rather to save humanity from hell.”