Has The United Nations Failed?
The failure of the League of Nations to prevent the Second World War and to promote international peace and cooperation created a need to establish a global forum – an organization that would connect nations around the world in partnerships. In the early days of World War II, the Atlantic Charter was signed by the United States and Britain in an effort to resist the Axis Powers. All Allied nations later became party to the charter. An outgrowth of the charter translated into the Declaration by the United Nations in 1942. The declaration inspired world leaders into establishing a global organization.
President Roosevelt from the US, Winston Churchill from the United Kingdom, and Joseph Stalin from the Soviet Union took the lead in establishing this nascent order – the United Nations as an international organization, the primary aim of which would be to promote peace and harmony and prevent conflicts. The principles of the declaration were thrashed out at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference of 1944 and the Yalta Conference of 1945.
In 1945, San Francisco hosted an international conference attended by the representatives of 50 nations and the United Nations (UN) officially came into being on October 24, 1945. The six primary organs of the UN – the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Secretariat, the ICJ (International Court of Justice), the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council), and the Trusteeship Council – were established with an intention that the organization would take a comprehensive look at all aspects of development of member nations and also provide arbitration and force where necessary.
A Divided Council
The five permanent members of the Security Council – the US, the UK, the USSR, China, and France – retain the power to veto or cast a negative vote against the adoption of a resolution thereby rejecting it. The use of veto has often led to stalemates at the Council thereby frustrating any possible military/diplomatic action. Between 1946 and 2008, the erstwhile Soviet Union/Russia has used the veto 124 times, more than any of the other five permanent members of the Security Council. The United States has used the veto 82 times between 1946 and 2007 and has used the vote to stall halt several critical resolutions. The non-permanent members of the Security Council are selected every two years and this has failed to give the UN organ a cohesive front, critics believe.
Through the Cold War, the United Nations remained largely ineffective. While the US and the USSR grappled over issues at the Security Council and moved to block each other by indiscriminate use of the veto, the failure of the UN to uphold civil liberties in one of its major members became poignant as Stalin ruled with an iron fist and low tolerance for criticism. In more recent years, the Security Council has increasingly faced a deadlock between the members even when the expectation of action has been the highest.
l The latest issue to divide the Security Council is the Syrian Crisis. The last veto cast was on July 19, 2012, when Russia and China vetoed a resolution that intended to impose economic sanctions against Syria. In September 2013, US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, accused Moscow of holding the Security Council ‘‘hostage’’ on the Syria crisis and said that she did not expect any consensus in the matter.
Is The UN An Instrument Of The US?
The United States of America was among the major signatories of the United Nations declaration that was instrumental in establishing the organization. The US is currently the single largest contributor to the UN budget and shoulders a share of about 22% of the budget (2013-2015 budgets). In 2000, the General Assembly of the United Nations decreed that to avoid an excessive dependence on any one member, the maximum contribution any state can make towards the UN budget is 22%. Japan and Germany are currently the second and third largest contributors to the UN budget with 10.8% and 7.1% shares. In the past decades, the influence of the US on the UN resolutions has been considerable. The inability of the UN to dissuade military action in Iraq and Afghanistan has been looked upon as major failures for an organization established to maintain world peace.
Apart from its contribution to the UN budget, the US and American corporates/nationals voluntarily contribute to a number of UN programs including the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Food Programme (WFP). While the contribution of the US to the UN is the most, the nation also receives a considerable return as UN agencies often advance American national interest. The lobby of African, Asian, and developing nations in the United Nations is, however, growing stronger and increasingly potent in recent times. In 2012, Palestine was granted non-member state observer status by the United Nations, much to the disapproval and displeasure of the United States.
Some of the major criticisms faced by the United Nations stem from the failure of the organization to prevent armed conflicts in member nations and an inability to arrest the violation of human rights/civil liberties.
The UN has, in the past often been a means to further US interests, opening it up to much criticism. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge - an extremist communist administration - had eliminated all opposition between 1975 and 1979 and killed over 2.5 million Cambodian nationals. When the Vietnamese government intervened to free the country and to establish self-administration of Cambodia, the UN had condemned the intervention and recognized Khmer Rouge till about 1994 since Vietnam had till recently been at war with the US.
The Rwandan genocide of 1994, which claimed the lives of nearly a million Rwandans - about 20% of the entire population, was another instance where the peacekeeping troops present at the site were not authorized to use force to prevent mass murder. While the inactivity of the UN was largely attributed to a US unwillingness to intervene, the gross negligence to protect human life remains a blotch at the credibility of the UN.
The 1995 massacre during the Bosnian War came to be known as the worst act of mass murder in Europe following World War II. The site for this mass murder was Srebrenica, a UN safe-zone. The UN had removed armed forces guarding the Bosnians and had replaced them with Dutch peacekeeping forces. In July 1995, Serbs had launched a full-fledged attack murdering over 7,800 Bosnians, molesting women and injuring children as the UN team looked on.
The Darfur Crisis in the Sudanese Civil War (2003 – 2010) has been cited as one of the prime examples of a UN failure to intervene and save the lives of 300,000 civilians from Sudan who had faced systemic murder at the hands of a militant group called the Janjaweed, which was funded by the Sudanese government. The UN’s reluctance to intervene despite reports of outrageous violations was considered weakness on its part In more recent times, the UN admitted its failure in the Sri Lankan Civil War (2009) to confront the government over the killing of the separatist groups and posing obstacles to providing humanitarian relief to hundreds of thousands of Tamils who were murdered by the military troops. UN officials in the country downplayed the death toll and the severity of the crisis in an attempt to provide member states “what they wanted to hear”.
Critics of the UN are quick to point out that over the decades there have been dozens of incidents where the organization has failed to act at all or act swiftly enough to prevent crises. A number of controversies such as the Child Sex Abuse controversy involving peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, Cambodia, Haiti, Kosovo, and Mozambique have cast doubts about the success of the organization.
Key Success Stories
Peace and Peacekeeping – Since 1948, the United Nations has deployed 68 peacekeeping missions across the world including the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, the First and Second United Nations Emergency Forces, the United Nations Protection Force, and the United Nations Preventive Deployment Force. Most of these missions have been largely successful. The UN has initiated peace talks and negotiated 172 successful regional peace settlements in the world since its inception. The opinion of the UN, though not enforceable, is usually accepted by member nations due to the backing of the international community implicit in it.
Nuclear Non-Proliferation – The United Nations has played an important role in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Partial Test Ban Treaty and such negotiations were signed under the auspices of the United Nations. UN inspectors conduct regular inspections of nuclear reactors in about 90 countries of the world through the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) to ensure that nuclear material are not used for armament.
Healthcare – The UN agency World Health Organization (WHO) was instrumental in the eradication of small pox worldwide. Currently, the agency’s priorities include Malaria, AIDS, mother and child health, food and nutrition, and provision of essential inoculations.
Culture, Development, and Education – The major cultural development agency of the United Nations, the UNESCO has been one of the organization’s greatest successes. In 2010, the UN passed a resolution decreeing that culture shall be integrated into all its developmental activities. In 2013, as the UN started to formulate its post 2015 development agenda, General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic stressed the role of culture in ensuring sustainable growth.
Global Partnerships - The key success of the United Nations is in bringing together countries and cutting across cultural, political, and geographic differences. In a 2013 report titled “The Global Partnership for Development: The Challenge We Face”, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said “New countries and other partners are stepping up. But all must deliver on commitments – on official development assistance, climate finance and domestic resource mobilization”.
A History Of Aid And Relief
Despite the criticism that has been raised against the United Nations and its various organs or specialized agencies, it is beyond doubt that its outreach of the organization and the immense it has brought to millions of people from across the world cannot be denied. In the past 30 years, the UN has helped over 370 million rural poor combat poverty and live better lives. About 90 million people in 73 countries receive food and assistance from UN aid. The organization’s work in the field of healthcare is commendable. It is estimated that the WHO saves about 3 million lives each year by vaccinating and providing inoculations to over 58% of the world’s children. Additionally, the lives of 30 million women are saved each year due to the agency’s maternal health promotion work. Be it flood, drought, or any emergency, the UN mobilizes $12.4 billion in humanitarian aid to provide relief to people from around the globe. Over 36 million refugees fleeing war, poverty and hostile conditions benefit from UN aid. Each year, the United Nations facilitates over 80 treaties and declarations through its human rights advocacy efforts and helps 30 nations conduct free and fair polls in an effort to further the cause of democracy. The UN deploys over 1,20,000 peacekeeping troops in 16 different operations spread across 4 continents. The United Nations are also champions of the planet and nature and has now spearheaded climate change campaigns in over 100 countries of the world. The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals have now become the most successful worldwide anti-poverty campaign in human history. Given this scale of outreach and aid, the impact of the United Nations on human society cannot be undermined.
Millennium Development Goals
One of the key standards of the success of the UN’s efforts to fashion out a better world can be found in a study of the Millennium Development Goals – a set of eight developmental goals to be achieved by 2015. While there have been major breakthroughs, the organization still records the shortfalls in an attempt to redouble efforts. The efforts of the UN since 1990 have ensured that about 2.1 billion people now have access to clean drinking water. Over 2.5 billion people, however, are yet to gain access to basic sanitation such as toilets. Primary education is now available to a record 90% population in developing nations but 57 million children still have no access to education. The efforts of the UN to abolish poverty have ensured that trade has improved and the debt of developing nations decreased. Extreme poverty has reduced by 50% since 1990. The UN, however, reports that essential aid to the poorest of nations in the world has also declined considerably and one eighth of the population still goes hungry regularly. The World Health Organization (WHO) has achieved considerable success in its combat against HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other diseases – about 9.7 million people in the world now receive regular lifesaving medicines to combat HIV/AIDS. On the other hand 7 million people still lack access to antiretroviral drugs. While 1.1 million Malaria deaths were prevented in the past decade, 14 of the worst-hit countries still record over 80% of the deaths due to malaria. In an effort to improve maternal health, UN efforts have decreased maternal mortality by 47% since 1990. Despite this only half the women in developing nations receive adequate healthcare during their pregnancies. Children’s health is another area where the WHO has attempted to make a huge difference. Currently 6 million children die before they reach their fifth year. WHO’s program records 17,000 fewer deaths of children each day in comparison to 1990 statistics.