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UN at 70: Pass or Fail?

The UN was created to ensure peace and security in the world, but has it managed that, asks Ashok Sajjanhar

Published
Opinion
4 min read
UN at 70: Pass or Fail?

The United Nations was established 70 years ago on 24th Oct, 1945 in the aftermath of the Second World War. As against 51 countries who signed the Charter in 1945, the organisation currently has 193 member-nations.

In honour of the UN — that became a septuagenarian this year — several special events were organized, the most significant being the Sustainable Development Summit in New York from 25th to 27th September 2015. More than 150 world leaders gathered to adopt the 17 Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs). A UN Peacekeeping Summit was also organised by President Obama to shore up commitments for more troops.

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The occasion of the United Nations’ birth anniversary also presents a good opportunity to reflect upon its performance and learn lessons for the future.

UN the Denuclearization Champ

UN peacekeepers patrol in Kidal, Mali. (Photo: Reuters)

An outstanding achievement of the UN is that it has prevented the occurrence of a third world war. It has played an important role in denuclearizing the world by bringing into force several path-breaking accords like the NPT, FMCT, and CTBT. And notwithstanding the flawed nature of these agreements, they have served a useful purpose in containing the horizontal spread of nuclear weapons.

No nuclear conflagration has taken place after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. UN has also successfully completed 55 peacekeeping operations since the first deployment of troops in Congo in 1960.

No nuclear conflagration has taken place after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. UN has also successfully completed 55 peacekeeping operations since the first deployment of troops in Congo in 1960.

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However, India, one of the largest contributors to peace operations, has expressed dismay at the lack of accountability and transparency in framing peacekeeping mandates by the UN Security Council, saying that this “failing” by the world body is resulting in rising casualties among peacekeepers and civilians.

UN the Human Rights Champ

Visually impaired Palestinian children play at a school run by the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), the UN’s main aid agency in the Gaza Strip. (Photo: Reuters)

Several other areas in which the UN has acquitted itself creditably include progress in promoting human rights, working for the welfare of children, stimulating advances in health and labour conditions, promoting culture, education and the economic advancement of women.

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UN Needs to Reform Itself Urgently

A United Nations logo is seen on a glass door in the Assembly Building at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. (Photo: Reuters)

Several areas however exist where the institution has failed and belied expectations. One of the vital reasons for this is that the UN has tried to function in the 21st century with instruments bequeathed to it by the victors of the Second World War in the first half of the 20th century. This failing is particularly visible in the functioning of the Security Council which has been given full powers to maintain and ensure international peace and security.

Discussions on the expansion of the Security Council and the reform of the organisation have been going on for the last several decades. But it is ironic and tragic that the body that supports democratization and exercise of free, popular and representative will in the national affairs of countries refuses to democratize itself.

It is disappointing that the UN has yet not arrived at a consensus on the much-needed reforms in the composition of the Security Council as well as the role, power and functioning of the General Assembly and the Secretary General. The anachronistic composition of UNSC has resulted in it not being able to successfully discharge its mandate.

During the Cold War years, no action by UNSC was possible in which major powers in opposing camps were involved. The UN was also ineffective in dealing with the events in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Cuba, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia.

During the Cold war years, no action by UNSC was possible in which major powers in opposing camps were involved. The UN was also ineffective in dealing with the events in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Cuba, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia.

More recently, it has failed abjectly in handling cases of genocide in Rwanda, rape and child sex abuse in Congo, cholera in Haiti, and the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica.

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So Does the UN Pass or Fail?

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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks during a joint statement to the media with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on October 20, on a snap visit at the head of international efforts to quell three weeks of violence. (Photo: Reuters)

After the end of the cold war, uni-polarity and unilateralism has shaken confidence in the world body. The US acted against Iraq in 2003 without obtaining the UN mandate. Similarly, airstrikes were launched by it and its partners in Syria against the Assad Government without UN sanction.

The creative interpretation of the UNSC mandate on the Right to Protect to launch airstrikes and dislodge Gadhafi in Libya raised a howl of protests. All these incidents have highlighted the ineffectiveness of the UNSC and focused attention on the urgent need of reforms in the configuration and working of the institution.

The creative interpretation of the UNSC mandate on the Right to Protect to launch airstrikes and dislodge Gadhafi in Libya raised a howl of protests. All these incidents have highlighted the ineffectiveness of the UNSC and focused attention on the urgent need of reforms in the configuration and working of the institution.

It is hoped that the adoption of a written text as a basis for negotiations for UNSC Reforms will result in significant progress during the current UNGA Session. The organisation might not have fully met the expectations of members but it has significantly moved the world on to a path of peace, security, stability and prosperity. With the required reforms, it can significantly improve its performance and fulfil the fundamental objectives for which it was created—to ensure peace and security in the world and protect human rights.

(Ashok Sajjanhar is a former Indian Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia.)

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