Written by: Tishma Rhine Joarder
Following the austere failure of The League of Nations to prevent World War II, The United Nations was established in 1945 in the United States. 51 countries at the time joined together to dedicate themselves to fostering international tranquility and security. The purposes of the UN include maintaining international peace and security, as well as achieving international cooperation to solve international problems, ranging from political, economic, social, cultural issues to human rights to humanitarian crises. As an oversimplification, their purpose was to facilitate reconstruction after World War II and prevent World War III. However, the impact of their actions and decisions over the course of 76 years of their existence is questionable at the very least.
Many have perceived the UN’s existence as an attempt at world governance. While such claims are not absolutely unjustified, globalisation of the world communities has forced the UN’s missions and focus to change. Now, many more organisations and individuals play a role in its daily workings alongside the member nations.
Over the past decade, the United Nations has seen quite a few successes.
The Paris Climate Agreement:
The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. With 195 signatories signed on 22nd April 2016, the document set up a framework for global climate action, including the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, the transparent reporting and strengthening of climate goals, as well as support for developing nations.
This 32-page document signed by nearly all the nations of the world signifies the fact that the world has reached a consensus on the fact that climate change is driven by human behaviour, and collectively agreed to work towards mitigating its consequences. At the same time, the clear framework for all countries in the agreement include emission reduction commitments and other measures which ensure global action to stop the situation from becoming worse.
The UNESCO’s role in protecting World Heritage
UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Their work is carried out principally in the fields of education, the natural sciences, the social and human sciences, culture, and communication. It has protected the Galapagos Islands and thousands of other World Heritage sites. At the same time, it has launched environmental education initiatives and attempts for sustainable water management in megacities.
While there are more accomplishments to note, the past decade has been marked by a string of unfortunate failures as well.
The Inability to deal with Crises and the Issue with Veto Power
The United Nations, since its inception, has been involved with crisis management in more ways than one and is the only global forum where all countries have a voice. However, smaller nations have often criticised the balance of power within the organisation.
The Security Council provides Veto Power to five permanent members – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – to veto any substantive resolution. This immense power shift allows these countries to reject any resolution that does not benefit their country or their country’s allies, regardless of how significant the resolution at hand plays a role in de-escalating a conflict.
Since the five permanent members of the UNSC are some of the largest funding bodies with unparalleled power, it is very difficult for the UNSC to survive without, at first, ensuring the members of the UNSC are unharmed politically, or economically. Hence, it serves as a massive rationale for the bigger powers to stay at the table in the very first place.
However, the existence of a ‘Veto’ power is a punch in the face of democracy. The larger superpowers get to undermine developing nations who require international support, whilst ensuring the status quo is in their favour. Misusing such opportunities to be selfish and to their benefit does not cater to any of the UN’s basic purposes. A very good example of this are the many resolutions made to help the humanitarian crisis in Syria repeatedly vetoed by China and Russia. As Human Rights Watch reports the decimation of the country’s economy and healthcare system further elevated by the Covid-19 outbreak, superpowers like China and Russia choose to focus on their political and economic benefit derived from the war instead of innocent sufferings. As a result, the UN serves as a platform for them to foster their own interests.
The UN is the only organisation that has the power and resources to bring so many countries under an umbrella. The attempt at multilateralism, standing in front of the ashes of World War II at the time was commendable. It has the opportunity to do good if given the chance. However, the UN is only as effective as its member states allow it to be? After all, what even is the point of being together and talking to each other if you can never reach a conclusion or do good?
International tensions and ambiguous peace operations coupled with the lack of meritocracy and stagnant resolutions halt the UN from being a bigger political force in world governance. Regardless of its considerable shortcomings, the UN does play an important part in world politics with regards to knowing opinions of the countries around the world. We are often quick to push all the blame on the UN but often forget that all the UN was ever designed to do is to represent the governments of the world.
While reassessment of its structure and reforms are required, the UN can truly be utilised as a force for change when countries themselves realise that selfishness does not bring world peace – but only if we pursue such reassessments and reforms.
Advameg, Inc. (2021). The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) – Activities. Encyclopedia of the Nations. https://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/United-Nations-Related-Agencies/The-United-Nations-Educational-Scientific-and-Cultural-Organization-UNESCO-ACTIVITIES.html#ixzz6wi3iUrgi.
Thumbnail Courtesy: History.com