UN turns 75: an anniversary worth celebrating?

As the United Nations celebrates its 75th anniversary this weekend, we look back at the successes and failures of the international body.

The UN was ratified on the 24th of October 1945, as a result of World War II. The original 50 countries of the UN wanted to create a body where they could collectively create a more peaceful world, and where disagreements could be settled fairly and calmly, thus avoiding another catastrophe like World War II. However, looking back at the UN’s track record, there is evidence to show that the UN perhaps deserves no celebration after all.

The UN perhaps deserves no celebration after all

The UN has been extremely successful in numerous areas, including peacekeeping, with the UN credited with helping negotiate 172 peaceful settlements. The UN’s main goal upon creation was to be a collective security organisation, an aim which they seem to have succeeded in most of the time.

The UN can also be praised for their part in coordinating global efforts against diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola and Meningitis, as well as their role in eradicating smallpox and polio from most of the world.

However, for all its successes, the UN has many failures too. Most notably is probably their mission in Srebrenica, a town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was attacked by Serbs in July 1995 during the Bosnian War. The UN admits they were aware an attack was coming, yet no UN forces were reinforced, leaving more than 8,000 Bosniaks murdered in one of the worst humanitarian crises ever.

The world will also never forget the UN’s failure in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, where 2,500 UN peacekeepers were withdrawn after 10 Belgian soldiers were killed, consequently leading to a massacre of more than 800,000 people, in just 100 days.

The world will… never forget the UN’s failure in the Rwandan genocide

The UN’s conflict management can also be questioned looking at Palestine and Kashmir, two of the longest-running conflicts over disputed lands, disputes which the UN has so far failed to resolve. Ongoing conflicts and wars in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar etc. further demonstrate the UN’s failures in conflict management.

Perhaps the main reason behind the failures of the United Nations is the outdated division of power in the principal body of the UN: the United Nations Security Council. The body, which consists of the UK, France, Russia, China and the US, fails to account for the rising powers such as Japan, Germany, India and Indonesia.

The abuse of the veto power has proved catastrophic

The abuse of the veto power has proved catastrophic to the success of the conflict resolution aspect of the UN, as powerful members seem able to dictate the agenda of the UN whilst also managing to ignore the UN Charter and resolutions, as seen in the United States’ unlawful invasion of Iraq when they failed to gain authorisation from the UNSC.

Covid-19 has further demonstrated how much of a risk the US poses to the success, and future, of the UN. Trump has begun the process of leaving the World Health Organisation, the body of the UN which has been leading the global response to the disease. The US’ withdrawal will have serious consequences for the UN, as they were by far the largest contributor to the WHO, which rely solely on donations from its member states.

The US has also withdrawn from the UN-backed Iran nuclear agreement and the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the Paris Climate Accord. Climate change is perhaps the most pressing issue we face today, and so the UN’s failure to combat climate change is extremely worrying. Despite the various climate accords of the UN over the years, including the IPCC and the Paris Accord, global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase to alarming levels.

If the UN is to continue to succeed, many would argue that the body needs to undergo a complete reconfiguration. Power needs to be distributed according to the 21st-century power structures, rather than that of 1945, and the institution needs to adapt itself to be able to combat systemic global challenges, the most important arguably being climate change.

The United Nations has a lot to be proud of, but it is impossible to ignore the fateful failures of the UN upon reflection of the last 75 years.

Image by Ashitaka San via Creative Commons

One thought on “UN turns 75: an anniversary worth celebrating?

  • The article wrongly assumes that the UN system of collective security, with the military staff Committee, has actually been created, and is functioning. If it had been, Nations would have disarmed, and the policing functions of the UN would be in operation, effectively maintaining international peace and security.

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