United Nations Day: Is the UN working?

c. United Nations

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In another contribution to the DiA blog for United Nations Day tomorrow, Alistair Walker examines – and condemns – the role of the UN in today’s world. Alistair is a freelance journalist currently studying MA Interactive Journalism at City University, London. The views of this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect those of DiA.

Congratulations, it seems, are in order – the UN Charter was signed 64 years ago today. Happy birthday, the UN. Happy birthday, you unwieldy, lumbering, bureaucratic mess of a talking shop.

It’s a little difficult to get excited about the UN these days. The glowing promise of international co-operation between the world’s nations on the great questions of the day has dulled in the context of a multi-polar world regulated, by and large, by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Last month, we saw the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, travel to New York to apply for official recognition of the state of Palestine with its pre-1967 borders restored. Surely this was exactly what the UN had been founded to do: to begin the reconciliation process between two peoples trapped in a bitter, decades-old feud?

Well, yes. But, in that instance, a single nation exercised its semi-divine, Charter-given right to declare Palestinian statehood unacceptable. President Obama, who only a year before had stood before the UN General Assembly and advocated the creation of a Palestinian state along exactly the same lines as Abbas was proposing, gave the order for the US to veto recognition. Palestinian statehood is, for the time being at least, essentially dead in the water.

So has it always been. The prospect of economic sanctions against the Assad regime are a fantasy as long as he can retain the support of the Russians. Taiwan is unlikely to ever be fully endorsed as an independent nation as long as China is allowed to block recognition. And, just this week, the call by UN Undersecretary-General Valerie Amos for $218m of humanitarian aid to North Korea is likely to be a non-starter given American antipathy towards the state.

In 2012, three of those coveted UNSCR vetoes will be up for grabs as the Americans, French and Russians go to the polls to elect their Presidents. Just take a quick look over at the field of candidates for the President of the United States, the man or woman given the vast majority of the US’s foreign policy mandate, and see how radically the world may change in 2012.

Will Barack Obama, who vetoed of Palestine’s application for statehood and stood idly by as Congress withdrew $200m in aid to that same region, prove victorious?

Will the winner be Tea Party favourite Rick Perry, who this week suggested that America should withdraw all federal funding from the UN?

Or perhaps Michele Bachmann, the woman who honestly believes that the US should be financially “reimbursed by nations that we have liberated”, will have the power to veto as she sees fit.

If the election proves to be as tight as it is currently promising to be, it genuinely is conceivable that the people of a swing state like West Virginia, population 2m, could decide whether North Korea, population 24m, gets the aid it needs.

This isn’t what a modern internationalist organisation, allegedly dedicated to world peace and collaboration, should look like. The reality is that the United Nations simply isn’t fit for purpose and while the power of veto is retained by the five permanent Security Council members, it never will be.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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0 comments
  1. Thank you for the post.As we’ve been observing for the last decades, the UN has been only yet another pawn justifying American foreign policy actions. The recent letter to the Security Council regarding the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US may also be a beginning of yet another “well-justified” military action or at least next chapter of portraying Iran in even more hostile terms.

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