75 years apart: Time to re-think UN
Today marks the 75th anniversary of United Nations. On 24th October of 1945,the charter of the UN went into force. Although UN had many successes, United Nations shouldn't be complacent since chaotic time awaits the latter with gargantuan challenges. It can be said that United Nations is facing an "existential threat". The threat can partly be attributed to its lack of representative and undemocratic organ.
Undoubtedly, United Nations is at a critical juncture. By failing to adapt to the new realities of the world, it is sure to risk its existence. Stubborn immutability of United Nations has recently evoked dissatisfaction from countries likes of Japan, India, Brazil and Germany. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently voiced his dissatisfaction about the United Nations system in General Assembly. He stated that UN is facing crisis of confidence by sticking to outdated structures. If UN fails to address the concerns of these countries which is linchpin for UN with regards of political and economic significance, we might not witness another milestone of UN.
The architects of United Nations envisioned the institution will "safeguard succeeding generations from the scourge of deadly war likes of World War I and World War II". Echoing optimism characteristic of every UN top professional, Secretary General of UN stated that UN's potency lies in the fact that it had forestalled any recurrence of Second World War. True, world is yet to witness a full-scale global war. However, Secretary General can't deny the responsibility of numerous wars that has waged between and among rival groups in their bid for usurping power in Middle East or elsewhere with the backing of veto power holders'. Likewise, he can't also deny the complicity of UN in the wars against Iraq which wreaked havoc the whole nation on the basis of dubious allegation and forged documents.
United Nations had been mere spectator when the world community needed it most. Far from being a disinterested arbiter of justice, UN had been pursued western interest. United Nations condoned unilateral military action in Iraq by US & UK providing legitimacy to their imperialistic tendencies under the fa�ade of multilateral framework. In fact, UN is often criticized for its submissive role as "rubber stamp to great powers" ambitions-or should I say imperialistic adventures.
United Nation has miserably failed to settle the Rohingya issue conclusively. With regards to Rohingya crisis, UN did nothing but giving its rhetorical reassurance and terming the Rohingya as the "most persecuted community in the world." Being the most persecuted community, Rohingya deserves special attention from UN. Far from giving special attention, UN Secretary discharged its duty by occasionally issuing a statement. A cursory glance to diplomatic history proves that these statements are nothing but "paper tiger". But, the veto power holders blocked any decisive action against Myanmar and couldn't allay the miseries of the most persecuted community.
UN just occasionally expressed their hollow concerns without taking any action to that effect. One critique of UN dawn on my mind regarding this .It rather sardonically remarked that the resolution UN took for mitigation of Palestine crisis will make a library. It illustrates that UN is a "talk shop" with little or no substantive value.
In essence, UN is perpetuating a world order with disproportionate "Global West" influence and serving its unjust interests which is detrimental to middle and small powers' alike. One international relations theory springs to my mind at this moment. It propounded that institution such as United Nations is nothing but platform to "acting out existing power relations" .The present state-of-affairs lend ample credence to this line of argument which will be more evident after following discussion.
For example, the present structure of UN belies the underlying principles it purports to profess. Composition of UN Security Council, the executive organ of UN, still reflects post-world war II power-equation of the world.The economic and political clout of axis power likes of Japan and Germany had developed significantly. But, UN remained unreflective of the current realities. Lack of representation of these resurgent powers poses a serious threat to UN's continued legitimacy and relevance.
Besides, the veto powers that permanent member of United Nations Security Council enjoys is often utilized in their geopolitical interests, regardless of devastating repercussions for the victim of the armed conflict. Over the past ten years, Russia had used its veto on ten occasions, slargely to avoid scrutiny over its action in Ukraine or protect its ally in Syria from UN pressure. China had used it six times. The US issued veto three times since 2005, each time to defend Israel from censure. It is evident that political consensus precedes humanitarian exigencies. They trivialize the need of saving the world from the scourge of misery. They use the UN Security Council as a tool to that end.
One possible remedy for this problem is to expand the Security Council and its permanent membership. However, there is no consensus among the veto holders'. While the UK and France are in favour of enlargement, US and Russia is more tepid warning a big council might be less effective. Another cure involves reining in the use of veto. The indiscriminate use of veto had left UN paralyzed on many occasion and it remained bystander of greatest humanitarian crisis. French, for example argue that an immediate fix will be for permanent members to waive their veto rights in cases of mass atrocities, but Russia is obstinate in its position.
Although the democratic deficit in UN Security Council is most striking and deserves immediate attention, there is no paucity of inconsistencies within UN. Unsolicited extravagance& unwieldy bureaucracy are other malaises that are ailing United Nations. UN spends an extravagant amount of money for maintain its duties. The budget has drastically enhanced in previous two decade. Even, accounting for inflation, UN expenditure is 40 times higher than it was in early 1950s.
Another problem is that many organizations under the umbrella of United Nations has overlapping mandates. Streamlining such mandates and designation of mandates to respective organization may reduce United Nations expenditure significantly and also will result in more efficient system.
From the debris of world war to today, UN had come a long way. During this period, United Nations had faced an array of challenges. However, the most challenging and trying time is awaiting United Nations. However, United Nations' performance is woefully inadequate in a world with host of new challenges. In a world marked by burgeoning populist impulses and decline of multilateralism, United Nations is facing its 1945 moment. Failing to adapt to the unfolding situation in the wake of Covid-19 with proper reforms might spell the end of this organization.
The writer is a student, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka