Is the United Nations Relevant?

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On June 26, 1945, 50 nations signed a charter in San Francisco creating the United Nations. The goal of this new body was to ensure peace in a deeply divided world. At that time, the Second World War was coming to an end. Opposing political ideologies were put aside in the effort to defeat the Nazi’s and Imperial Japanese efforts to expand their respective territories and impose their political will, at the cost of millions of lives. A vision that allowed all countries, regardless of size and power, would have a forum in this new entity. Idealism ran high, as can be expected from a world ravaged by war for the better part of the previous five decades.

There were still many particulars to be ironed out, and there was much debate on the true future role of the United Nations. But the charter was finally agreed upon, and the framework laid. On the 24th of October, the charter officially went into effect, and the United Nations was officially born. (The United Nations, The Founding of the UN 1-2.)


Fast forward to March 2003, and it would seem that the idealism of
the creators of the United Nations seems to be as much a part of history as the war in which it was born. There are many mixed opinions on the role of the U.N. There are those who see it as the future hope of mankind, perhaps hoping that it will fulfill the role it was intended, and maybe more in the form of a world government. There are also those who believe it is a failed idea, and should go the way of its predecessor, the post World War One League of Nations. And as with all political issues, there are quite a few in the middle, believing that the U.N. should play various limited roles in
some areas, and major roles in others.

The United Nations as an organization is broken down into several
bodies; the most commonly recognized is the Security Council and the General Assembly. In addition to these two bodies are the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat.

Under these bodies are the various commissions and councils specializing in numerous areas and issues. (The United Nations System 1) The only body with the ability to enforce it’s resolutions through military force is the Security Council, whose members are made up of core countries representative of the post World War Two major powers, who each have the authority to veto actions taken by the council.

Other nations are allowed on the council on a rotating basis, without veto power. The General Assembly is akin to a debating society, with the power to make various resolutions based on the consensus of the group. These resolutions are relatively benign, because the resolutions are only that, resolutions.

If a nation or nations wishes to heed them as law, or decides it’s not in their interest to do so, it’s completely up to them.

The many other bodies perform specific functions, and memberships depend on the size, scope, and purpose of that organization. Like the General Assembly, resolutions and proclamations made by these many groups are dependent on the cooperation of those involved.

To judge the U.N., one must look at its track record over its 58 years of existence. What has it accomplished? Where has it failed? Does it exist today to achieve the same goals in which it was founded? What, through its member nations, does it represent, and is that a fair representation of the majority of people on this planet?

These are but a few questions one should ask when judging the U.N. The bottom line for me though, based on current events, is: is the United Nations really relevant in today’s world?

Judging by the massacres in Rwanda and the Congo(Anderson 1-3 “Who
Polices…”; Anderson “Leaders Lean…”1-3), the growth of worldwide
Islamist terrorism, continued repression of much of the world’s population by dictatorial, totalitarian, and communist regimes, rampant racism in Zimbabwe and South Africa, slavery in Sudan, the state of affairs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the current failure of diplomacy over Iraq, it seems to me that the U.N. is a hollow shell.

So what does the United Nations do right?

According to the U.N. Web site, there are 50 “major achievements
of the United Nations.”(Major UN Achievements 1-6) It is a list of vaguely worded statements which would lead one to believe that the U.N. alone is maintaining the planet in a state of perpetual peace, with all those touched by the U.N. leading productive, comfortable lives.

“Often without attracting attention, the United Nations and its family of agencies are engaged in a vast array of work that touches every aspect of people lives around the world,” (Major UN Achievements 1) is the bold statement made by its own webpage.

But let’s take a critical look at some of the “major achievements” to see who, what, and how things were achieved.

“Maintaining peace and security …” (Major UN Achievements 1)
According to the Federation of American Scientists, there are 34 conflicts of varying levels of intensity going on around the world at this time. (Current Conflicts 1.) This number is fluid, and changes almost daily.

According to the U.N. achievements statement, “there are presently 15 active peace-keeping forces in operation.” (Major UN Achievements 1.) Unless my math is way, way off, that would indicate that there are 19 conflicts which do not have any physical U.N. peace-keeping force on the ground.

I must ask, for a body which represents almost all nations of the world, why is there any conflict at all? It seems that the United Nations is not “working as advertised.” (Graphic: Federation of American Scientists, “The World at War.”)

“Promoting Democracy,” (Major UN Achievements 1) is another noble sounding achievement to which the United Nations takes credit.

According to Freedom House, a group started by Eleanor Roosevelt and others to promote and track freedom around the world, in 2002 only 40.79 percent of the world’s population lives in free society. (Map of Freedom 2002 2) Again, this does not sound like the record of success expounded on the list of achievements. And since the majority of nations are not free societies, but have an equal status in the General Assembly and other U.N. bodies with those who are, one could logically conclude that “freedom,” and thus free people, have a minority status in the United Nations.

One must wonder, if the majority of representatives in the United Nations are not from “free countries” (i.e.: democratic), then how can one expect them to work in the best interest of “Promoting Democracy” in the first place? And more importantly, one must realize that the U.N. representatives (including the United States’) are not elected.

If not elected, then to whom are they answerable? If their parent governments are not democracies in the first place, then draw your own conclusions … (Soderberg 1-2) (Graphic: Freedom House, “Map of Freedom 2002.”)

Along with the state of freedom and conflict in the world, the United
Nations also makes several other related claims which one must assume goes hand-in-hand with those two issues. “Promoting development,” “Promoting human rights,” “Protecting the environment,” and “Strengthening international law,” (Major UN Achievements 1-3) along with many other similar claims, seems hollow based on the current state of the world.

And with Libya, a country renown for being a totalitarian police state, now heading the Commission on Human Rights and Iraq leading the Council on Disarmament (Krauthammer 1), one could almost find the United Nations laughable.

The United Nations has held several conferences specifically concerning environmental policy. Conferences and commissions labeled with names such as “Commission on Sustainable Development,” “Environment and Development” and others have met in various locations to create proposals and resolutions on how countries can or should regulate environmental law.

Items familiar to many of us such as the Kyoto Protocol and Agenda 21 have been either the result or primary issue of discussion at many of these meetings. (Lamb 1-2.) But what have any of these well meaning conferences accomplished?

Unfortunately, a look at the meetings would show them run primarily by environmental groups with what could be considered “radical” political agendas.

A common theme is that environmental issues can only be addressed and properly attended to by a collectivist world government, through clearly socialist redistribution of wealth among all nations. (Lamb 1-2.) This would alleviate “Third World Nations” from destroying their “pristine” environments with the goal of pumping money and jobs into their economies, and would limit the “First World Nations” use of precious world resources for there own “selfish” use. The logic behind this is that independent, sovereign nation-states do not have the will or resources to do what is right for the world as a whole.

A re-examination of the above paragraph on “promoting democracy” should give one an uneasy feeling about the ultimate goals being forwarded under the banner of “protecting the environment.”

“Providing Humanitarian Aid …” and other claims regarding helping refugees and providing for “children” litter the listed achievements of the U.N.

In this regard, the distribution of food and other necessities to some of the worlds poor or famished is accomplished. Through the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and countless other have provided aid to those in need around the world. (Major UN Achievements 1.)

This is primarily a function of redistribution, and it does seem to be something the United Nations does well. But, when it comes to taking action to remove the need for aid in the first place, there is little in the way of progress. An example of this is actually boasted about on the “Major Achievements of the United Nations,” in which the statement is made “[S]ince 1950, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has sustained four generations of Palestinians …” (Major UN Achievements 2.)

Four generations seems to me to be an excessive amount of time for any people to be “sustained”, especially in the case of the Palestinians who have become political pawns in Middle East power struggles and the focus of the ideology of many terrorist organizations in the process. Instead of simply sustaining them, I would hope the goal of this world body would be to free the Palestinians from their current state of affairs.

One wonders how a people under the care of the United Nations have become so used for so long. I realize many are quick to point their finger at Israel, but keep in mind that Israel is itself a United Nations created country (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, passed on 27 November 1947(4))! So, is the U.N. and its aid a solution, or a quick fix? (State of Israel 1-21)

In the course of my studies on this topic, it has become more and more apparent to me that the United Nations is a hollow shell, albeit based on some lofty, well meaning goals and ideas. Born out of World War, it seems to have become a vessel for political agendas, not for the good of the whole.

With its failure becoming more and more apparent with the horror stories being told by the newly liberated Iraqi people, I wonder how many other peoples around the word are in similar or soon to be similar situations.

The U.N. appears to be of little real help to the world, its functions easily taken up by private organizations or international groups created through multi-national treaties and alliances. It is my belief that the General Assembly alone can and should provide a world forum where all countries can debate issues on an equal footing. It can provide a single body for world diplomacy. As for the rest of the U.N., it should take its place next to the League of Nations as a good idea for its time, but well past it.

”Works Cited”

Anderson, Mary J. “Leaders Lean Toward Consensus on U.N.” Online posting. 08 Sept. 2000. WorldNetDaily. 06 Apr. 2003

Anderson, Mary J. “Who Polices the U.N. Police?” Online posting. 02 Feb. 2000. WorldNetDaily. 04 Apr. 2003

“Current Conflicts.” Map. Current Conflicts. Federation of American
Scientists. 15 Apr. 2003

Krauthammer, Charles. “Iraq to Chair U.N. Disarmament Conference?” Online
posting. 31 Jan. 2003. 06 Apr. 2003

Lamb, Henry. “‘No’ to Global Governance.” Online posting. 07 Sept. 200.
WorldNetDaily. 15 Apr. 2003

Major UN Achievements. Aug. 2002. United Nations. 08 Apr. 2003

“Map of Freedom 2002.” Map. Map of Freedom 2002. Freedom House. 08 Apr. 2003

Soderberg, Nancy E. “Take Back the U.N …” Online posting. 29 Jan. 2003. The
Washington Times: 08 Apr. 2003

State of Israel. Ministry of Foreign Affairs. UN General Assembly Resolution
181 . 1999. 15 Apr. 2003

“The United Nations System.” Chart. United Nations. 08 Apr. 2003

The United Nations, The Founding of the UN. 1999. IBM 1999 World Book. 07
Apr. 2003

The World at War. Federation of American Scientists. 08 Apr. 2003

”’Guy Foster is an adult education student at Leeward Community College. He can be reached via email at:”’