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UNO and the global disputes- Part III

UNO and the global disputes- Part III

Assessment of the United Nations Organization

  • Evaluations of the UN’s effectiveness have been mixed.
    • Some commentators believe the organization to be an important force for peace and human development,
    • while others have called the organization ineffective, corrupt, or biased.
  • The UN has been in existence for well over half a century, but it is still nowhere near achieving its basic aims.
    • The world is still full of economic and social problems; acts of aggression and wars continue.
  • A number of agencies and individuals associated with the UN have won the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their work. Two Secretaries-General, Dag Hammarskjöld and Kofi Annan, were each awarded the prize.
  • The UN’s failures were caused to some extent by weaknesses in its system.
  • Lack of a permanent UN army
    • This means that it is difficult to prevail upon powerful states to accept its decisions if they choose to put self-interest first.
    • If persuasion and the pressure of world opinion fail, the UN has to rely on member nations to provide troops to enable it to enforce decisions.
      • For example, the USSR was able to ignore UN demands for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Hungary (1956) and Afghanistan (1980).
      • UN involvement in Somalia (1992-5) and Bosnia (1992-5) showed the impossibility of the UN being able to stop a war when the warring parties were not ready to stop fighting.
      • The USA and Britain were determined to attack Iraq in 2003 without UN authorization, and the UN could do nothing about it, especially as the USA was the world’s only superpower.
    • If a potential aggressor knew that his forces would be met by a UN armed force, equipped and mandated to fight, this would be a powerful disincentive; for example if a UN force had been deployed on the Kuwait side of the Iraqi-Kuwait frontier in 1990, or on the Croatian side of the Serbia-Croatia border in 1991, hostilities might well have been prevented from breaking out.
  • When should the UN become involved?
    • There is a problem about exactly when the UN should become involved during the course of a dispute.
    • Sometimes it hangs back too long, so that the problem becomes more difficult to solve; sometimes it hesitates so long that it scarcely becomes involved at all; this happened with the war in Vietnam and the war in Angola.
    • This left the UN open to accusations of indecision and lack of firmness.
      • It caused some states to put more faith in their own regional organizations such as NATO for keeping the peace, and many agreements were worked out without involving the UN; for example,
        • the end of the Vietnam War,
        • the Camp David peace between Israel and Egypt in 1979 and
        • the settlement of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe problem in 1979.
    • At this time, critics were claiming that the UN was becoming irrelevant and was no more than an arena for propaganda speeches.
    • Part of the problem is that the Security Council was hampered by the veto which its permanent members could use.
      • Although the ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution could offset this to some extent, the veto could still cause long delays before decisive action was taken.
  • The increasing membership of the UN from the 1970s
    • The increasing membership of the UN during the 1970s brought new problems.
    • By 1970 members from the Third World (Africa and Asia) were in a clear majority. As these nations began to work more and more together, it meant that only they could be certain of having their resolutions passed, and it became increasingly difficult for both Western and Communist blocs to get their resolutions through the General Assembly.
    • The western nations began to criticize the Third World bloc for being too ‘political’; by this, they meant acting in a way the West disapproved of.
      • For example, in 1974 UNESCO passed resolutions condemning ‘colonialism’ and ‘imperialism’.
      • In 1979 when the Western bloc introduced a General Assembly motion condemning terrorism, it was defeated by the Arab states and their supporters.
    • Friction reached crisis point in 1983 at the UNESCO General Congress.
      • Many western nations, including the USA, accused UNESCO of being inefficient and wasteful and of having unacceptable political aims.
      • What brought matters to a head was a proposal by some communist states for the internal licensing of foreign journalists. According to the USA, this would lead to a situation in which member states could exercise an effective censorship of each other’s media organizations.
      • Consequently, the Americans announced that they would withdraw from UNESCO on 1 January 1985, since it had become ‘hostile to the basic institutions of a free society, especially a free market and a free press’.
      • Britain and Singapore withdrew in 1986 for similar reasons. Britain rejoined in 1997 and the USA followed in 2002 but again withdrew in 2019 accusing it of anti-Israel bias.
  • There is a waste of effort and resources among the agencies
    • Some of the agencies sometimes seem to duplicate each other’s work.
    • Critics claim that the WHO and the FAO overlap too much.
    • The FAO was criticized in 1984 for spending too much on administration and not enough on improving agricultural systems.
    • GATT and UNCTAD even seem to be working against each other: GATT tries to eliminate tariffs and anything else that restricts trade, whereas UNCTAD tries to get preferential treatment for the products of Third World countries.
  • Shortage of funds
    • Throughout its history the UN has always been short of funds. The vast scope of its work means that it needs incredibly large sums of money to finance its operations.
    • It is entirely dependent on contributions from member states.
      • Each state pays a regular annual contribution based on its general wealth and ability to pay. In addition, members pay a proportion of the cost of each peacekeeping operation, and they are also expected to contribute towards the expenses of the special agencies.
      • Many member states refused to pay from time to time, either because of financial difficulties of their own, or as a mark of disapproval of UN policies.
      • In 1986 the USA withheld more than $100 million until the UN reformed its budgeting system and curbed its extravagance.
      • The Americans wanted the countries that gave most to have more say in how the money was spent, but most smaller members rejected this as undemocratic.
    • In 1987 changes were introduced giving the main financial contributors more control over spending, and the financial situation soon improved.
    • However, expenses soared alarmingly in the early 1990s as the UN became involved in a series of new crises, in the Middle East (Gulf War), Yugoslavia and Somalia.
    • In August 1993 the Secretary-General, Dr Boutros-Ghali, revealed that many states were well in arrears with their payments. He warned that unless there was an immediate injection of cash from the world’s rich states, all the UN’ s peacekeeping operations would be in jeopardy.
    • Yet the Americans and Europeans felt that they already paid too much – the USA, EU and Japan paid three-quarters of the expenses, and there was a feeling that there were many other wealthy states which could afford to contribute much more than they were doing.
  • Other Problems
    • Since its founding, there have been many calls for reform of the United Nations but little consensus on how to do so.
      • Some want the UN to play a greater or more effective role in world affairs, while others want its role reduced to humanitarian work.
      • There have also been numerous calls for the UN Security Council’s membership to be increased, for different ways of electing the UN’s Secretary-General, and for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.
      • The most enduring divide in views of the UN is “the North–South split” between richer Northern nations and developing Southern nations.
        • Southern nations tend to favour a more empowered UN with a stronger General Assembly, allowing them a greater voice in world affairs.
        • Northern nations prefer laissez-faire UN that focuses on transnational threats such as terrorism.
    • After World War II, the French Committee of National Liberation was late to be recognized by the US as the government of France, and so the country was initially excluded from the conferences that created the new organization.
      • The future French president Charles de Gaulle criticized the UN, famously calling it a machin (“contraption”), and was not convinced that a global security alliance would help maintain world peace, preferring direct defence treaties between countries.
    • Critics have also accused the UN of bureaucratic inefficiency, waste, and corruption.
      • During the 1990s, the US withheld dues citing inefficiency and only started repayment on the condition that a major reforms initiative was introduced.
      • In 1994, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) was established by the General Assembly to serve as an efficiency watchdog.
      • In 2004, the UN faced accusations that its recently ended Oil-for-Food Programme—in which Iraq had been allowed to trade oil for basic needs to relieve the pressure of sanctions—had suffered from widespread corruption, including billions of dollars of kickbacks.
    • In spite of all these criticisms, it would be wrong to write the UN off as a failure, and there can be no doubt that the world would be a far worse place without it.
      • It provides a world assembly where representatives of around 190 nations can come together and talk to each other. Even the smallest nation has a chance to make itself heard in a world forum.
      • Although it has not prevented wars, it has been successful in bringing some wars to an end more quickly, and has prevented further conflict.
      • A great deal of human suffering and bloodshed have been prevented by the actions of the UN peacekeeping forces and refugee agencies. At the present time (2019) there are around 110000 UN peacekeepers and 14 peacekeeping missions in action across the world.
      • The UN has done valuable work investigating and publicizing human rights violations under repressive regimes like the military governments of Chile and Zaire. In this way it has slowly been able to influence governments by bringing international pressure to bear on them.
      • Perhaps its most important achievement has been to stimulate international co-operation on economic, social and technical matters.
        • Millions of people, especially in poorer countries, are better off thanks to the work of the UN agencies.
        • It continues to involve itself in current problems: UNESCO, the ILO and the WHO are running a joint project to help drug addicts and there has been a series of 15 conferences on AIDS in an attempt to co-ordinate the struggle against this terrible scourge, particularly in Africa.

The future of the UN

  • Many people thought that with the end of the Cold War, most of the world’s problems would disappear.
    • But this did not happen; during the 1990s there seemed to be more conflicts than ever before, and the world seemed to be less and less stable.
    • Obviously there was still a vitally important role for the UN to play as international peacekeeper, and many people were anxious for the UN to reform and strengthen itself.
  • Kofi Annan, who became Secretary-General in December 1996, had gained an excellent reputation as head of UN peacekeeping operations.
    • He was well aware of the organization’s weaknesses and was determined to do something about them.
    • He ordered a thorough review of all UN peace operations; the resulting report, published in 2000, recommended, among other things, that the UN should maintain permanent brigade-size forces of 5000 troops, which would be ready for immediate deployment, commanded by military professionals.
    • The spread of terrorism, especially with the September 2001 attacks on New York, prompted Annan to produce his Agenda for Further Change (September 2002).
      • This was a plan for reforms to strengthen the UN’ s role in fighting terrorism, and it included a much-needed streamlining of the cumbersome budget system.
  • The really serious problem, which had been brewing ever since the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the USA as sole superpower, was about the future relationship between the UN and the USA.
    • Tensions began to mount as soon as the Bush administration took office in 2001: within its first year the new government rejected
      • 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty,
      • 1997 Kyoto Protocol (which aimed to limit the emission of greenhouse gases),
      • Rome Statute of the new UN International Criminal Court,
    • Tensions reached a climax in March 2003, when the US government, aided and abetted by the UK, decided to attack Iraq, without UN authorization and against the wishes of the majority of UN members.
    • The USA was so disproportionately powerful that it could ignore the UN and act as it pleased unless the UN delivered the outcome it wanted.
    • An important American technique in its quest to control the UN was to secure the appointment of a sympathetic Secretary-General.
      • A prime example was Kofi Annan, Secretary-General from 1996 until 2006, who whole heartedly supported the American line on every major UN involvement except one – Iraq.
    • The challenge for the UN over the coming years is to find a way to harness and make use of the power and influence of the USA instead of being impeded or stampeded by it.
  • The Millennium Summit was held in 2000 to discuss the UN’s role in the 21st century.
    • It culminated in the adoption by all member states of MDGs, a commitment to achieve international development in areas such as poverty reduction, gender equality, and public health. Progress towards these goals, to be met by 2015, was ultimately uneven.
    • The Sustainable Development Goals were launched in 2015 to succeed MDGs.
  • The 2005 World Summit reaffirmed the UN’s focus on promoting development, peacekeeping, human rights, and global security.
  • In addition to addressing global challenges, the UN has sought to improve its accountability and democratic legitimacy by engaging more with civil society and fostering a global constituency.
  • In an effort to enhance transparency, in 2016 the organization held its first public debate between candidates for Secretary-General. On 1 January 2017, Portuguese diplomat António Guterres became the ninth Secretary-General.
    • Guterres has highlighted emphasis on diplomacy for preventing conflicts, more effective peacekeeping efforts, and streamlining the organization to be more responsive and versatile to global needs.

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