Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The United Nations and 70 Years of UNprofessionalism

"Can't we all just get along?" If history has taught us the answer to that question, it's a resounding "No!" The fact that people can't get along is why the United Nations was created in the first place back in 1945. Take a look at the UN Charter: The first thing in the Preamble is to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind." Looking at what happened in the two World Wars, I can hardly blame the founders of the United Nations. There was already one world war, and the League of Nations was an unmitigated disaster in terms of doing nothing to prevent the second. Given the death toll of the Second World War, there was a perfectly justifiable impetus to create an international organization to address peace and international security. As of this Saturday, it has been seventy years to the day since the United Nations Charter has been signed. What effects have the United Nations had on the world at large?

If you read through the entirety of the Charter, you can see that the UN took on quite a bit in terms of being able to address global governance. It should be no surprise that the UN thinks that they have done a superb job: that's simply issue advocacy. However, let's take a closer look. The UN has worked as a venue to peacefully work out its differences. It has also used its various agencies to create great databases for international trade, health, and other topics. Even so, I'm not sure if it is enough to have fulfilled its two primary missions of preventing future wars and promote human rights.

The bad news is that there have been many military conflicts since: the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the War in Darfur, the Chechen War, the list goes on. 41 million have died from 1945 to 2000.  The number of wars increased from 1945 to 1989, and then petered off. This doesn't count the indirect deaths from China's Great Leap Forward or the Pol Pot. The good news is that we haven't had a third world war. Even so, how much can we give credit to the United Nations? The most flattering one can get is that they were a forum for facilitating these discussions. Most international cooperation can take place and has taken place outside of the United Nations framework. NATO, the United States military, the IMF, the World Bank, the European Union, the World Trade Organization and mutually assured destruction did more than the United Nations has in its tenure, and did so independently of the United Nations. And looking at the veto record of the Security Council, i.e., over 300 vetoes, it doesn't surprise me given that they gave permanent Security Council member status and veto power to Russia and China. The balance of power, realpolitik,  and overall structure of the Security Council are a reflection of 1945 international politics, not 2015.

The failures in Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and Srebrenica, all of which the United Nations admitted were failures, show the UN's shortcomings on being able to protect human rights. This should not be surprising, either. The General Assembly's membership has no ties to its human rights record. When the United Nations started, it was led by the developed nations. Now, we only have 89 free countries out of the 197 that sit on the General Assembly. We also see that the UN Human Rights Council is a joke. Look at some of the current members: China, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, all of whom I would consider human rights abusers. And yet, the UN loves to go after Israel, which is a democratic, pluralistic nation-state that protects the rights of women, Arabs, Druze, homosexuals, indeed all Israeli citizens. If we were to go through each of the UN Human Rights Council resolutions, 62 are against Israel while 55 were against the rest of the world as of August 2015. Even Syria only had 17 resolutions. To disproportionately focus on Israel at the exclusion of just about every other human rights abuser is egregious, plain and simple.

The anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International took the United Nations to task on its corruption issues. After all, who can forget such classics as the Iraq Oil for Food Programme Scandal or the sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers? Even with a goal of creating an international community, the United Nations has been far away from accomplishing its goal. Whether or not the United Nations is able to pass reforms, one thing is for certain: the UN has not been able to live up to its primary goals.

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