The United Nations (UN) is an international organization whose main objectives are stated to be; facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace. The UN delegates these responsibilities to various agencies which include 193 member states. The organization consists of six main bodies as well as several other prominent agencies. The success of the UN, measured given their main objectives, can be seen by many as a complete and utter failure in various instances. The main body which receives most blame for these failures would be the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), in charge of international peace and security.
What seem to be countless cases of failure to provide humanitarian aid, failed peace keeping efforts, failure to prevent genocide, failure to implement provisions to Security Council resolutions, as well as many other highly publicized failures have plagued the UN’s reputation. Cases of such matters can hardly be used to defend the UN’s success in facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace. Other bodies of the UN have also been put under scrutiny, most recently a controversy within The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Although the UN has also seen its successes, one could argue that there are clearly great weaknesses in the system of international organization which the UN presents.
The powers of the UNSC are outlined by the United Nations Charter and are exercised through United Nations Security Council resolutions. Hans Köchler argues that “The UNSC contains an irreconcilable normative contradiction, namely between (a) the principle of the sovereign equality of Member States and (b) the privileged position of the five permanent members of the Security Council, expressed in the veto right”(Kochler, 2006, p. 323). The five permanent members of the Security Council he refers to consist of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The remainder of the council consists of 10 elected non-permanent members with two-year terms. Adoption of a proposal within the UNSC requires affirmative votes from nine members of the council. However a veto from any one of the five permanent members of the council prevents adoption of any proposal even if it has received the required number of votes. As one would expect there have been many cases where a permanent member has used their veto power to strike down bids that conflict with their own international interests. The effectiveness and fairness of UNSC resolutions are constantly put to question in many high profile international instances.
The Rwandan Genocide was the 1994 mass murder of an estimated 800,000 people in the African nation. The UNSC which is in charge of international peace and security failed to act. Howard Adelman states that “At the time of the impending genocide in Rwanda, instead of acting as a deliberative body to make executive decisions – which at other times the SC has shown a capacity to do – the SC served as a diplomatic forum for contending voices reflecting different interests and powers through which the Secretariat diplomatically manoeuvred its way. The SC failed spectacularly in its deliberative functions in this case, should be held morally responsible, and can be deemed a delinquent institution” (Adelman, 2006, p.20). This further exemplifies the fact that the effectiveness of the UNSC regarding international peace relations is anything but consistently successful. Rwanda is only one example where the UN has publicly admitted their failure to react accordingly to an international crisis.
In April 1993 during the Bosnian War, the UNSC declared Srebrenica and its surroundings as a safe area which should be free from any armed attack or any other hostile act. In July 1995 more than 8,000 Bosnians were killed in and around the town of Srebrenica by units of the VRS army. Ali Dikici, declares that
“ The Commander of the United Nations (UN) Protection Force (UNPROFOR) visited Srebrenica in March 1993 and told the panicked residents of Srebrenica at a public gathering that the town was under the protection of the UN and that he would never abandon them. However, simply put, it was more important that UN peacekeepers save their own lives than carry out their mission. The meaning of the ambiguous term “safe area” was never properly defined, and sufficient forces were never committed to ensuring the safety of the Bosnian inhabitants” (Dikici, 2007, p.9). In other words the 400 Dutch peacekeepers deployed by the UN was a gross underestimation of troops required to maintain security in the area, and thus eventually led to the Srebrenica massacre. The UN was soon after forced again to publicly admit their failure to produce peace and security after formally promising to do so.
The Somali Civil War is an ongoing war in Somalia which began in 1991. In 1992, after the situation in Somalia began to depreciate further, the UNSC authorized the formation of the Unified Task Force (UNITAF) to institute a safe environment for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. In his journal article John R. Bolton states, “ The Security Council achieved little progress in early and mid-1992 brokering a ceasefire among the warring clans and subclans.
General Mohamed Farah Aideed rejected the deployment of peacekeepers until fall. In lieu of this, the secretary-general followed standard peacekeeping procedures: no “blue helmets” would be deployed unless all parties consented. The result was that the civil war in Somalia continued unabated, humanitarian assistance could not be delivered, thousands of Somalis died of disease and starvation, and the threat to hundreds of thousands more grew daily” (Bolton, 1994, p.57) Soon after the UN realized that it would be exceedingly difficult for them to achieve its objectives in Somalia it resulted in a complete withdrawal of UN personnel. Problems concerning disease and starvation still plague Somalia to this day. This blatant case of failure to provide humanitarian aid, a main focus of the UNSC, is just another of many blemishes on the UN’s reputation.
The issues relating to the Israel and Palestine conflict are known to take up much debate time and resources within the UN. The United States has been highly criticized over its use of its veto to protect Israel from over forty condemnatory Security Council resolutions. The alliance between the U.S. and Israel has made it nearly impossible for Palestine to become a recognized Member of State within the UN due to the power granted to the U.S. within the organization. In his Journal article Zach Dorfman states, “The Obama administration has already made it explicitly clear: it will veto any attempt by the Palestinians to achieve full member state status at the UN. That’s it. Because of this brute fact, the Palestinian initiative is a non-starter. U.S. domestic politics reflect (or more likely, drive) this position.
A discomfiting alliance of Christian Zionists and right-wing Jewish pro-Israel organizations like AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] help make U.S. policy toward Palestinians almost completely hostile” (Dorfman, 2011, p.3). In recent news the United States cut its funding to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) after full membership was granted to the Palestinians within this agency of the UN. Funding supplied by the U.S. accounts for approximately one fifth of this organizations annual budget making this a crippling blow. We must ask ourselves how an organization which dedicates itself to world peace, human rights and social progress allow for issues like this to occur from within its own jurisdiction.
It is a fairly accepted fact that the UN is a required entity as far as international affairs are concerned. However it is clear that the ways in which these international processes and resolutions are being determined must be further examined and dealt with. The constant failures of a main body within the UN directly affect the gauge in which the success of the organization as whole will be measured against. Not only has the UNSC failed to provide the very core provisions in which it stands for, but in some cases has directly prevented itself from living up to those provisions. Clearly there are weaknesses in the way which delegation of power is being supplied to the Members of State within the UN. Until the UN is able to reform itself among more democratic lines there will always be grounds to deem the international objectives of the organization as unsuccessful.
Adelman, Howard. (2008). Blaming The United Nations. Journal of International Political Theory, 4(1), 9–33
Bolton, John R. (1994). Wrong Turn In Somalia. Foreign Affairs, Vol. 73 Issue 1, p56-66.
Dikici, Ali. (2007). An International Betrayal During The War In Bosnia: The
Srebrenica Genocide. Turkish Review of Balkan Studies, Issue 12, p5-33.
Dorfman, Zach. (2011). Tragedy, Then Farce: Israel, Palestine, the United States, and the UN Vote for Palestinian Statehood. Carnegie Ethics Online, p1-4.
Kochler, Hans. (2006). The United Nations Organization and Global Power Politics: The Antagonism between Power and Law and the Future of World Order. Chinese Journal of International Law, 5(2), 323-340.