An Evaluation of the Performance of the United Nations Essay
An Evaluation of the Performance of the United Nations
The United Nations is the most dominant international governmental organization in the world. Having been formed with the main objective of preventing war immediately after World War II, so far it appears to have had little success in doing so. Yet there are many problems that are global in nature and thus depend on the United Nations to address them. This has prompted scrutiny into the activities and affairs of the United Nations with the aim of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. This study takes a critical look into the structures and responsibilities of the political and security organs of the United Nations with the aim of identifying weaknesses and making proposals on how improve on the performance of the organization.
Chapter I – Introduction
The challenge of insecurity in international relations remains one of the biggest threats facing the world today. Despite numerous spirited efforts by countries throughout the world to secure the international system from the ever lurking dangers of international wars, the principle of collective security remains as elusive as ever.
Since the formation of the United Nations (UN) in 1945, the international system has evidently been characterized by numerous security challenges that have particularly been defined by events during the Cold War, after the Cold War and after the September 11 2001 terrorism attacks upon the United States. With the foundation of the United Nations having been solidly based on the principles of collective security, there are increasing concerns as to whether the United Nations is living up to its billing.
Past events have clearly demonstrated that the United Nations lacks adequate capacity and authority to enforce the principle of collective security. According to Goldstein (2003), “The UN Charter establishes a mechanism for collective security – the banding together of the world’s states to stop an aggressor (p. 267). Chapter 7 of the Charter explicitly authorizes the Security Council to use military force against aggression if the use of non-violent means as captured in chapter 6 fail. According to the UN Charter, the United Nations may intervene domestically in a state that commits acts of aggression or poses threats to security.
However, this principle is usually enforced selectively. Analysis by Roberts & Kingsbury (1994) showed that because great nations possess veto powers, the UN cannot aggressively stop aggression by (or supported by) a great power. Therefore, Chapter seven was used once during the Cold War – in the Korean War when the Soviet delegation unwisely boycotted the Security Council proceedings (p. 61).
“The U.S. flew the U.N. flag in reversing the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950 and the invasion of Iraq in 1990, and both violations were a violation of the international law under the UN charter” (Roberts & Kingsbury, 1994, p. 63). Goldstein (2003) notes that it was under Chapter 7 of the Charter that the UN authorized the use of force to reverse Iraq aggression against Kuwait in 1990 (p.269).
To the surprise of many, “the United Nations never intervened militarily in similar illegal Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the Israel invasion of Lebanon in 1982” (Roberts & Kingsbury, 1994, p. 68). These were clear indications that the United Nations is limited by the demands of power politics in the international system. Kochler (2002) emphasizes that the international system is fundamentally anarchical, with the great powers still dominating the international system and the United Nations itself” (p. 6)
Purpose of the study
Just as the League of Nations grew out of the World War I, the United Nations grew out of the World War II. Like the League of Nations, The United Nations did not fundamentally challenge national sovereignty, it did not alter the existing distribution of power among nation-states, and it institutionalized the dominant position of the great powers – specifically the victorious powers in the World War II. The United Nations did not gain the monopoly on the legitimate use of force, which would be necessary to become a world government and to impose order through superior force and authority. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to evaluate the fundamental abilities of the United Nations in pursuing and achieving the principle of collective security in the international system.
The ever increasing threats to the state of security in the world have prompted a close scrutiny on the United Nation’s core function of collective security. As a contemporary international governmental organization (IGO), the United Nations certainly does not constitute a world government with absolute power and authority to impose peace on the world. Yet, this does not mean the United Nations is powerless or insignificant.
While the United Nations faces numerous hurdles in enforcing the international law due to the sovereignty statues of states and nation-states, the organization can still influence the behavior of states and provide forums for communication and interaction that would be considered more orderly than implied by the concept of anarchy. Therefore the research question involves a critical look into the performance of the United Nations relative to its main function of upholding the principle of collective security in the international system.
The core empirical research hypothesis of this study states that the United Nations has not succeeded in upholding the principle of collective security in the international system.
Significance of the study
The United Nations Charter is based on unifying principles that serve as the driving force for the organization’s initiatives. One of the key principles of the United Nations Charter is the recognition of the sovereign equality of all member states. As such, all member states are considered to be equally sovereign over their respective territories. Each member state has one vote in the General assembly, yet they are not equal in wealth and power. Moreover, only five major powers have permanent seats on the Security Council.
Critics and admirers alike point out that the United Nations institutionalizes international inequality due to the fact that the Charter is loaded with idealistic principles that bear little resemblance to reality. Therefore the study is significant because it will highlight on the many challenges that the United Nations faces in its efforts to uphold the principle of collective security and make appropriate recommendations for addressing those particular challenges.
The main limitation of this study is lack of sufficient literature regarding the problems that the United Nations encounters while performing its core function of upholding the principle of collective security. Most of the existing literatures about the United Nations have focused more on the success of the organization rather than failures.
Definition of terms
For the basis of this study, the definitions of international relations, international system, terrorism, international organizations and collective security will be expressed in the simplest terms:
- International relations are the processes that define the terms of interaction state and non-state actors relate amongst themselves in the international system.
- International system refers to a set of relationships among world states, structured according to certain rules and patterns of interaction. Goldstein (2003) illustrates that some of these rules are implicit while others are explicit as they determine who is considered a member of the system, what rights and responsibilities members have and what kind of rights and responsibilities occur among states.
- Terrorism refers to a form of political violence that targets civilians deliberately and indiscriminately, with the aim of gaining advantage in international bargaining situations. Terrorism usually becomes effective if it succeeds in damaging the morale of a population and also when it gains media exposure for the cause.
- International organizations are organizations involved in politically relevant activities whose membership and activities occur in more than one country.
- Collective security is a principle of the UN Charter that advocates for the banding together of the world’s states to stop an aggression against member states. Under the principle of collective security, aggression against one member of the UN is seen as an aggression against all. Chapter 7 of the Charter explicitly authorizes the Security Council to use military force against aggression if the use of non-violent means as captured in chapter 6 fail.
Chapter II – Background
The United Nations was founded at the end of World War II in 1945 to replace the League of Nations. The formation of the UN became apparent after the realization that the League of Nations had failed miserably. Mesler (1997) acknowledges that the failure of the League of Nations was precipitated by the lack of adequate power and authority, instability in the international system and the unwillingness of the US Senate to ratify the treaty that formed the league (p. 11).
However, the underlying principles that led to the formation of the United Nations are synonymous with those that governed the formation of the League of Nations. Unlike the League of Nations which lacked the backing of the US Senate, the United Nations received the overwhelming endorsement and backing of both the US Senate and President.
As an international governmental organization (IGO), the foundation and significance of the United Nations is best demonstrated by the theory of realism. “According to the theory of realism, there is no world government, or political authority above the state, thus the international system is essentially anarchical without any overarching political body capable of imposing law and order in the behavior of its members or nation-states”(Roberts & Kingsbury, 1994, p. 19). The theory stresses on the centrality of the state, or nation-state, as the supreme political authority in world politics.
The theory of realism is based on the assumption that the overriding motive of all states is self-preservation through maximization of power, a situation that transforms the international system to a static state of a war of all against all. Roberts & Kingsbury (1994) note that stability is best achieved through balance of power, which results from uninhibited interaction among states, with the most powerful country acting as a balancer (p.19).
According to Goldstein (2003) the international relations theory of realism recognizes low politics (economic and social matters) to be secondary to high politics (military and security) (p. 265). It is upon this premise that the United Nations was founded to act as the over-arching political body to impose law and order on the behavior. In essence, the United Nations would enforce peace by treating aggression against one as an aggression against all and collectively defeating the offender.
The formation of the United Nations is further favored by the international relations theory of idealism. The theory of idealism is based on Immanuel Kant’s philosophical theory that focuses on the cooperative capacity of human beings rather than their selfishness and lust for power. “In his book titled Perpetual Peace, Immanuel Kant argued that just as the consensual establishment of government brings order and domestic tranquility to people within states, so does the establishment of a world congress among republican states in bringing perpetual peace to the world generally, thus ending the war for all time” (Roberts & Kingsbury, 1994, p. 39).
Kant believed that a pacific union would need to be made up of republican states based on representative governments, for when the people themselves rather than princes could decide whether or not to go to war, they would invariably avoid it, for it is they who must bear all the burdens of warfare. These republican governments would establish a world congress to settle disputes and avoid the potential for violent conflict. “Kant ultimately laid the philosophical groundwork not only for the contemporary theory of idealism, but also its corresponding institutionalization in the form of international governmental organizations (IGOs) like the United Nations (Roberts & Kingsbury, 1994, p. 40).
However, the two theories of realism and liberalism are sharply contrasted by the theory of liberalism. Roberts & Kingsbury (1994) note that in the international system, liberalism theory recognizes state preferences as opposed to state capabilities, to be the primary determinants of state behavior (p.44).
Roberts & Kingsbury (1994) point out that unlike the theory of realism where the state is seen as a unitary actor, liberalism advocates for plurality of state actions (p.45). The liberalism theory further states that interaction among states is not limited to high politics (military and security), but stretches further to low politics (economic and social matters). Therefore, this situation eliminates the anarchical situation in the international system as states gain plenty of opportunities for interaction through broader economic and cultural cooperation.
Although the realism and liberalism theories project different arguments concerning the founding philosophies of international organizations, both theories acknowledge the need for lasting peace and security in the international system. The spirit of peace and security is what motivated the founding of the United Nations. The organization was founded with the main objective of maintaining international peace and security through peaceful settlement of disputes. The United Nations is further entrusted with the task of promoting economic and social co-operation, in part through consultation with non-governmental organizations as well as the promotion of human rights for populations throughout the world.
“The United Nations Charter is based on the principle that states are equal under international law; states have full sovereignty over their own affairs; that states should have full independence and territorial integrity; and states should carry out their international obligations that include respecting diplomatic privileges, refraining from committing aggression, and observing the terms of the treaties they sign” (Goldstein, 2003, p. 206). The Charter also lays out the structure of the United Nations and the methods by which it operates. According to the United Nations website, the structure of the United Nations consists of the General Assembly, the Security Council, Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Trusteeship Council, Secretariat, and the International Court of Justice.
The secretariat is headed by the Secretary General and is principally the bureaucratic wing of the United Nations. The Secretary General serves for a maximum of two 5 year terms. The international Court of Justice is headquartered in Hague, Netherlands, and serves as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.
It consists of fifteen judges elected by the General Assembly and Security Council for nine-year terms and each one of them must be from a different state. While the decisions of the international Court of Justice are formally binding, it possesses no mechanisms of enforcement. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) coordinates the United Nation’s various specialized agencies while the Trusteeship Council was set up to oversee the administration of trusteeships.
Weiss & Dhows (2007) point out that the General assembly and the Security Council are the most important organs that handle issues that concern the principle of collective security (p.149). The general assembly is the only organ in which every member state is represented, with each state having exactly one vote according to the spirit of sovereign equality. Linda (2003) further reveals that the General Assembly mainly serves as a forum for debates, reviews and setting of agenda (p.33). However, the enforcement of the decisions made by the General Assembly is never guaranteed despite the fact that the resolutions are usually passed by a 2/3 majority.
The Security Council consists of five permanent members with veto powers. The five permanent members include the United States Britain, Russia, China and France. The Security Council also consists of 10 other members who are usually proposed by the General Assembly and serve on a 2-year rotation basis. The decisions of the Security Council are binding and enforceable.
According to Weiss & Dhows (2007), the Security Council deals with collective security and peacekeeping at the request of one or more of the parties in conflict. Moreover, the Security Council has the rights to investigate any dispute or situation that might threaten international peace and security, and to recommend methods of resolution. The Security Council further negotiates ceasefires and disengagements as instruments of conflict resolution. The council is further vested with powers to sanction or authorize the use of military force to contain a conflict.
However, the powers of the Security Council are limited in two ways: first, the council’s decisions depends entirely on the interests of member states, thus the ambassadors who represent the states cannot change a council resolution without authorization from their respective governments; and second, member states often try to evade or soften the effects of binding resolutions made by the Security Council. However, Goldstein (2003) warns that Security Council resolution can be enforced only if enough powerful states care about it (p. 272).
The Security Council runs a formal mechanism for coordinating multilateral military action in response to aggression, referred to as the Military Staff Committee. The committee is composed of military officers from the permanent council members. The Military Staff Committee was established under chapter 43 of the United Nations charter.
However, “the committee has never been used due to the fact that the United States opposes the procedure of placing its forces under non-US commanders (Goldstein, 2003, p.272). “According to Goldstein (2006) this is the reason why military forces responding to aggression under the auspices of the Security Council resolutions have always remained under their respective national commands, as was the case during the Gulf War where the U.S. forces undertook the mission of enforcing a UN resolution but did not display UN insignia or flags” (p.273).
The Cold war rivalry between the United States and the Soviet is considered to be one of the biggest challenges that ever characterized the United Nations Security Council. The rivalry had split the member states into two blocks, a situation that led to the unnecessary use of veto powers by the United States and the Soviet.
According to the Un Committee Report on contributors, the United Nations is funded through contributions from member states. Contributions are assessed according the economic strengths of the member states. The United States has always been the largest contributor to the United Nations. The United States used to contribute 25% of the UN budget until 1997 when maximum contribution was reduced to 20% under the watch of the then Secretary General Kofi Annan. The poorest majority of the General Assembly may pay less than 1% while the ten wealthiest contributors pay 75% of the budget, but cast less 75 of the vote.
Major contributors to the regular UN budget for 2006
Contribution% of total UN budget
The above statistics are representative sample of financial contributions from UN member countries. All member states make contributions to the UN.
Chapter III – Methods
The proposed study is based on a pre-post design, meaning that performance evaluation was based on events during the Cold War, after the Cold War and the events after the September 11, 2001 terrorism attacks upon the United States. Participants were asked to state their opinions and answer opinions on questions regarding the performance of the United Nations relative to its key duties of ensuring collective security for all member states. The study mainly consisted of a demographic questionnaire consisting of 15 items that were designed to measure the attitudes of the participants concerning the roles of the United Nations in maintaining global peace and security. The study involved a two-dimensional approach of tolerance and stability.
Tolerance refers to the degree to which the principle of collective security is accepted as a politically tolerable action; while stability refers to domestic and international legitimacy of the principle of collective security. The demographic questionnaire further consisted of descriptive information of the participants such as age, sex, religion, nationality, gender and race. The study also involved comprehensive research from existing literature that was designed to assess the validity of theories of international relations and international law to the founding principles of the United Nations.
Stratified random samples were drawn from both online college populations and the general public, followed by simple random sampling in each group. The study employed both theoretical and accessible populations in sampling with the aim of reaching wide and varying audiences. The sourced reports obtained from participants provided helpful insights into the different opinions and attitudes that different people of different ages, gender, religion, nationalities and races have towards the United Nations relative to the performance of its international duties. The population sample targeted existing views from participants aged 18 year and above.
An analysis of variance was used to measure the data. Repeated measurements of data were used to determine and rate different opinions and attitudes from different participants concerning aspects of collective security functions of the United Nations.
Limitations in the context of this study refer to the factors which may have prevented the persons from participating or responding accurately to the questionnaires. The main limitation of this study involved geographical constraints. It was difficult to involve people from all member states of the United Nations given that the UN membership currently stands at more than 200 states. There were also restraints in terms of correct interpretation of the questions as many participants did not have deep knowledge and understanding of international relations. Some participants may have declined to participate completely because the 15 questionnaire items may have been too much for them.
Chapter IV – Results
The results of this study revealed that as much as the United Nations has performed and continues to perform important roles in international relations, the organization did not live up to its billing. Since its inception, the United Nations has been dancing to the whims of the super powers, and the United States in particular. Contrary to expectations, the United Nations did not fundamentally challenge national sovereignty, it did not alter the existing distribution of power among nation-states, and it institutionalized the dominant position of the great powers – specifically the victorious powers in the World War II. According to Goldstein (2003), the United Nations did not gain the monopoly on the legitimate use of force, which was necessary for it to become a world government with authority to impose order through superior use of force (p. 270).
The reality of equality among states in the UN is another issue that raises many concerns among member states. Roberts & Kingsbury (1994) are concerned that as much as the principles of the United Nations recognize the sovereign equality of all member states, and that each member state has one vote in the General assembly is far from the reality because member states are not equal in wealth and power (p.97). Moreover, only five major powers have permanent seats on the Security Council. Critics and admirers alike point out that the United Nations institutionalizes international inequality due to the fact that the Charter is loaded with idealistic principles that bear little resemblance to reality.
Chapter V – Discussion
The credibility of the United Nations has been put to question due to issues surrounding sovereignty of the institution. The extent to which the United Nations can exercise decisive authority to stamp order in the law and order in the international system remains a riddle. Roberts & Kingsbury (1994) concur that this is reason why the U.S. flew the U.N. flag in reversing the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950 and the invasion of Iraq in 1990, and both violations were a violation of the international law under the UN charter (p.116).
However, to the surprise of many, “the United Nations never intervened militarily in similar illegal Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the Israel invasion of Lebanon in 1982” Roberts & Kingsbury, 1994, p. 117). These were clear indications that the United Nations is limited by the demands of power politics in the international system. According to Kochler (2006),the international system is fundamentally anarchical, with the great powers still dominating the international system and the United Nations itself (p.21)
Power struggles is one of the biggest challenges facing the United Nations today. Kochler (2002) notes that like states, IGO’s are largely designed by the dominant powers to serve their interests (p. 23) Kochler (2002) further notes that while the existence of the United Nations is intended to maintain world peace and security, it is a world peace and security that perpetuates existing power arrangements and the economic and political systems that support them (p.24). A case in point is the 1989 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq.
The UN acted when Iraq invaded Kuwait, mainly because the US was able to dominate the Security Council and the invasion threatened to increase world oil prices. This was classic power politics within the guise of a “new world order” (Roberts & Kingsbury, 1994, p. 123). On the other hand, when the United Nations General Assembly issued a near universal condemnation of the U.S. invasion of Panama, the United States ignored the condemnations and executed the entire invasion with little regard to international concerns.
These cases arose as a result of the weakness apparent in the structure of the United Nations. Roberts & Kingsbury (1994) are concerned that the United Nations gives greater enforcement powers to the Security Council than to other bodies within the organization, yet the Security Council is dominated by the great powers which only pursue interests that are of significance to their nations (p.128).
The other concern raised in regard to the performance of the United Nations is the aspect of equality in participation. In essence, cooperation does not necessarily imply the equality of participation or interests. As situations provide, states cooperate in institutions that exploit them because they perceive no alternative, just as the case with the UN, which clearly executes its mandate in favor of the interests of the super powers while neglecting the poor countries.
A step by step analysis of the UN during and after the Cold War as well as after the September 11, 2001 terrorism attacks upon the United States reveals some of the most appalling weaknesses in the abilities of the United Nations to enforce lasting peace and security in the international system.
The United Nations during the Cold War
The period between 1945 and 1955 went down as one of the most difficult periods in the history of the United Nations. “Marked by a Cold War stalemate that pitied the United States and the Soviet Union against each other, the UN made very little progress during this period due to frequent use of veto powers by the two countries (Mesler, 1997, p.14).
One of the biggest challenges that the United Nations faced was that of membership expansion because the US and Soviet exercised their veto powers to prevent the admission of new states perceived to be allied with the other side. Mesler (1997) reveals that between 1945 and 1955, the UN only managed to admit 9 new members (p.16). However, a 1955 bloc deal permitted admission of 16 new members, 8 on each side and the stalemate was avoided thereafter through frequent consultations and bargaining, and caucusing.
The United Nations was also characterized by serious funding disputes during the Cold War. “In 1956, the Soviet Bloc and several Arab States declined to contribute to the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) that was sent to set up a buffer between Israel and Egypt after the second Arab – Israel war (Mesler, 1997, p.19). This war came about when Egypt under Nasser sought to nationalize the British controlled Suez Canal, an action the prompted a declaration of war by Britain, France and Israel.
Goldstein (2003) acknowledges that during the Cold War, the United Nations had few successes in international security because the U.S. – Soviet conflict prevented consensus (2003, p.269). The United Nations had been relegated to irrelevance in a world order that had been structured by two opposing alliance blocks. Mesler (1997) is concerned that although there were few notable exceptions, such as agreements to station peacekeeping forces in the Middle East, the United Nations did not play a central role in solving international crisis (p.31).
The predominance of third world membership added to the UN woos as they necessitated the shift of focus by the UN from security issues to economic and social problems of the poor countries. This was contrary to the international relations theory of realism which identifies low politics (economic and social matters) to be secondary to high politics (military and security). “Third world states also used the United Nations as a forum for criticizing the rich countries in general, with the United States having been their main target (Goldstein 2003 p. 270).
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the UN membership doubled as colonies in Africa and Asia gained independence. The expansion caused changes in the character of the general Assembly. According to Mesler (1997), “The concerns of the new members were completely different from those of the western industrialized nations and on many occasions, showed open resentment to their former colonial masters (p.31). Moreover, the third world states became concerned about the overwhelming powers and privileges that the United States enjoyed in the UN. Mesler (1997) further reveals that third world countries were concerned in the manner in which the UN usually became effective in international security affairs when the United States led the efforts.
These concerns led to the emergence of rifts between the United States and the third world countries, and consequently, the United States found itself on the minority on many issues. By 1980’s when the pressure from the third world countries became unbearable, the United States reacted by withholding their financial contributions to the United Nations. According to Mesler (1997), the non payment of U.S dues rose to more than $1 billion and was subsequently followed by the withdrawal of membership from the UNESCO (p. 33).
However, it must be noted that the UN registered quite some notable success in the late 1980’s just before the end of the Cold war. Mesler (1997) acknowledges that the UN successfully brought to an end several regional conflicts that included the 1988 Iraq – Iran war and the Central American crisis (p.39). The UN successfully engineered ceasefire negotiations among the parties and provided peacekeeping forces that monitored the implementations of the ceasefire agreements.
The United Nations after the Cold War
The end of the Cold War marked the end of bipolar alignments in the international system and paved way to a multilateral order. This led to more flexible relations among states in the international system and thus great powers could finally agree on different issues regarding the international security. The end of the Cold War further brought to a halt the trend that the third world had deployed in playing off the super powers against each other.
According to Mesler (1997), greater cooperation emerged between the United States and the formerly hostile third world countries, a situation that moved the UN to the center stage of international relations (p.38). However, the United Nations still faced challenges that basically related to the drive for power by the country that emerged as the global hegemon from the power struggle of the Cold War, in this case, the United States of America.
By the early 1990’s, the United Nations had successfully asserted its position as the world’s most important tool for settling international conflicts. According to an analysis provided by Goldstein (2003) in 1993, Security Council resolutions had increased to 78 from 15 in 1987; peacekeeping missions had risen to 17 from 5 in 1987; peacekeepers had risen to 78,000 from 12,000 in 1987; and countries sending troops had risen to 76 from 26 in 1987 (p. 269). Moreover, the UN oversaw the independence of Namibia from South Africa and the country’s first free elections in 1990.
However, the UN faced numerous daunting challenges during the post-Cold War period. Mesler (1997) identifies the problem of inadequate funding that was occasioned by the non-payment of dues by the United States to have been one of the biggest challenges that the United Nations faced during the post Cold War period (p.42). “The UN woos during the post-Cold War period were further worsened by the failure of the United States to honor its financial obligations to the organization Mesler” (p.42).
The United States failed to pay its dues for many years, citing budgetary misappropriation by the UN as their main concern. The US congress demanded the shrinking of UN budgets and cutting down of staff jobs before sanctioning the allocation of funds to the UN. The US congress further delayed confirming the new US ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrook, leaving the position vacant for a year. These particular free-riding tendencies by the US presented the UN with difficulties in delivering its core functions of collective security and responsibility.
Another post Cold War draw back occurred in Angola, where, upon sending just a few peacekeepers to assist in the beefing up of security during the 1992 elections, hell broke loose and rebels took up arms after the government won in the internationally observed elections. The UN was completely overwhelmed and could not contain the rebels. “In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge faction refused to disarm according to the UN brokered peace plan it had signed, a process that was subsequently overtaken by events after a coup that interrupted Cambodia’s transition to democracy” (Mesler 1997, p. 51).
Mesler (1997) identifies Yugoslavia as the other place where the UN faced serious draw backs even after undertaking the largest peacekeeping mission of nearly 40,000 foreign troops costing $1 billion annually from 1993 and 1995 (P. 51). “The mission was extremely incapacitated by the variance that emerged between the type of forces sent (lightly armed forces equipped for humanitarian operations) and the situation on the ground which was a full scale territorial aggression by heavily armed forces (Mesler, 1997, p.52). This unhappy combination came to be known as “peacekeeping where there was no peace to keep.”
Mesler (1997) notes that in response to the problems of inefficiency and financial difficulties, the UN scaled back its peacekeeping troops from 78,000 in 1995 to 19,000 in 1997, and further carried out staff reduction and reforms in the UN secretariat and UN programs (p. 53).
UN during the Post 9/11
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks upon the United States marked a turning point in the history of the United Nations. The US significantly increased its participation in the United Nations, and a decisive coalition of member states endorsed US war on terrorism. However, there are increased concerns throughout the world that the United States has hijacked the whole process to advance its own national interests at the expense of other states. The United Nations has been pushed to the periphery by the United States in the war on terrorism.
The foreign policy measures adopted by the United States after the September 11terrorism attacks are a clear encroachment of the international law. The United States has masterminded the emergence of a new geo-strategic situation in the international system that has effectively reduced the United Nations to a mere rubber stamping authority. As the only hegemony, the United States has taken full advantage of its dominant status usurp the roles of the United Nations.
“The United States claims supreme authority for all measures related to the ongoing anti-terrorism campaigns and does not accept neutral arbiters – such as the UN – in determination of the actual terrorism threats ” (Kochler, 2002, p. 4). According to Kochler (2002) the United Nations has indeed been pushed to the sidelines and cannot act anymore according to the Charter’s doctrine of collective security, which since the end of World War II was and still ought to be the core element of multilateral international order represented – or advocated, to be more realistic by the world body (p.9).
Kochler (2002) asserts that by arrogating itself the right to act on behalf of the international community, the United States violates the principles that were established under the United Nations Charter which are exclusively reserved for the Security Council and can only be invoked in conformity with the regulations of Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter (p.11).
In its pursuits on the war on terror, the United States with the backing of its western allies attacked Afghanistan in October 2001. However, the attack did not receive the full backing of the United Nations Security Council. Therefore, despite the wide ranging support for the genuine course and concerns of the United States, it is important for operations of such magnitude to undertaken strictly under the full mandate of the United Nations.
The other instance during which the United States undermined the authority of the United Nations was the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Although the Iraq invasion was well intended to rid the world of the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, once again the United States did not seek the full approval of the UN Security Council. The war in Iraq has ended up being too devastating, claiming lives of thousands of Iraqi citizens and military personnel of the US and its allies. A critical analysis of the Iraq war relative to the rational model of war reveals a big gap between the good achieved and the evil that has been entrenched by the war. It is evident that the Iraq conflict could have been handled effectively by the United Nations through non-violent means as provided for by the chapter 6 of the Charter.
The US war on terrorism is run on a platform of preventive war. “The concept of preventive war as advanced in the new strategic doctrine of the United States is by all means incompatible with the United Nations Charter because the Charter explicitly and unequivocally bans use of force in all forms in the international system except in cases of self-defense or by way of chapter 7 of the UN Charter upon full approval of the Security council” Kochler, 2002, p. 12).
Kouchler (2002) further demonstrates his concerns by stating that under the present circumstances, national sovereignty – though guaranteed by the United Nations Charter – has been reduced to a state’s freedom to identify vis-à-vis the only superpower, with the alternative of either joining the “forces of evil” or opposing them, without any rights to participate in the determination of what is evil. Therefore, the United States has successfully entrenched its own strategic agendas in different parts of the world under the guise of counter-terrorism war (p. 21). Kouchler identifies the control over specific geopolitical regions and strategic natural resources to be among the key agenda of the US policies that are being implemented under the ongoing war on terror.
The US war on terror has evidently taken heavy toll on peace and security in the entire international system. Apart from undermining the principle of collective security as espoused by the United Nations Charter, the counter-terrorism war has been detrimental to the principle of sovereignty and equality of states in the international system. Moreover, individual human rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens throughout the world have been curtailed due to the ever increasing threats of retaliatory attacks from terrorists.
Furthermore, citizens of countries under US military invasion have often become victims of indiscriminate use of force. The US war on terror further aggravates internal tensions, ignites ethnic rivalries and deepens existing social problems in independent states that should otherwise enjoy the sovereignty and equal say in the international system. The United Nations has absolutely been dominated and eclipsed by the United States during the post September 11, 2001 period.
Chapter VI – Conclusion
There exists a consensus among many states that the United Nations provides the best global forum for discussing general multilateral issues. States gain leverage by using the UN to seek more beneficial outcomes in conflicts. According to the United Nations website, the UN provides international stability; acts as a representative symbol of global identity; provides a forum where states promote their views and present their disputes; and provides mechanisms for conflict resolutions in international security affairs. No single country in this world can sufficiently perform all these roles to the levels that the United Nations does.
In numerous circumstances however, the United Nations has been referred to as a “toothless dog that only barks but cannot bite” due to its continued inability to enforce law and order in international relations. Linda (2003) asserts that despite these accusations, many of the failures of the United Nations occurred as a result of struggles among external forces rather than the organizations own failure (p.74). Linda (2003) cites the competition between the US and Soviet blocs as having been one of the biggest impediments in the UN during the Cold War (p.74).
The United States and the Soviet applied their veto powers to block any decisions that were not in their favor. Moreover, the third world countries maximized on the weaknesses created by the Cold War rivalries to pursue their own selfish interests which were focused on economic and social interests. Therefore, the principle of collective security became secondary to other interests that were being pursued by both the developed and developing countries. Linda (2003) acknowledges that without adequate support from member countries, it became impossible for the United Nations to pursue the agenda of collective security (p.76).
While the United Nations performed exceptionally well during the post Cold War era, its operations were severely affected by problems of inadequate funding. The organization was particularly affected by non-payment of dues by the United States. The post September 11 period has seen the United Nations being completely overshadowed by the US in the war against terror. Kochler (2002) warns that “with the US war on terrorism having claimed so many lives right from its inception to date, there is an urgent need for change of tactic” (p. 31). According to Kochler (2002) the United Nations needs to reclaim its rightful position as the global authority vested with powers to enforce peace and sanity in the international system (.p.32).
Therefore, there is an urgent need for powerful countries to give the United Nations its due recognition as the world security and peacekeeping body. Countries such as the United States must learn to pursue their interests within the framework of chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter. Kochler (2002) further warns that the arbitrary attacks on other countries without the approval of the Security Council defeat the purpose and spirit of collective security as a whole (p.33). Such attacks and invasions only serve to divide the world even further along ideological, religious and economic lines.
In order to achieve sustainable peace and security throughout the world, it must be acknowledged that “the United Nations does not exist because it has powers to force its will on the world’s states; rather, it exists because states founded it to serve their needs” (Goldstein, 2006, p. 265). The United Nations should no longer be taken for granted. Although the international relations are still characterized by anarchy, the United Nations is the closest form of world government that the international system has ever cherished.
Therefore, efforts must be harnessed to give the United Nations due recognition, greater financial capacity and more political powers to act on behalf of states in fostering world security and international relations. Goldstein contends that the United Nations further acts as a leverage for moderating costs of achieving collective security, because UN dues and expenses of diplomatic representatives in addition to the agreement to behave in accordance with the Charter provide a cost effective avenue compared to the costs that individual countries would incur to achieve the same objectives (p.266).
While the United Nations can serve as a forum for international cooperation, much can be achieved only if high coincidences of interests occur so that more agreements can be reached and implemented. Considering the fact that member states retain their full sovereignty status, binding decisions require cooperation and consensus rather than majority votes. Furthermore, there is urgent need for an overhaul of the UN structures so as to eliminate the existing power gaps among member states.
This follows concerns to the effect that the United Nations gives greater enforcement powers to the Security Council than to other bodies within the organization, yet the Security Council is dominated by the great powers which only pursue interests that are of significance to their nations. Roberts & Kingsbury (1994) are categorical that more power should be transferred from the Security Council to the General Assembly where states receive equal recognition and voting rights (p. 134). The Security Council should also be expanded with the objective of distributing power evenly among member states as well within all the organs of the United Nations.
Although the main objective that motivated the foundation of the United Nations was the provision of international security through prevention of war, the other services being provided by the organization should never be ignored or pushed to the background. There are many problems which are global in nature that rely on the United Nations. According to Goldstein (2003) globalization has gradually transformed the world into a single economy, thus multinational corporations are relocating from one country to another and building subsidiaries in several other countries” (P.112). Subsequently the world has become more interdependent, with technology having transformed communication to instantaneous levels.
All these developments have introduced new challenges and conditions in the international system that no single country can absorb all the pressure presented by such challenges and conditions. These conditions and challenges are presented in the form of population growth, healthcare issues like HIV-AIDS, environmental issues like global warming, drug trafficking and terrorism. Therefore, war should not be the only international dilemma for the United Nations. However, it may be that the United Nations remains too institutionally undeveloped, lacking independent authority and resources, to effectively deal with any of these problems.
Goldstein, J. (2003). International Relations. Pearson Education, Inc.,
Kochler, H. (2002) International ecumenical conference: The war on terror, its impact on
sovereignty of states, and its implications for human rights and civil liberties.
Linda, F. (2003). An Insider’s Guide to the UN. Yale University Press.
Mesler, S. (1997). United Nations: The First Fifty Years. Atlantic Monthly Press.
Pilar P. R. (2001). Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy. Washington: Brookings Institution
Roberts, A. & Kingsbury, B. (Eds.), (1994). United Nations, Divided World: The UN’s
Role in International Relations, 2nd Ed
The United Nations: Charter of the United Nations. Retrieved from
http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter/index.html/ on 25/03/2008
The United Nations. The United Nations: Organization. Retrieved from
http://www.un.org/aboutun/basicfacts/unorg.htm/ on 25/03/2008
The United Nations. (2006). Report on the committee on contributions. Retrieved from
Weiss G.T. & Dhows, S. (Eds.), (2007). The Oxford Handbook on United Nations. Oxford
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 19 March 2017
We will write a custom essay sample on An Evaluation of the Performance of the United Nations
for only $16.38 $12.9/page