Can The UN Use Its Moral Power To Have An Impact?

In the view of Richard Gowan, the United Nations real power lies in its moral authority, which it is compelled to use in the absence of boots on the ground. The emerging question, however, is whether that moral power is strong enough to have an actual impact.

“More abstractly, the principles of international law and human rights that the UN symbolizes can stir up remarkable amounts of public passion, as shown by the debates over the invasion of Iraq (and more recent military options in Syria). But the UN is not a cohesive body with a unifying sense of moral purpose. It is a surprisingly loose network of offices and agencies dealing with everything from tsunami warnings to ‘outer space affairs’,” Gowan argues in an article in Aeon magazine.

He also maintains that there can be a price to be paid by UN officials when they speak out.

“The costs of speaking out can be enormous. [Former UN Secretary General Dag] Hammarskjöld died in an air crash in the Congo in 1961.  There have long been rumors that a cabal of Western spies and mercenaries arranged his death to halt the UN’s interference in their former African colonies. Most historians and UN officials have dismissed this as Cold War conspiracy theory, but recent investigations have concluded that there is credible evidence to support it after all,” he adds.

Two things occurred in the United Nations this week that seemed almost impossible at the start of last week – an agreement would be reached concerning Syrian chemical weapons and that representatives from Iran and the US would engage for the first time since 1979 in talks about Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Are Arab States Too Reactive?
The two positive steps present an important question for Arab states contends an editorial in Lebanon’s Daily Star. If Western powers on the Security Council decide to place their disagreements aside for the greater good of reconciliation or in order to achieve a solution, what does this mean for Arab states?

“Officials in Arab countries spend considerable amounts of time pontificating and  issuing dire predictions and ultimatums, while the world’s leading countries  tackle issues of considerable importance: chemical weapons in Syria, and nuclear  weapons in Iran. Are officials in Arab countries spending any time contemplating  what these two moves will mean for them? Do they have a fall-back plan, or a  detailed, concerted response to these developments in terms of weapons of mass  destruction in the Middle East?,” the paper asks.

Is The Role Of Radical Terrorists Being Overstated?
Throughout the Syrian conflict, many analysts and policymakers have pointed to the role of radical terrorists in the Syrian resistance as a reason to avoid intervention. Is their participation in the conflict as portrayed by the media an accurate reflection of the facts on the ground? Some believe it is overstated.

“Still, only a fraction of these jihadists are participating in actual battles — ones that, at the moment, are largely focused on the provinces of Aleppo and Hama. Far more are building bases in the regions that have long-since been wrested from Assad’s control. There, they are trying to build bases of power, but they are also being confronted with bitter and successful resistance from local councils and rebels who fear they will be forced into submission by ISIS,” Christoph Reuter asserts in Der Spiegel.

Recent Events

This week the Brookings Institute held a discussion about humanitarian and civilian aid to Syria and whether or not the aid can achieve its goals without doing harm to civilians. To watch the event, click HERE.

The Wall Street Journal provides a brief round-up of global conflicts.




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