Reflecting On The UN As It Nears Its 70th Anniversary

As the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations nears, the debate about the worth of the organization as a positive force for international cooperation there appears to be a growing consensus that the UN is well short of a success, but the only show in town.

In the United States, the view of the UN is tainted by the organization’s treatment of Americans and what many see as a double standard.

“True, we have seen flashes of the kind of international cooperation the founders envisioned, especially, during the first Gulf War in 1990-1991 and after September 11, 2001. But with, for example, a “Human Rights Council” populated by human rights abusers such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela, the UN often remains more punch line than savior,” asserts Gil Troy in The Daily Beast.

And there are ongoing reports of UN officials interfering with investigations into crimes committed by peacekeepers with the most recent example involving allegations French soldiers had engaged in the rape of children in the Central African Republic.

Its scars aside, Troy contends the UN should be celebrated for its accomplishments too.

“Still, on this platinum anniversary, we should celebrate the great non-events—there has been no Third World War or nuclear Armageddon, as was broadly feared seven decades ago. More important, the UN is more than the General Assembly. It has blossomed as the world’s greatest international social service agency, pushing economic reform, championing education, protecting the environment, fighting disease, pressing for universal immunization, ultimately halving child mortality rates,” he says.

Recently, the UN has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence after its reputation suffer greatly in the wake of its failure to prevent or mitigate the genocides in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

Despite the general opinion held by many at the turn of the century that UN peacekeeping missions would be replaced by regional efforts, UN blue helmets have played a role in recent conflicts in Kosovo, East Timor, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“In terms of legitimacy and force-generation, they showed that the U.N. still had comparative advantages over all other organisations. But it was not at all clear if this was enough to allow the peacekeepers to succeed,” writes Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the former UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations.

“Today’s peacekeeping is a political enterprise whose success rests on the support of major powers, a viable political process between the parties to a conflict, and a wise and limited use of force,” he adds.

The Brookings Institution scholar is the author of a new book, “The Fog of Peace: A Memoir of International Peacekeeping in the 21st Century,” which reflects on the UN’s history.

The question today is whether the UN is properly situated to deal with the present international environment where non-state actors pose an imminent threat to global security. For example, the UN has finally accused ISIS of genocide, but what can it do to prevent future atrocities or hold leaders to account?

“There was consensus among participants that the difficulties in the realms of international peace and security are very different today from those that dominated the international community at the time of the foundation of the United Nations in 1945,” Julia Rainier of InterPress writes.

“Global scenario has seen the entry of non-state “actors” such as criminals and terrorists representing a real threat to stability of the international system that the United Nations was set up to safeguard,” she notes.


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