UN: A World Forum of Bystanders

Syrian Family after the regime air bombed their home/
Photo source:www.rookiestew.com
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In his Op-Ed, Mohammad S. Moussalli analyzes the chronic impotency of UN and failure of the Security Council to maintain world order, resolve conflicts and enforce peace.

On January 1920, fourteen months after the end of the First World War, the League of Nations (LN) was founded to maintain world order, guarantee peace and security, adjudicate international disputes, resolve conflicts, promote global health, and more. Yet, history shows that the failure of League of Nations to fulfill its mission was one of the crucial factors that fueled World War II.

This actuality, however, was somewhat dissented by several political analysts since the first international organization had neither the authority nor the means to command and enforce, which transformed it into a flimsy association of state representatives.

In the aftermath of World War II, the need to maintain world order, make durable peace, and provide human development became indispensable to the progression of civilizations and preservation of human lives. To that end, the United States (the victorious nation which was not a member of the LN) along with the exhausted United Kingdom (UK) and ruined France pressed either to restructure or replace the impotent League of Nations with an effective international organization that can lead the world to peace and prosperity.

On the other winning side, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) declined to join the projected international organization unless privileged with a vetoing force. Therewith, the Security Council (SC) was arranged to comprise eleven member-states at its start in 1945 (increased to fifteen-seat-members in 1965), five of which are permanent state-members (USSR, U.S., UK, France, and China) who were armed with illimitable veto powers. Accordingly, on the ruins of the League of Nations, the United Nations (UN), and its ruling Security Council, was established in October 1945 as the world’s most powerful international organization of all times—a world government in all aspects.

As in its charter, the aim and purpose of the UN were devised to arbitrate disputes, resolve conflicts, prevent armed conflicts and wars, maintain world peace, protect human rights, enforce justice, combat poverty, fight diseases, provide human development, and more. To achieve these goals, the new United Nations organization was equipped with powerful principal arms and international institutions, such as:

  • Security Council (SC) that has the full authority to bring forth legally binding resolutions to enforce settling of conflicts, impose sanctions and initiate military operations worldwide, and much more.
  • International Court of Justice (ICG) that has the authority to settle legal disputes between states and deliver advisory legal opinions to the UN General Assembly and other branches, and more.
  • International Criminal Court (ICC) that has the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for international crimes, like  genocides, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, and more
  • Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) established to promote international economic and social co-operation and development, as well as many more socio-economic duties.
  • World Bank Group (WBG) designated to reduce poverty and offer capital loans to developing countries, and so on
  • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) established to inhibit nuclear weapons and control the use of nuclear energy for military purposes.
  • World Health Organization (WHO),
  • World Trade Organization (WTO),
  • Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
  • International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
  • World Food Program (WFP),
  • UNESCO, UNICEF, and several other agencies

A look at world’s state of affairs, in terms of conflict resolutions and peacemaking, will show that the world is suffering the disastrous consequences of a stack of unresolved armed conflicts and longstanding territorial disputes, most of which are due to UNSC inaction or failure. Among those consequential issues, some are still on fire for decades, while other cases were pushed aside to fade away or burn out with time—no matter of human cost.

To refresh the public memory, herein some instances that epitomize the chronic inefficacy of the Security Council:

Iranian Nuke Program (as of 2003 as yet)

Twelve years passed in trying to convince the “Islamic republic in Iran” to limit its uranium enrichment process and halt its nuclear weaponization programs. Meanwhile, to reward Iran, the international community turned a blind eye to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard direct militarily intervention in Syria and Iraq, or through its Shiite militant proxies in Yemen, Bahrain, and Lebanon. Yet, the UNSC response was limited to the application of digestible shots of economic sanctions and extending the talks until P5+1 (realistically the U.S.) and Iran reach some fallacious agreement or framework—as emerged on the very day this piece was almost ready for publishing.

Arab-Israeli Conflict (as of 1947 as yet)

Sixty-eight years of bloodshed and hatred owed to the lack of will of the SC to install a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace treaty through which an end to the Israeli-Palestinian unending wars and Arab-Israeli conflict can be realized. And, the result is zero

Syrian Civil War (as of 2011 as yet)

Four years of slaughtering of innocent Syrians by Assad’s regime and Iranian paramilitary groups of which more than 240,000 killed and at least 500,000 wounded were not enough to enforce a solution or at least a ceasefire, which paved the way for the so-called “Islamist” militants, Shiite and Sunnite alike, to destroy the region and export terrorism to the world.  Yet, Ban ki-Moon just feels sorry and ashamed for UN’s inability to act. What a pity!

Turkish Invasion of Northern Cyprus (as of 1974 as yet)

More than forty years since Turkey invaded and slashed the northern part of Cyprus, while the case remains under discussion—maybe for another 40 years.

Iran-United Arab Emirates (as of 1971 as yet)

Forty-four years since the territorial dispute had erupted between Iran and United Arab Emirates (UAE) over three Arabian Islands (Abu Musa, Greater and Lesser Tunb Islands), yet left unresolved—perhaps not to annoy Iran: the second imminent nuclear country after N. Korea.

Pakistan- India (As of 1947 as yet)

More than six decades elapsed since the territorial dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir region erupted, not to mention the consequences of the three deadly wars between both sides. And, the Security Council action is yet to be known.

Iran- Iraq War (1980-1988)

It took eight years and over one million dead until the Security Council found a way to broker a ceasefire between Iraq and Iran.

Having itemized some cases should not connote that those unmentioned conflicts, such as the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the Russian invasion of Georgia, the U.S. war on Iraq, Sudan’s civil wars and genocide, Lebanon’s civil war and other issues, have been properly addressed by the Security Council or have less detrimental effects on world peace.

Besides, the repetitive failure of the Security Council to resolve conflicts, the unfortunate reality is that the United Nations has also been unsuccessful in combating poverty, fighting fatal diseases, delivering timely disaster relief and humanitarian aid—not to discuss its ineffective human development undertakings. Yet, the UN surpasses all other international agencies in generating equivocal reports in which it presents statistical-based improvements and unattained achievements.

Actually, the UN becloud the fact that its proclaimed improvements in fighting poverty are largely owed to the redrawing of higher poverty lines, to the obscuring the fact that hundreds of millions of Chinese have uprated themselves to higher socioeconomic brackets as a result of China’s continuous high economic growth, to the computation of the GDPs per capita at nominal values without any adjustment for inflation, and other statistical tricks

Add up that the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has jeopardized the safety and wellness of humankind when it fell short to timely respond to 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa; or to promptly contain the deadly epidemic virus from spreading out. Whereas, it was Doctors Without Borders (DWB), a French humanitarian aid organization, who warned the world and rushed to help the poor ailing Africans in their life-threatening ordeal—let alone how the minimally funded DWB outperformed the well-funded WHO.

In a similar manner, UN refugee-related agencies were, as usual, inefficient and sluggish to fulfill their global humanitarian aid missions. Time, and time again, they were bone idle to provide adequate humanitarian aid to millions of Syrian refugees who fled their homes to neighboring countries— not to dredge up the clumsy UN operation in the aftermath of 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Given its unparalleled authority, the truth remains that UN’s achievements are meager to be mentioned; whereas, its shortcomings and failures are so many to list in one document. Like father like son, the veto-crippled Security Council has proved throughout the past seventy years that it is a mere international political bazaar or just a world forum of bystanders at best.  Unfortunately, besides transforming UN’s peacekeeping forces into sitting ducks and white flag-wavers, it seems that the theatrical role of the SC is to protract conflicts, no matter of human sufferings–until the self-serving P-5 vetoers see some self-interest.

A UN peacekeeping soldier stands next to a shelter inside a UN base at the Golan Heights/ Photo source:www.thehindu.com
A UN peacekeeping soldier stands next to a shelter inside a UN base at the Golan Heights/Photo source:www.thehindu.com

This persistent failure has evoked a broad disapprobation about the UN Security Council for being disunited and unable at least to stop the butchering of innocent people—let alone solving conflicts, enforcing order and imposing peace. This actuality, however, has induced many analysts to mull over the benefits from having a big international organization that costs much (around 14 billion dollars for two-year budget including Peacekeeping expenses) and achieves little.

Unfortunately, the United Nations has demonstrated since its origination that it is neither free nor potent to serve the world as determined in its charter. By and large, its governing bodies and agencies have proved to be more politicized than being humanized, bureaucratically driven than being result oriented, unvigilant to cope with urgencies, and so on. Otherwise, they would have done much better than just dashing hopes.

This reality impels us all to question about such incessant impuissance! Is it a competence issue, lack of will or a matter of apathy? Actually, it is a combination of all. Yet, the compelling question is whether there are viable solutions to reform the UN, SC, and other UN’s affiliated agencies, or not? Should it be restructured, segmented and decentralized, or just be dissolved?

Most strategists and restructuring experts believe that the permanency and severity of the UN case have made it beyond fixing. It is so because of the impossibility to annul the paralytic five veto prerogatives from the SC voting system, even if four of the deciding P-5 agreed to rescind their vetoing powers, which will block any real reform attempt before it starts. Secondly, it is hard to fix mainly because of its resourceless financing system (which depends on rich state-donors for funding) from which the UN lost autonomy and neutrality.

Away from discussing other structural defects or remediable suggestions at this time, seeing that most remedies have to include decentralization, segmentation, regionalization, subcontracting, or other disintegrative trends. Yet, the only viable solution to elongate the UN lifespan and reinvigorate its needed role depends on the reform drive of the five permanent state-members.

Reform will only be feasible once the P-5 jointly agree to nullify their veto powers and employ a democratic voting system instead. The democratization of the Security Council, for example, entails that the count of SC seat-members should be reset to include one representative for each group of ten, or more, nation-members who is nominated by each nation-group.

In all probability, UN’s financing system needs restructuring at which a steady funding system is instituted instead of the current donative arrangements.  The United Nations has no choice but to introduce a mandatory subscription charge or a fixed membership fee on all UN’s member-states (rich and non-rich alike) so that to ensure the regular flow of funds free from political inclinations. A fifty million U.S dollars charge on 193 member-states, for example, will bring in $9,650 billion a year, which is more than enough for the UN to do the job without relying on contributions of rich countries for its funding.

Obviously, the demand for help and support of the world’s top organization is soaring, especially in matters related to conflict resolution and peacemaking, humanitarian aid and human development. People of the world, especially those of the third world, need to be certain that there are equitable international organizations that can aid them when in need and stand for the helpless against the tyranny of the strong without political preference.

To live up to that mission, we need, now more than ever, efficacious international organization, resolute international leadership and impartial leading nation that not only respect and practice democratic values and human rights at home; but also act in accordance with these values abroad without double-dealing politics and profiteering obsessions.

Failing to reform and democratize the world’s top international organization and its Security Council will only bring about more terror, more bloodshed, and more havoc to all nations—if not a third world war.


Mohammad S. Moussalli is a renowned Lebanese writer. He has a reputable journalistic record with well-known regional English newspapers, magazines and web-based gazettes. He holds a long list of esteemed published Op-Eds and online articles mostly centered on civil liberties, human rights, socioeconomic and sociopolitical issues.

Mr. Moussalli is a management consultant and former managing director with years of top executive experience in the Middle East and Gulf region. He devises reorganization plans and restructuring schemes, provides advice on business planning, administration, operations, pay and benefit scales, and other business issues.

Mr. Moussalli blogs at http://middleeasttribune.wordpress.com & tweet @msm54lb


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