27 November 2015

Blue is the colour of peace - The UN, now in its 70th year, is still grappling with questions of peace-keeping, reform and representation

Amitava Chakraborty 
"By turning the world UN Blue for a day, we can light the way to a better tomorrow", said the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, on the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. Countries across the world honoured Ban's words by bathing their iconic buildings in blue, the official colour of the UN, as a token of gratitude for the UN charter, which continues to espouse the lofty values of the institution since October 24, 1945.

Political analysts have often argued that the UN, much like the League of Nations, has been losing its relevance with the passage of time. It is therefore necessary to critically analyse the institution during its 70th year. Critics are also of the opinion that the UN's ideals have failed to adapt to the changing geo-strategic dynamics. The UN, it is argued, must wake up to the new global realities and mould itself accordingly.

The 'changing nature of warfare' is a case in point. Article 1 of the UN charter clearly states that the UN must take effective measures to prevent and remove any threat to peace. In the modern world, nations rarely confront one another through conventional means. Wars are not only being fought by uniformed soldiers but are also being waged by non-State actors. Therefore, the definition of conflict itself has changed. The absence of war among nations may not necessarily augment the cause of peace. This is because member states, even while they are fighting shadowy insurgent groups, are guided by their self-interests. That the West's campaign in its battle against the Islamic State - supposedly an enemy of humanity - in Iraq and Syria has been seriously compromised by the conflicting interests of the members of the alliance offers conclusive evidence of this fact.

Such consolidations stem from the UN's idea of 'collective security'. It is time for the multilateral body to lead the coalition of nations in the fight against terror. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization must not be considered as a substitute of the UN. The latter earns its legitimacy from the membership of 193 nations. The UN's failure to provide leadership in the fight against non-State actors undermines its claim of being the world's leading arbiter of peace.

The American president, Harry S. Truman, one of the founding fathers of the UN, had famously said, "The United Nations is designed to make possible lasting freedom and independence for all its members." One wonders if the UN has lived up to his expectations. The invasion of Iraq by the United States of America was an illegal act that contravened the UN charter: Article 2 of the charter states that "the organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members." The UN must aggressively defend the sovereign rights of the member states.

The organization's performance on the social welfare front also leaves a lot to be desired. The eradication of extreme poverty, hunger and child mortality along with achieving universal primary education, among other objectives, were adopted as part of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000. These goals had to be met by 2015. The arguments of the proponents of the UN notwithstanding, the prevailing situation in the world indicates otherwise. Again, in the General Assembly Resolution of 1970, rich countries had pledged to commit 0.7 per cent of their gross national incomes to assist the UN in its social endeavours. This commitment was reiterated in the International Conference on Financing for Development in 2002. But not more than a handful of countries have kept their pledge. The goals are in danger of collapsing under the weight of their lofty ambitions.

The UN must reinvent itself. It can begin by restructuring the security council. The world is unipolar, but with multipolar tendencies. Hence, the UN must strive to accommodate the aspirations of all its member states. This would automatically imply the neutralization of the veto power of the five permanent members. Are the UN and its privileged members ready for such a radical transformation?

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