Will the UN live up to its ideals?


Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

THE purists will consider BREXIT to be a game-changer of sorts in the World Order. This hardly qualifies to be thus branded. The Charter of the United Nations begins with the words “We, the peoples of the United Nations…” Several decades down the road we are today left with the contemplation of whether or not the United Nations has actually lived up to the high ideals it was set up for. What to talk of the United Nations (Nobel Peace Prize and all!), several piddling outfits have taken upon themselves the task of the establishment of world peace that the founding fathers had envisaged as the exclusive preserve of the United Nations Organization.
The era of the Cold War, when the Warsaw Pact and NATO arrogated unto themselves the powers that should best have been vested in the United Nations, is a case in point. Then it came to pass that all of a sudden the Cold War came to an end. While the Warsaw Pact died a natural death, NATO was left in a wilderness of sorts. When the European Union had taken the decision to set up the EU Rapid Reaction Force, it had raised several eyebrows among the international affairs buffs. Having officiated at the birth of NATO and being one of its recognized godfathers, the Americans too looked askance at this decision of the EU. The decision went against the US’ long held assumption that they (USA that is) should have the decisive say in matters concerned with – among other things – the defence of Europe.
This is hardly the time to delve into the merits or demerits of the EU decision. What did interest one, though, was what role, if any, might have been envisaged for the Force in international peacekeeping operations. By hindsight, such operations have at best been a mixed blessing. In some instances they have failed miserably to prevent the worst. In others they came into operation so late that the world was left wondering as to their efficacy. Post- Brexit, the EU led by Germany may decide to loosen the shackles somewhat.
The NATO operations and, subsequently, the EU Rapid Reaction Force gave rise to further question marks too. For one thing, they pushed the United Nations’ role in peacekeeping into a gray area. After all, it is worth remembering that peacekeeping was, and should remain, one of the principal concerns of the United Nations. Looking over the shoulder, one can hardly surmise that the United Nations has exactly covered itself with glory in this particular field. The events of 9/11 and their aftermath had the effect of turning every known paradigm on its head. All Western-oriented Defence Organizations – and NATO in particular – were roped in to do America’s bidding. The United Nations provided the umbrella for the stationing of NATO forces in Afghanistan in an operation that, by no stretch of imagination, can be seen as a peacekeeping venture. And all under the notional command of the United States Armed Forces. The NATO authorities must surely have wondered sometime as to what made then enter into this rather murky situation.
One is tempted to venture the remark that ‘quest for peace’ should aim for the ‘establishment of durable peace’. In other words, mere papering over of the cracks can hardly do the trick. Cessation of hostilities should be viewed merely as a first step towards the ultimate goal of an equitable and durable settlement of any dispute. Too often, regrettably, the United Nations has arranged for a mere ‘cease-fire’ and then rested on its laurels. Jammu and Kashmir issue is a case in point. In so doing, the International Organization has helped nurture festering flashpoints the world over.
In order to ensure a peaceful World Order, the United Nations should also have striven to ensure a fair and equitable World Economic Regime. Here too the world body has failed “the peoples of the United Nations”. It needs to be counted among the failures of the United Nations that the international economic assistance regime, instead of assuming the role of healer of the economic ills of the poor, has been given free rein to degenerate into a re-incarnation of the money-lending system of medieval ages, with its built-in inequities. Rather than working towards the general uplift of the living standard of the deprived millions of this planet, the ‘system’ has become a millstone around their collective necks. Instead of freeing them from economic blackmail, it has laid them open to shameless manipulation.
One would risk the charge of over-simplification in suggesting that to make the United Nations effective what is sorely needed is some kind of an ‘enforcement mechanism’. Mere ‘informed debate’, in which our multilateral diplomatists revel, or even high-sounding ‘resolutions’ can hardly deliver, unless and until they are backed up by a self-executing mechanism to ensure the timely implementation of the decisions of the World Body. An expectant world would surely welcome such a development. The United States, as the sole superpower, has been in a unique position to guide the United Nations to fulfil its noble mission by upholding the human and humane values that all right-thinking peoples of the world hold dear. The other power-centres can also chip in. It is high time that ethics, rather than expediency, took over as the controlling force behind the actions of the powers that be. “The peoples of the United Nations” deserve no less. Or is one guilty of over-reach?
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.

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