United Nations’ lack of power undercuts legislation

United Nations’ lack of power undercuts legislation

As the president of our school’s Model United Nations club, I present the UN as a bastion of international cooperation — the organization that promotes and maintains world peace.

However, as the body passes resolutions condemning genocide or establishing subcommittees to monitor nuclear weapons development, I’ve realized that even in the real world, the lack of the UN’s power severely undercuts the effectiveness of each their policies.

Article 1 of the United Nations charter declares its commitment “to maintain international peace and security”. However, the UN seems to forget to follow through with the second part of the article: “to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace”. The failures of preventing infighting among powerful nations and ineffectively dealing with humanitarian crises displays the extent to which the UN is in dire need of reform.

The UN is divided into six main branches, including the General Assembly, consisting of all 193 member states, the International Court of Justice and the Security Council. The GA consists of all 193 member states, while the Security Council has 10 elected members, who serve two-year nonconsecutive terms, as well as five permanent members who hold veto power on resolutions. These nations, colloquially known as the P5, are Russia, the United States, China, France and the United Kingdom.

The UN relies heavily on its member states to enforce decisions. Peacekeeping forces are voluntarily given by certain countries. Without the support of one of the five permanent members, it is near impossible to get policies through, even if smaller nations carry dissenting opinions.

There also lies the question of the changing role of the P5. The members of the P5 were chosen for being the victors of World War II. But we are no longer in the 1940s. Why are India or Japan, some of the largest countries with huge economies, not included, while France and the UK are? Why are there no African or Latin American countries present when those regions are poised for the highest amount of population and economic growth in the next century? Many of these countries were colonies during the formation of the UN, and the continuation of the same five members as the ones with the most influence seems to perpetuate historic injustices.

There also remains the issue of the UN’s conflicting messaging around moral issues.For example, the UN allowed Saudi Arabia to be the head of the human rights council in 2015 while the Saudi Arabian government beheaded more people than ISIS in that year — seemingly reflecting Saudi Arabia’s influence as a leader in the oil-price controlling organization OPEC. Simultaneously, the UN failed to take steps to prevent genocide in Rwanda or Bosnia in the 1990s largely due to the lack of will to militarily intervene, regions where the great powers have little interest.

The infighting between the P5 also stifles the progress of the UN. In the Syrian Civil War, for example, Russia repeatedly used its veto power to block resolutions condemning the Syrian Assad regime or calling for intervention. And when Russia seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, Russia blocked attempts by the security council to impose sanctions on Russia. Recently, the US has frequently used its veto power to block resolutions critical of Israel, until the US abstained from a vote passing a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. To deal with such power struggles, the UN is ineffective at dealing with the perpetual power struggles between the P5.

The General Assembly is often criticized as well for its ineffectiveness, such as in 2005, when Secretary-General Kofi Annan from Ghana criticized the assembly for sacrificing effective policy in favor of reaching consensus and passing resolutions that reflected “the lowest common denominator” of opinions.

Even climate agreements, an area the UN has made notable progress in towards signing international agreements, can show how fragile the resolutions are. The successes of the 1998 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Climate Conference seemed to be nullified after the US withdrew from the climate agreements in 2017 citing economic losses in the fossil fuel industry.

The lack of oversight over peacekeeping missions also highlights the failures of having a purely voluntary military force. A 2019 report described the increase in sexual assaults by peacekeeping soldiers towards civilian personnel, with many cases going unreported and ultimately unpunished. The UN needs to implement structural reforms to deal with the high turnover of personnel within the peacekeeping so that all members can be pre-screened and trained.

To deal with these inherent problems, the P5 should be expanded and contracted based on a specific set of criteria, such as population and economic influence, and also include representatives from each continent to ensure geographic diversity. Veto power should also be restricted, forbidden especially when mass atrocities occur.

Simultaneously, as the body of the UN that all countries have an equal say in, the GA should have more power over overseeing peacekeeping operations. And smaller countries, who deal with the brunt of climate change and other global economic challenges, should be able to better hold the P5 accountable through an elevated position in the GA.

When the founders of the UN met in 1945, they recognized the dire need to create a peacekeeping body to respond to everpresent global power struggles and prevent the next world war. But as our world seems to teeter ever further into polarization, combined with existential threats such as climate change, it is more crucial than ever to create an effective organization to unify humanity.

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