Established 70 Years Ago: Is the UN myth or reality?
By Pierre-Edouard Deldique
Original article here.
June 26, 1945. San Francisco. Representatives of 50 countries signed the Charter of the United Nations after unanimously approving it the day before. On that day, American president Harry Truman declared, "The world can begin to look forward to the time when all worthy human beings may be permitted to live decently as free people." The UN: a nice dream or progress in international relations? The debate has been heated for 70 years, even more so since the end of the Cold War.
Does studying the UN mean writing a story about an illusion? Or a myth? Remember that 70 years ago, the Charter set superhuman, noble goals: "To maintain international peace and security, to develop friendly relations among nations, to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character." They were idealistic objectives that didn't carry much weight in the face of the Cold War, also known as "the balance of terror," shortly after the document was signed in California.
Hardly established, the UN actually entered a glacial period. The freeze is symbolized by the power of veto that Moscow and Washington used for decades, as a result halting all of the Security Council's decisions. While blocked in its mission to keep peace, the UN DID become a platform for new African countries after decolonization and a voice for countries labeled as third-world. At the time, the UN even proposed creating a New International Economic Order.
The Organization's Limits
On the contrary, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the agony and collapse of the USSR, and the end of the bipolar world, all shook the UN awake since the Security Council was no longer blocked by the two "super powers" using their veto. Consequentially, the individual countries of our planet discovered that they also form united nations. But, it was actually a rude awakening and misunderstanding. In 1990, George Bush senior really needed the organization in order to build a coalition against Saddam Hussein, which he was able to do. However, George Bush junior was unable to drag the UN into the war in Iraq in 2003.
Then, there were the conflicts in Somalia and Bosnia, genocide in Rwanda, war against terrorism begun in 2001, Darfur, jihadism, Syria, the Ukraine... Numerous crises revealed the organization's limits, particularly on the political level. And this, despite the efforts of certain Secretary-Generals like Boutros Boutros-Ghali or Kofi Annan to give it power on the world stage. These crises also showed the UN's incapacity to keep the peace. Even more so, to impose peace.
Yet, it must be noted that, in the UN’s 70 years of existence, even though its Charter's resolutions are far from being achieved, it HAS stepped into and intervened in the cracks and crevices left by its member states' diplomacy. It voted in texts (via the General Assembly) that were little appreciated by a good number of these members. These texts drew the world's attention to poverty and threats to the environment, developed international justice, and, more recently, brought into the spotlight the "responsibility to protect" the people. And, of course, they deployed the Blue Helmets for better (interposition) and for worse (inaction during massacres). The presence of these "peace-keepers" is not absolute security for victims of conflicts, but it is real. They have also included defense of cultural and human rights, come what may. Take, for example, the development of a world heritage.
A Necessary Reform
Finally, if the UN gives the impression of being a diplomatic pipe dream and a mediocre soldier for peace, it's because the member states (today there are 193) never wanted to respect its charter. Some of them wanted to wield it for their own profit. Truman fearfully predicted this, remarking on June 26, 1945, "If we try to utilize it selfishly, in the interest of one particular country or a small group of countries, we will be guilty of treason."
In reality, the UN will finally exist the day its members respect the letter and spirit of the Charter, and actually play the 'multilateral' card. In addition, they must agree to reform it in order to give it heavier political weight, including expansion of the Security Council in particular. Currently, the council represents the world of 1945, not 2015, even though its practices have greatly evolved. Diplomats must recognize that the threat to world security and peace no longer comes from one single state, but it also comes from arms traffickers or epidemics like the Ebola virus. Under these conditions, it will have to be a lot more than a means for the world to express its (good) conscience.
Henry Kissinger recalls this in his book Diplomacy. There is always a "conflict between Richelieu's concepts and Wilson's ideas, between foreign policy seen as a balancing of interest and diplomacy seen as an affirmation of natural harmony." Hobbes and his Leviathan or Kant and Perpetual Peace. Will the states finally surmount this antagonism? This is the price to pay for the UN's future. Otherwise, we will continue to witness "the inexorable decay of a big human dream," as Romain Gary believed, a man who worked with the organization and knew it well.