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Don't Blame the United Nations

"of the states, by the states, for the states"

Amidst the bombings, screams and cries, the quietus of World War II, an entity was begotten to save humanity from the next big contingency. The name was United Nations, idealism’s poster boy. Made by the same nation states who were bleeding each other to death, the entity seemed to be a symbol of their maturity. A coming-of-age moment for the nation states who learnt from their past mistakes, the entity was widely embraced throughout the world. Immense trust was laid in its institutional structure which would prevent future warfare and create a peaceful ambience in the arena of international relations. The trust was mistaken and so was the idea of creating a United Nations which was made of the states, by the states and for the states. 

Post-WWII, the United Nations symbolized hope, but trust waned. Idealistic vision failed, revealing a flawed, state-driven foundation.

Whenever the atmosphere of a place becomes dark and noisy as a result of a conflict-turned-gunfight, the first question that people ask is “What is the United Nations doing”? The interrogation seems fair enough for the entity has taken a self-responsibility to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”, as stated in the UN charter’s introductory page. Often the answer to that question is ambiguous owing to the bungling nature of the organisation. Take the current scenario where Russia has been incessantly pounding the comparatively minuscule nation of Ukraine for the last year. More than 9000 civilians have been killed with the total civilian casualties amounting to 27,449 till September 2023, majorly in Ukraine. The messiah that the UN was deemed to be is nowhere to be seen in the rescue of the people. Apart from brokering an already dead Black Sea Grain Initiative deal between the warring parties, the UN has been perfectly impotent in saving the Ukrainian posterity from the “scourge” of Russian attack. Israel's turning of Gaza into Armageddon reflects the same story of the UN’s lack of wherewithal to put an end to civilians’ misery where almost 18,000 have been slaughtered already. This absence of the UN in necessary places is not a novel phenomenon of the 21st century.             


It's high time that we shift our focus from catechising the UN for its failure to accomplish what it passionately wanted to, and try to reflect on the very nature of an organisation that was doomed from its birth itself. Firstly, to view and interpret the UN as an entity in isolation having ‘power over’ nation-states is a fallacy. It is a collection of nation-states made to serve their interests. The organisation exists on the sheer will of these states. Unlike the idea of a god, purportedly conceived by humans with the utmost power of the former over the latter, the UN fails to perform on that paradigm. It's a travesty of the social contract theory which was espoused by Thomas Hobbes, a 17th century English philosopher. According to the theory, a state comes into existence when people give up their right to defend themselves to an ultimate sovereign who vows to protect them against any danger in exchange. Hobbes’ theory hinged on his analysis of crude human behaviour in the state of anarchy which he concluded to be egoistic, self-preserving, power-seeking and violent. In the case of the UN’s formation, the nation-states tread the path of fulfilling that social contract with the UN as the sovereign but failed to completely renounce their rights, owing to the competitive and power-hungry nature of geopolitics. Secondly, the elite Security Council with victors of World War II as its members hinders the prospects of any hardcore action given the exclusive provision of veto power. The only time the UN was able to sanction any collective security action was during the Korean War of 1950-53 because the USSR abstained from the Security Council. Even then the collective action proved to be far from ideal as the US-led collective force violated the limits set by the UN principles as it crossed into the North Korean border. Unfortunately, an ideal situation for the United Nations to sanction collective action to stop a belligerent nation-state would be when the warring parties don't hold any interest for the ‘big powers’ of the Security Council.


The United Nations also falls short of upholding and protecting human rights. It is tacit that the nations themselves are the biggest perpetrators of human rights violations and ironically, they also vehemently support the narrative of securing those rights for their citizens which is nothing but a quintessential showcase of virtue signaling. The passing of resolutions condemning a specific nation for the purported atrocities committed by it, in the general assembly is a conspicuous futile attempt at carving space for peace. It serves as an instrument for nations to know their colleague’s stance on the issue and might also accomplish creating an illusion for a speck of a people that the United Nations is making efforts to prevent the conflict. The pecuniary issues, responsibility overlaps and it's spreading thinly across multifarious fields further decreases its effectiveness and efficiency.  

Is it worth your time to cry foul about the UN's impuissance? I'll argue it's not. The optimistic idealism with which the men in suits of the World War period formed the League of Nations and then raised an inanimate statue of the United Nations on the former’s grave was not balanced with the required realism. The entity might have raised humanity’s hope but little did they know that what they thought of as the ultimate panacea would prove to be a mere spectacle of geopolitical hullabaloo. 


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