The biggest criticism against the United Nations is that it has failed to reflect the present-day international political order in which the traditional importance of Western countries has...
The biggest criticism against the United Nations is that it has failed to reflect the present-day international political order in which the traditional importance of Western countries has diminished and has gradually been replaced by more regional powers.
There is an urgent need for reforms of international institutions like the UN. At the heart of the UN reforms agenda, is the Security Council. The post-Cold War world has seen major changes, such as the rise of American unilateralism, increasing instances of terrorism and the emergence of regional superpowers.
Even on the grounds of democratic legitimacy, there are serious concerns with the functioning of the UN. Till date, no country from the African continent has found a place in the Security Council’s permanent membership. At the same time, Europe is over-represented with the presence of the United Kingdom and France. Further, while the world has witnessed the emergence of regional and international powers, there has been no change in the veto-power holding countries. This is more startling when seen in light of the fact that the membership of the UN has almost quadrupled (from around 50 in 1945 to 193 at present), but the strength of the veto-power holding members continues to be only five.
Issues of legitimacy and credibility arise from the misuse of veto power for personal gains. For example, the US has often used its veto power to protect Israel from any action by the Security Council for its alleged human rights violations. Similarly, in the recent crisis in Syria, Russia has good relations with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and has used its veto power to prevent sanctions being imposed against his regime. Therefore, the veto power is used more often for vested political interests rather than serving the purposes laid down in the UN Charter.
Further, the vesting of veto powers in a handful of important countries reduces the scope for genuine negotiations and rather grants leeway to these countries to pursue their independent and selfish agendas, which decays the purposes and objectives of the UN. It is due to this apparent misuse of veto powers, that France rightfully moved a proposal in September 2015 to restrain the five permanent members from using veto powers in cases involving genocide, as in the present case involving Syria. The intention behind the proposal was that the Security Council ought not to be made redundant by vested political considerations in cases involving mass atrocities like genocide. However, Russia was quick to reject the French proposal and termed it “not a workable proposition”. This further shows the reluctance of the permanent members to part with their veto powers in order to secure their vested political interests.
Apart from the afore-mentioned factors, the UN’s credibility and legitimacy has been further weakened due to its failure to meet its basic goals. Ever since the turn of the millennium, there have been an increasing number of international conflicts, such as the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq and the conflict in Syria, and the present-day crisis in Kashmir is amongst others. These international conflicts have further portrayed the UN as a tool for aiding Western unilateralism, rather than a forum for promoting multilateral solutions for international disputes. The UN’s inability to protect the interests of weaker nations has become apparent and this has further strengthened the call for reforms.
The 2003 war in Iraq is an important example to highlight the inadequacy and failure of the UN to meet present-day international problems. Despite pressure from the UN, the US and its allies carried out the war in Iraq with little or no regard to international legal principles and the UN Charter. Notably, Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general, observed that the US-led war in Iraq was illegal and contravened the principles of the UN Charter, but even then no action was taken against the US. This clearly shows the inadequacy and the structural weakness of the UN to initiate any action whatsoever against a member country, even though it had committed a clear violation of the UN Charter.
Furthermore, the recent unsolved crisis of Kashmir and the step taken by United Nations Security Council (UNSC) affirms that how this organisation is dominated by the economic superpowers willing to suppress the voice of innocent Kashmiris by supporting India’s recent illegitimate steps in the disputed territory. Additionally, the claim by India that the resolution passed by the UNSC on Kashmir from 1947-1957 was non-binding and is only recommendatory and the failure of the UNSC to address the issue depicts the internal weakness of the entire system. The fact that nations can easily get away with their illegal agendas thus putting other nations in distress and the UN keeping itself confined in a narrow space establishes a negative jurisprudence and adversely affects the international rule of law. As a result of this gross failure by the UN, there is a call for an urgent reform of its structure, especially that of the Security Council, and to make the organisation more meaningful in terms of today’s political realities.
The need for change in the Security Council was recognised in September 2015 by the General Assembly, when it passed a consensus resolution for initiating discussions at the Intergovernmental Negotiations Group (ING) for formulating a strategy for the reform of the Security Council.
It is time the UN should step up and act accordingly and provide real solution to the real problems. The inception of new members raises robust legal question which the UN organ must address in order to keep the faith in international rule of law alive. Failure to meet the requirements of 21st century would gradually bring an end to the relevance of such an organisation which can perform expensive meetings behind closed doors and can only raise concern on paper which never transforms into reality.