Foreign Affairs

Everything Wrong with the UN

Keegan Nazzari embarks on a deep criticism of the United Nations, arguing it has inner contradictions and is inconsistent with its original goals.

Last year, in the World Economic Forum’s The Global Gender Gap Report, 149 countries were ranked according to their treatment of women. It takes into account 4 key areas: health, education, economy and politics.

Yemen ranked 149th. This makes it the worst country in the world for women.

And since the 8th of January this year, they are the newest Vice-President of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental human rights group, criticised the action asking, “How could the UN choose Yemen, a country that tolerates female genital mutilation, denies women hospital treatment without the permission of a male relative, and counts a woman’s testimony as worth half that of a man?”.

Despite this criticism, it seems as though the UN has doubled down.

On March the 11th  the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) appointed Iran to serve as one of 45 member nations. None of the commission’s members raised an objection to this decision.

On this very same day, Iran’s infamous Revolutionary Court sentenced the 55-year-old human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh to 38 years imprisonment and 148 lashings. Her crimes include insulting the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khomeini and representing women who removed their hijabs to protest Iran’s mandatory hijab laws.

However, these problems in the UN did not begin this year.

In 2010, when Iran announced candidacy for this position, over 200 Iranian activists signed a letter addressed to the CSW, opposing Iran being granted membership. In their letter they stated that, “[In Iran] women lack the ability to choose their husbands, have no independent right to education after marriage, no right to divorce, no right to child custody, have no protection from violent treatment in public spaces, are restricted by quotas for women’s admission at universities, and are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for peacefully seeking change of such laws.”.

Clearly, the UN either did not listen to or does not care about the women of Iran.

These are just a few examples of the UN choosing to kowtow to evil authoritarian regimes rather than standing up for human rights. Beyond any moral objections to this choice, there is also the fact that this seems to be in direct conflict with the UN’s own charter.

The UN lays out 3 pillars for their mission, these are international peace and security, economic and social progress and development, and respect for human rights. And, in 2009 the Secretary-General issued a Guidance Note on the role democracy must play in regards to these objectives. This note “commits the [United Nations] to principled, coherent and consistent action in support of democracy.”

Considering we see the UN repeatedly taking actions that fly in the face of this commitment, I can only assume that the member states and presiding staff failed to read the Guidance Note. After all, how can the UN claim to champion democracy when 2 of the 5 countries who hold permanent status (the P5) on the Security Council are labelled authoritarian by the Economist Intelligence Unit?

Besides some members of the Permanent 5’s blatant hypocrisy, there is also the often discussed issue of their veto power. According to the UN’s charter, the Security Council’s function is, “for the maintenance of international peace and security. It is for the Security Council to determine when and where a UN peace operation should be deployed.”

The decisions they make to take action are referred to as Security Council resolutions. These are the only decisions the UN can make which member states are obligated to obey, every other UN body only makes recommendations.

However, the only way for them to make a resolution is for 9 of the 15 states on the Security Council to vote in favour of it. This is where the P5’s veto power comes into effect. If any of the P5 choose to do so they can veto any resolution, that is they can cancel it.

The countries that constitute the P5 are the victors of World War II, the US, UK, France, Russia and China.

Whilst they may have been united during the war, there has rarely been a significant matter since then which all 5 nations have agreed on. Since the founding of the UN, the most significant conflicts have often found these countries on opposing sides.

Think of the most famous wars since the UN’s founding. The Korean War (1950 – 1953), the Vietnam War (1955 – 1975), any of the conflicts in South America or the ongoing conflicts in the Middle-East. Now name one which all 5 permanent members were aligned on.

The inherent problems with the veto power were shown more recently when in 2014 the Security Council voted to condemn Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, and Russia vetoed the resolution.

As such the UN’s ability to actually perform its job and maintain world peace was not just hindered but permanently prevented. And this is the great failing of the UN, it is the common thread between all of the issues above. To state it simply, The UN treats all countries as equally valuable, equally wise and equally moral.

This is evil.

But at face value, it doesn’t seem so. We must be careful to distinguish between countries and the people living in these countries. It is absolutely true that a person living in Afghanistan and a person living in England are of equal value and should be treated as such. Provided neither have committed heinous crimes.

It is true that either one can be wiser than the other. And either one could be equally moral.

However, that does not mean the ideas that these countries represent are equally valuable, wise or moral.

This is something that is so obvious it should be unnecessary to write. It is not an argument about race, I would say South Korea is far better than Russia. It is not about religion, Japan (majority non-religious) is more moral than Kenya (majority Christian).

It is about ideas.

It is foolish for the UN to pretend otherwise. It is foolish for the UN to act as though validating and granting a platform to the worst dictatorships, human rights violators and monsters in the world.

If the UN was truly interested in peace and justice, then Russia and China would deserve no place on the Security Council. Iran and Yemen would not be acting as arbiters on the moral treatment of women. Saudi Arabia would never have had a place discussing Human Rights in other countries.

The doctrine of tolerance, that is the idea that we should treat everyone with respect and dignity, has replaced any reverence for justice that the UN once had. This was no better displayed than when the UN General Assembly in 2011 chose to hold a minute silence in memory of Kim Jong-Il.

Anyone who does not find this strange is insane. The overseer of the society that is closest to 1984’s, treated with deep respect and honour by an organization that developed and claims to champion the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Now, some people who disagree with the above points, and perhaps even those who agree, would contend that despite all this it is unlikely or even impossible to reform the UN into a system which would not validate and provide a platform for the worst people on Earth.

I agree.

Others might declare that even if we were to start from scratch such a system could not be achieved.

Again, I agree.

But that is not an argument in favour of the UN, that is an argument against replacing it.

And I would again agree.

The UN much like its predecessor the League of Nations does not work. And despite what your high school history teacher or university lecturer tell you this is not because the League of Nations was toothless. The reason neither work is because they have loosely defined or held on to their founding mission. Both entities were created with the goal of international peace. However, it is wrong to assume that just because the organization makes that claim, so to do the individual members. The idea that the UN General Assembly is a group of world leaders working towards peace despite their disagreements is false. Undoubtedly some countries may have this goal in mind, but many are there simply to protect themselves, slander their rivals and then go home and claim they worked for peace.

Revisiting the UN’s claim to democracy, the General Assembly gives every member nation one vote. And some criticise this as unfair on the basis of the population of each country being unequal and so their voting power should not be equal. However, a system like that would grant more power in the General Assembly to China than Sweden, more to Russia than Australia, more to Iran than Norway. Anyone with a rational mind and good morals would know that to be unjust. The idea that China, Russia and other undemocratic governments represent their own citizenry is laughable.

So what would be a better alternative?

Well, we need a united leadership. This could have occurred if China had not been taken over under Mao and his communist government and if the USSR had reformed when it fell, and not become the corrupt Russia we know today.

For that matter, if the West had lost the Cold War and communists had taken power in France, the US and the UK we would have had a unified P5. But I doubt that anyone reading this would think a coalition of Stalinist style communists would have worked for peace and global prosperity.

If China and Russia were to reform today and become shining beacons of freedom, democracy and liberty we would still have a problem. As Claudia Rosett says in an article for Forbes, “Today, the U.N. is increasingly becoming a clubhouse for a rising new axis of dictators. In its menu of privileges for member states, the U.N. does not distinguish between democracies and dictatorships. For the dictatorships, this moral blindness comes as a boon they are delighted to exploit.” That is, that even the worst countries in the world are treated on an equal footing with decent and good countries like Canada, Australia and others. There is a natural question to ask here and it is.

Why?

Why does Saudi Arabia’s government deserve the same respect as Finland’s? Or North Korea the same vote as New Zealand? Indeed, why do they deserve any respect, any vote, any voice in the General Assembly, let alone the Security Council?

The current system in no way incentivises peace or protection of human rights or anything else the UN should stand for, mainly because the UN does not know what it stands for.

And therefore the UN will remain a platform for tyrants, dictators and despots, and not a voice for peace, liberty and democracy.

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