A poorer world with­out the UN

Arab News - - Opinion - COR­NELIA MEYER

In its 75th an­niver­sary year, now is a good time to take stock of the UN. The world has changed sig­nif­i­cantly since 1945, when a new post­war world or­der was shaped with mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions, and the Pax Amer­i­cana be­gan to de­fine in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. But that was then and this is now — what has the UN achieved, and does it still have a role?

We all know its peace­keep­ing troops, in their dis­tinc­tive blue hel­mets, who in­sert them­selves be­tween the bat­tle lines of con­flicts in the Mid­dle East,

Africa, south­east Europe, Asia and Latin Amer­ica. While of­ten pow­er­less in the face of vi­o­lence, they have pre­vented much blood­shed and saved many lives.

There is also much more to the UN than its an­nual gen­eral as­sem­bly, and the in­ter­minable wran­gling of the Security Coun­cil. Vi­tal arms such as the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice, the Eco­nomic and So­cial Coun­cil, the UN De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme, the World Food Pro­gramme, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion and the UN Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change (UNFCCC), and re­lated or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, all carry out in­valu­able work. And it was the UN that es­tab­lished the 17 sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals to make the world a more in­clu­sive, fairer and safer place.

When an or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mem­ber­ship grows as the UN’s has done — from 51 coun­tries when it was formed to 193 to­day — and when its man­date is so wide­spread, it should not come as a sur­prise that its bu­reau­cracy grows com­men­su­rately. This is one of the main crit­i­cisms of the UN, and prob­a­bly a fair one.

While con­tin­u­ally crit­i­ciz­ing the UN’s bu­reau­cracy and fi­nan­cial profli­gacy, the US was for a long time an an­chor of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, but that has changed un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. The US wants to leave the WHO and has aban­doned the UNFCCC’s Paris ac­cord on cli­mate change. Mean­while China has been on the as­cent on the in­ter­na­tional scene for two decades, and has wasted no time in fill­ing the void left by the US.

There is no doubt that the UN is in need of re­form (af­ter 75 years, which or­ga­ni­za­tion would not be?). Many coun­tries have also over time tried to po­si­tion them­selves as new per­ma­nent mem­bers of the Security Coun­cil, to re­flect their eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal as­cent.

How­ever, the world is a safer, fairer and more in­clu­sive place be­cause of the ex­is­tence of the UN, and its spe­cial­ized sub-or­ga­ni­za­tions and af­fil­i­ates. The UN gives ev­ery coun­try a stage, and it is up to their gov­ern­ments how they chooses to use it. We may de­spair at times over the in­ef­fi­cien­cies of the be­he­moth with head­quar­ters in New York, Geneva, Vi­enna, The Hague and Nairobi, but we still de­pend on its con­ven­ing power to ad­dress is­sues of war and peace, cli­mate change, de­vel­op­ment and health care on a global scale, es­pe­cially at times such as the cur­rent coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

I urge those who ad­vo­cate the abo­li­tion of mul­ti­lat­eral frame­works to imag­ine a world with­out the UN — a world in which we would all be im­mea­sur­ably worse off.

Cor­nelia Meyer is a busi­ness con­sul­tant, macro-econ­o­mist and en­ergy expert.

Twit­ter: @Mey­erRe­sources

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