De­spite faults, the UN re­mains in­dis­pens­able

▶ Its very ex­is­tence is ev­i­dence of our abil­ity to work in a spirit of hu­man col­lab­o­ra­tion

The National - News - - OPINION -

Last Tues­day, the United Na­tions opened the 72nd ses­sion of its Gen­eral Assem­bly since its found­ing. The gen­eral de­bate will be­gin this Tues­day. The UNGA is the most demo­cratic or­gan of the or­gan­i­sa­tion, op­er­at­ing on a prin­ci­ple of equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. If it is a fo­rum for heads of ma­jor coun­tries to ad­vance grand global vi­sions, it is also an op­por­tu­nity for lead­ers of smaller na­tions to freely re­proach the big pow­ers.

Crit­ics ar­gue this is all a waste of time. The UN’s rep­u­ta­tion has cer­tainly taken a beat­ing since the start of the cen­tury, in part be­cause it re­mains frozen in the geopo­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties of the 1940s. In an ideal world, five mem­ber states would not be en­dowed with pow­ers of veto over the rest. There is also its in­ef­fec­tive­ness. Over the last half decade, hun­dreds of thou­sands of men, women and chil­dren have been killed in Syria, some of them gassed to death by forces loyal to Bashar Al As­sad, the coun­try’s pres­i­dent, while the UN has dithered. Even now, the UN ap­pears in­ca­pable or un­will­ing to act. The same goes for Myan­mar, where nearly 400,000 Ro­hingya Mus­lims have been driven out of the coun­try in a mat­ter of weeks in one of the most hor­ri­fy­ing in­stances of eth­nic cleans­ing in re­cent his­tory. Will the UN ar­rive at a con­sen­sus to help their plight? North Korea is an­other for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge. Its leader, Kim Jong-un, threat­ens to un­leash a nu­clear holo­caust. Is the UN ca­pa­ble of mod­er­at­ing his be­hav­iour?

The Na­tional has a ring­side seat at the Gen­eral Assem­bly and will be of­fer­ing in-depth cov­er­age of the pro­ceed­ings as the UN grap­ples with ques­tions that de­mand very ur­gent an­swers.

Hav­ing high­lighted the UN’s faults, it is im­por­tant, too, to re­mem­ber its achieve­ments. It has averted con­flicts by en­abling lead­ers to en­gage openly in war of words. At the peak of the Cold War, it pre­vented a Third World War by cre­at­ing an av­enue for di­a­logue be­tween the Soviet Union and the United States. The Mil­len­nium Devel­op­ment Goals adopted by the UN in 2000 have helped re­duce child mor­tal­ity and im­proved en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity, ex­panded pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion, and ac­cel­er­ated the fight against malaria, HIV and other dis­eases. Its sup­port mis­sion to Libya is cur­rently help­ing to cre­ate demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions in that coun­try.

The UN’s very ex­is­tence is ev­i­dence of our abil­ity to over­come our dif­fer­ences and strive, how­ever im­per­fectly, to work in a spirit of hu­man col­lab­o­ra­tion. As Dag Ham­marskjöld, the sec­ond Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the UN, once said, “The United Na­tions was cre­ated not to lead mankind to heaven, but to save hu­man­ity from hell”. Who can deny that the UN so far has suc­ceeded in this mis­sion?

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