Wake up call for the United Nations


The biggest criticism against the United Nations (UN) is that it has failed to reflect the present day international political order. The traditional importance of Western countries has diminished and gradually been replaced by more regional powers.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. The continued dominance of the ‘old powers’ poses a serious threat to international stability, resulting in greater urgency to expand and reform the United Nation Security Council (UNSC).

Even on grounds of democratic legitimacy, there are serious concerns with the functioning of the UN. Till date, no country from the African continent finds place in the Security Council’s permanent membership. At the same time, Europe is over-represented with the presence of United Kingdom, France and Russia. Further, while the world has witnessed the emergence of regional and international power, there has been no change in the veto powers 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 powers holding members continues to be only 5.Further, post the decolonisation process, a number of newly independent countries want to assert themselves as independent entities at the international stage.

Issues of legitimacy and credibility arise from the misuse of veto powers for personal gains. For example, the US has often used its veto powers 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 grandstand and pursue their independent selfish agendas, decays the purposes and objectives of the UN.

It is due to this apparent misuse of veto powers, that France 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 as “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 above-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 the 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, Mr. Kofi Annan, who was the former UN Secretary General, observed that the US led war in Iraq is illegal and contravenes 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  Nation Security Council (UNSC)affirms that  how  this  organization  is dominated by the   economic superpowers   -willing to suppress the voice of Innocent Kashmiris  , by  supporting  the India’s recent  Illegitimate occupation of Kashmir .Additionally,  the  claim by India  that the resolution passed   by UNSC  on Kashmir  from  1947-1957 ,was non-binding and is  only  recommendatory  and the  failure of UNSC to   address the issue  depicts the internal   weakness of the entire system .The fact that  nations can  easily  get away with their  illegal  agenda  thus putting other nation in distress  and   UN  keeping itself confined  in a narrow space establishes a negative jurisprudence  and adversely effects the  International rule of law ,

As a result of this gross failure by the UN, there was 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 recently 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.

Apart from the Security Council, there have been calls for other reforms of the UN as well. Notably, the secrecy behind the Secretary General’s selection has been held to be opaque, collusive and contrary to democratic principles. It is argued that such a secret selection process leads to various problems such as secret deals between the powerful countries, lack of criteria for candidate selection, absence of proper scrutiny process of the candidate’s selection and the veto power over the selection process by the five permanent members can lead to a race to the bottom.

It’s time that UN  should step up and  act accordingly and  provide  real solution to the real   problems. The inception  of  new member and the growth of  complex robust society   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  such  an organization which can perform  expensive meeting behind  close door  and can only raise concern on paper which  never  transform  into reality .

Rashad Aslam
Rashad Aslam
Author is an International legal Analyst, academician and a practicing lawyer Based in London


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