The UN : after 75 years of struggling for peacekeeping, it’s time to modify the system

, par Vladyslav Faraponov

The UN : after 75 years of struggling for peacekeeping, it's time to modify the system
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the UN General Assembly in New York City. Credit : the White House.

April 1945. With the passing of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vice President Harry S. Truman has just become the President of the United States. The fighting in the European theatre of World War II is close to its end. The new system of international relations designed during FDR’s presidency is still coming into being, and implementing all that rests on the shoulders of new leaders. And with the creation of the United Nations later that same year, the world will never again be the same.

This Yalta-Potsdam system is facing unprecedented challenges right now. Whether the system remains challenged in this way will profoundly impact state-to-state relations in the future. Recently, the international community has celebrated the 75th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter, which inaugurated the United Nations in October 1945. Europeans should see this moment as a time to respond to the UN’s current problems.

"Woe to the vanquished, woe to the victors”

A number of experts have emphasised the urgent need to transform the UN system in general, and the Security Council (SC) with its five permanent members in particular. That discussion about needed changes has been going on for years, but is this scenario possible ?

The SC has much more power among the other UN bodies, because it’s focused on maintaining peace internationally. It consists of five permanent members – the US, the UK, France, Russia, and China. The paradox that could never have been imagined before is that a permanent member of the SC could use unauthorised force against another nation.

In 1945, people could hardly imagine that the creators of the system itself would violate the rules that they themselves established. But they have done precisely that, again and again. Russia, the United States and China have already proved that they can use the Charter in their own interests, especially when it comes to blocking resolutions which condemn an unauthorised use of force against another sovereign nation.

For many reasons, UN peacekeepers have failed to protect people in both Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and the internal politics of the Security Council have allowed the U.S. and Russia to invade other countries on different occasions. For example, Ukraine has found itself in the position of facing an aggressor neighbor state with a permanent seat on the SC that used its position to veto any official recognition that aggression was taking place at all. This created a farcical situation wherein one part of the UN Charter could not be implemented because of another part. This also means that when the Security Council is truly needed, the Council may fail to fulfill its purpose. So, how can the decision-making process of the Council be reorganised ?

One idea is to extend the P5 into seven or ten. But what criteria should be used ? GDP, size or population ?

If one goes by the size of a country’s population, India, Indonesia, and Brazil would join the current members. If one goes by the size of a country’s economy, then Japan, Germany, and Italy would get permanent seats, too.

This truly describes “woe to the vanquished”. Because the countries that lost WWII have been unable to join the SC, they have been effectively barred from having a deciding voice in the world’s premier international organisation.

Is the UN still as valuable a partner for Europeans as it was ?

With Brexit, the EU has lost one of its permanent members at the Council. This has helped provoke a new discussion : should the EU ask for another seat in the SC, and if so, should that seat be given to Germany ? This issue has raised another one. Is the UN still a valuable partner for Europeans, or can the EU’s member-states live without it ?

The answer lies in two major issues. It depends, firstly, on whether the EU will have its own army one day. And it also depends on the future of NATO, which is linked to this first issue.

But since it seems that the USA, the most powerful country on Earth, is not actually the global policeman anymore, the role of other international actors, including the EU, will grow. The EU, as the second largest economy after the U.S has the chance in the long-term to grow even more. Despite all its problems, the EU is much more likely to survive than the UN. The EU is largely able to handle its own domestic issues, but being a part of the UN has not really helped it resolve any of its security issues. That’s why the United Nations is not a valuable partner for Europeans as it was in the 1990s, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Establishing a wide range of EU legislation, developing one of the strongest currencies in the world and surviving an intense refugee crisis has made it clear that the EU has become one of the most powerful actors in international politics.

The G4 group that includes India, Germany, Japan and Brazil has already presented its vision to reform the SC. They want the Security Council to be increased to 25 members from its current 15, increasing the number of permanent seats by six.

Another option is a common EU seat on the Council in place of France’s. This has been supported as an alternative by Italy and Spain, but has been vehemently opposed by France. These debates are raging because of the tensions between the P5, as their votes are needed to proceed with the reform.

A pivotal 2020

It may seem that the UN is too archaic and ineffective as an organisation for European countries to justify their involvement with it. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the UN should be replaced or abandoned. To this day, there is still no visible alternative to this mammoth international bureaucracy.

There are still some pros that prove the UN work is highly needed. Especially when it comes to the programmes that aim to deliver food to the indigent people. On the other hand, the biggest concern for mid-2020 is protecting global health, and the COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of distrust about the role of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in this. This illustrates how the UN’s bodies struggle to meet today’s challenges.

All in all, the сreation of the UN was a necessary and a long awaited step for the whole international community. But although high expectations were set back then, many things have changed globally since 1945. What’s more, the number of states that have joined the UN has grown from 50 to almost 200, and they can hardly agree on the huge variety of issues. The paradox is that each state is aware of the problem, but has its own interest in proposing reforms or keeping the status quo – and that makes the reforming much harder than it seems. Europeans’ own divisions over the Security Council make it hard for them to throw their support behind any single plan for reform. But they will need to : in order for the UN to be as useful for Europeans as it once was, the Security Council needs to change.

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