Thursday, July 21, 2011

Let’s talk it to Death: A Critique of the UN

Hopefully I’ll still have some friends in Model UN after this critique. Let me begin by saying that I believe the world is better with the UN than without it. A civilized, imperfect world based on diplomacy and negotiation is much better than a warrior world with continual streams of tanks rampaging through European capitals. However despite the advance in modern diplomacy that the UN represents, its’ shortcomings are generally broadcast on the world stage for glaring eyes of condemnation.

 Although their exists great benefit in talking through problems, there is a great risk in over-talking problems, so that there exists a paralysis of action when words are no longer enough. This paralysis of action creates the perception, fair or not, that the United Nations simply “talks problems to death.”

This perception is far from dispelled when one considers the structure of the United Nations Security Council. There are five veto holders that can veto any sanctions that come before the Council. Which sounds like a reasonable idea on paper, but in practice it renders the United Nations fangless in meaningful action unless war is imminent because the five great powers of the United Nations will rarely agree on anything because they have different perceptions and national interests.

 This is why most of the time, we see rather watered down resolutions against Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, Sudan’s genocidal actions against the people of Darfur, and the painful chess match with Russia and China over the Iranian nuclear program. Russia and China have every economic interest to block sanctions of Sudan and Iran because they sell them large amounts of weapons and Iran employs many Russian scientists. The United States blocks most action on Israel because they have moral and national interests to safeguard Israel.

This isn’t all that horrible because it represents the diplomatic wrangling typical of most political actors, except when one considers the life and death nature of some of these events. UN action was held up on Sudan because of China, leading to more deaths, displacements and misery.

Don’t get me started on UN peacekeepers who in most cases are given orders not to fire unless they personally or as a collective group are under attack. This provision has been used out by genocidal killers in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to just keep killing Tutsi’s. Because of narrow, hollowed out missions, the UN has allowed thousands of people to be butchered. The UN has a noble goal and mission in this world, but without action, you only have talk.


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