We Need a New United Nations

Sean Garland

A reformed UN is still the best hope for international stability and peace, writes Seán Garland.

“The United Nations must urgently reform to stay relevant in a world facing unprecedented conflicts and is not fit for purpose”.
The words of the 66th elected President of the United Nations General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser.

Despite its many and powerful detractors and the actions of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council in using it for their own ends, the United Nations (UN) has a proud and honourable record. With very limited resources it has striven to maintain peace, combat aggression, genocide, terrorism and provide aid and assistance after many natural disasters, famine, earthquake and floods. Certainly there have been mistakes and major errors but much of these are caused by the structures of the UN which allow strong countries to hinder or prevent the UN from acting decisively and with speed.

Democracy, as in so many areas of life, is the key to transforming the UN. The UN must be an open democratic organisation accountable to all its members based on the principle of one country one vote with no special privileges for any country. The concept of a Security Council having five permanent members with a veto must be abolished.

In the post Cold War era, the Permanent Five have creatively interpreted the powers afforded to them and thus significantly broadened their reach. This has meant the Security Council today routinely involves itself in issues considered beyond its jurisdiction 20 years ago.

As Dr. Aidan Hehir, director of the security and international relations programme at the University of Westminster, outlined in an Irish Timesarticle in February, 2012, the western mainstream media present Russia and China as uniquely recalcitrant and cynical in their use of Security Council powers. They tend to overlook the willingness of the three NATO states of the permanent Security Council, the US, UK and France, to actively support known human rights abusers, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to name but three. Additionally, in the post-Cold War era, the US has used its veto over Security Council decisions more times than the other permanent members of the council combined and often in obviously cynical ways.

One example of how the veto is abused by the US is in the treatment of Palestine. In September 2011 the Palestinian Authority decided to seek membership of the UN and called for recognition of the Palestinian state. This proposal met with great hostility from the usual suspects, Israel and its chief ally the US, which stated it would veto any such proposal. It was clear that if the proposal had been allowed to go to a vote the application for membership would have been endorsed by an over-whelmingly majority of the UN General Assembly. Instead, through threats and conspiracy the Obama regime succeeded in blocking the proposal.

In this instance the former Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore, should be commended on the position adopted by Ireland and his statement that “[Ireland] has consisently supported the establishment of a Palestinian state and therefore I expect that when the issue, if it does come to a vote at the General Assembly, that we will be consistent with that”.

If the UN is charged with dealing with all the serious problems that confront humanity, famine, poverty, genocide, aggression, terrorism, natural disasters and climate change then it must have the resources and staff to do so. It is essential for all members to make contributions based on their wealth and each member must make their contribution on time.

Democracy, as in so many areas of life, is the key to transforming the UN.

Alongside the task of securing resources, the UN must have its own armed forces properly equipped and commanded by persons responsible to the General Secretary and a reformed Security Council which in turn is responsible to the General Assembly.

Today there is general agreement that there is an urgent need to reform the UN. Former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan stated some time ago on the issue of reform: “We have come to a fork in the road. This may be a moment no less decisive than 1945 itself when the United Nations was founded”.

There is no alternative to the UN. The world is very different from 1945. We need new structures, new means to combat and solve the very many different and diverse problems that face humanity today. To achieve this the UN must be reformed, strengthened and most of all democratic.

Séan Garland is National Treasurer of the Workers’ Party.