Over 70 years ago, the United Nations was founded in New York. Although the UN is needed more urgently than ever, the organization’s influence in the world is shockingly limited, writes DW’s Daniel Scheschkewitz.
The Middle East is about to implode. The Syrian Civil War has brought the world superpowers to the brink of a confrontation. The latent state of war in eastern Ukraine threatens to become a permanent conflict and the enormous influx of refugees in Europe has shaken the continent to its foundations. Peace on this planet is threatened by more crises simultaneously than it has been in the 70 years since the end of World War II. International law has been trampled upon – in Russia’s annexation of Crimea or in the situation in the Middle East – yet the violations remain unsanctioned.
Inner strife in the Security Council
The founding fathers of the UN Security Council created it for peacekeeping purposes but it has become a pawn in the hands of international superpowers. It is often misused when Russia exercises its veto power, but also by China and the USA as a blockading instrument. This situation has ensued from the inability to develop the absolute power of veto into a qualified veto that would suspend veto rights in the case of crimes and flagrant violations of international law. On the other hand, it also reflects the internal strife among nations in the Security Council. Putin’s Russia is trying with all its might to re-enter the world stage while it enjoys its role as a neo-superpower that does not yield to anyone or anything – not even international law.
The United States has been swaying back and forth between its role as policeman of the world and an ever-increasing tendency to self-imposed isolation. China, the emerging superpower of the 21st century, is still looking for its global political role and is always in a fraught position with regard to issues of human rights, even outside its Asian sphere of influence. France and Britain desperately cling to their anachronistic status as veto powers, instead of joining the other Europeans in a model of a joint seat for the EU in the Security Council. Under these circumstances, the panel remains what it always has been: a toothless tiger, which is becoming increasingly decrepit because of its inability to reform.
Even beyond the narrow confines of the Security Council, the failure of the UN in the civil wars in Rwanda and Bosnia has become a symbol of a powerless world community. Numerous blue-helmet missions have either been doomed to failure or have, for example, in Congo, increasingly discredited themselves.
Successful for more human dignity
Yet it would be wrong to just portray the pitiful state of the Security Council. In its 70 years of existence, the UN has been able to improve the lives of millions of people and also avert some crises. The UN Convention on the Rights of a Child and the battle against diseases such as AIDS or malaria are only a few programs that deserve to be mentioned. The United Nations has also made great strides in their Millennium Development Goals. By its own accounts, it has been able to halve the number of hungry people in the world by this year and has helped reduced infant mortality by two-thirds over the past 25 years. This all the more impressive now that the UN has the set itself the goal of sustainably developing the world. It will only be attained if economic development goes hand in hand with ecological reason and social progress. So we must cautiously congratulate the United Nations on the 70th anniversary of its existence. It is, as its former General Secretary Kofi Annan aptly described it, not a perfect organization. But it is the best we have.
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