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The UN Irrelevant? Not Yet.

By Francesca Flynn, Lower 6

It is all too easy to dismiss the UN as being useless, toothless and the world’s greatest bureaucracy – and so not be too concerned at the UN’s declining effectiveness. It’s true that the UN has always suffered from not having enough independent power, and from being at the whims of the world’s superpowers (as during the Cold War, when the Security Council was gridlocked due to the USSR’s and the USA’s inability to compromise and hence their shared overuse of the veto.)  Yet despite its’ many flaws, the United Nations helps people and global politics, and hence we should all support it.

In the last 2 years, since the Trump administration has taken residence in the White House, the UN has been ignored and disrespected by the very country that was so enthusiastic in its establishment, and although relations between the US and the UN have cooled from their original ardour (partly in my opinion because the UN has refused to become another tool for the US to further their national interests exclusively) few, if any American presidents have so flagrantly disrespected the UN.  Trump has not only pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, one of the UN’s greatest successes in recent times, but has also blatantly ignored the UN on Jerusalem. Although US criticism of the UN is hardly original, what makes this especially noteworthy is the fact that the UN is at a crisis point, more than ever before, and needs support from key member states like the USA if it is to not become an irrelevance that people ignore and countries do not use.

The UN has flaws, some of them fundamental, and a key reason for this is that it is an institution that was very much based on post Second World War thinking, and has not adapted some 73 years later.  However, other issues have emerged as the organisation has grown organically. The Security Council structure with the Permanent Five of Russia, China, America, Britain and France is outdated; yes, Britain and France have nuclear weapons, but so does India, and India’s population and economy is growing at a much faster rate than Britain and France, who, let’s face it, are former colonial powers whose heyday was in the 19th Century. This structure is harming the UN by not having proper representation of the growing economies where the UN could have the most impact. On a more technical note, the UN’s gargantuan structure of organs, and countless subsidiaries, is not only wasting money but wraps the UN up in red tape, as many different organisations are doing the same thing. The UN is entirely funded by member states donations and so in order to make member states feel that the UN and its projects are worth funding in, a more streamlined structure is in order. These flaws, while existing before, are critical at this moment, because they are used as arguments to dismiss the UN.

The key flaw that is crippling the UN is its lack of power; its’ court the ICJ has legally binding decisions, yet no apparatus to ensure compliance and so the UN loses its’ threat, as countries know it to be essentially toothless as long as the country has enough allies and is under likely to get anything more than a condemnation. The UN has great potential to help the world, and indeed already has through its humanitarian projects, but if the UN is to thrive, and not be relegated as a great, big humanitarian project, difficult decisions must be taken. For example, France and Britain need to give over some of their undeserved power, and still fully back the organisation. Countries need to obey their funding promises to the UN, and heed its judgements in order to keep up ‘the rule of law’. The UN needs restructuring, with bodies condensed and a clear focus, as well closing long-running projects such the Peacekeeping mission to Cyprus which has lasted 54 years and has achieved little in that time, in preference of supporting existing organisations such as the ICJ. The UN does not have the resources to enter conflict situations as a military force; instead the UN should focus on its humanitarian successes and ability to facilitate conversation.

The UN is at a turning point, with the global superpowers all to ready to ignore and dismiss it, and it has to change even if it means accepting things that are difficult if it is to keep its current importance. The UN is the world’s best chance of keeping dialogue open and helping people, and hence we need to care about the UN’s current precarious situation (despite the need to also be open about its flaws) while fully supporting the intent of its establishment – ‘to save succeeding generation from the scourge of war’. The UN can change into what the world requires it to be, but only if we allow it to change and start pushing for reform in order to stop the United Nations from becoming toothless and useless.