Wednesday, July 11, 2007

United Nations 03-05-18

Don't Knock the United Nations

Mirza A. Beg
Written, April 28th, 2003
Birmingham News, Sunday, May 18, 2003

Folk wisdom is at times earthy, but acute, “It takes a master carpenter to build a barn, and any Jackass can knock it down”.

These days, angry retorts against UN, such as,”It stabbed us in the back” are common, as if UN is a person. That begs the question, what is UN, and what does it do?

Founding of the United Nations :
After the carnage of World War I, based on the 14 points enunciated by President, Wilson, at the treaty of Versailles gave birth to the “League of Nations” in 1920. It was ineffective as nations were not deterred from pursuing their selfish aims and the US did not join, because the isolationist Congress did not ratify the treaty.

The weakness of the League of Nations, compounded by the hubris of the European nations brought on the World War II. In the wake of the horrible destruction of the WW II President Roosevelt advocated a more robust world body and coined the name “United Nations”. It was founded under a Charter singed by 50 nations in 1945 and headquartered in New York. The Charter takes into account, not perfectly but in large measure, competing interests of nations, evolving with time, just as our constitution has evolved. A comparison could be helpful.

US Government
US constitution came out of a struggle among states with strong self-interest. Large states felt they could get along by themselves. The constitution emerged after many compromises. It provides checks and balances in dispersing the power among the three branches of the government. Though cumbersome, it has worked well for two centuries.

Republicans and Democrats in congress castigate presidents for seemingly good reasons. Presidents decry do nothing Congress. Congresses pass inane populist laws usually with an eye on the elections that courts often find unconstitutional. Presidents appoint ideologues to the courts and congress stymie and filibuster followed by the President throwing a fit. It is a regular fodder for the news media.

The civil war proved that though imperfect we have a very good thing going. So we gripe, but celebrate the constitution. Even amend it to suite the times and the Republic with occasional set backs keeps prospering.

Work of the UN
United Nations is a world organization based on similar principles as our constitution. There are 191 member countries, most are small, poor and week, while others are large and powerful with diverse interests. They have different languages, cultures and form of governments.

The UN consists of the General Assembly, Secretariat, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, the International Court, and many other organizations under these bodies.

The General Assembly with 191 member countries is the persona of the UN. The executive power resides in the Secretary General who is appointed for five-year term on the recommendation of the Security Council. Security Council is the true powerhouse and is composed of five permanent members and 10 members elected for terms of two years by the general assembly.

The permanent members are China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States. For any resolution to pass these five must be a part of the majority. A no vote by any of the permanent members automatically defeats the motion and is popularly dubbed as Veto.

UN has pioneered humanitarian relief, health in poor countries, international cooperation in human rights, broadcasting, aviation, trade and many other fields. UN has not been very successful in stopping the conflicts especially if one of the Veto powers were involved, because the veto negates any possibility of progress.

Exercise of Veto
Promise of a no vote by France against the Iraq resolution, has made them pariahs in the eyes of the Administration. Let us consider the history of Vetoes since the inception of the UN.

The USSR used 118 vetoes, Russia as successor to USSR since 1991 used it twice in the Bosnian Crisis. China has used it 5 times. France 18 times 13 were with the US. UK used veto 32 times, 23 with the US.

United States did not use veto until 1970, after that it has used it 76 times, 35 of them against resolutions criticizing Israel for occupation of Palestinian lands and oppression of Palestinians.

Veto powers including the US have defended causes such as the apartheid regime in South Africa, colonial regimes in Namibia and Rhodesia. The most recent veto cast by the US was in December 2002, against the resolution criticizing Israel for killing several UN employees and the destruction of the UN were-house on the West Bank.

Reform Security Council
Security Council is the problem; the abuse of veto by permanent members should be curbed. The Security Council could be enlarged with more permanent members, possibly from 5 to 7 representing different parts of the world. Requiring at least 5 out of 7 permanent members voting with the majority so that one selfish power may not hold the resolution hostage.

UN has served the world peace well, under very difficult circumstances and needs nurturing and evolution. It is a great face saving device. We have used it several times and would need it again.

Let us criticize it and blow steam as we do against our own government but help nurture UN. Let us not kick the barn down.

Mirza A. Beg can be contacted at

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