The Nepalese garrison standing at attention during the closing ceremony of the 13-year-long United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti in Tabarre recently. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for the reform of UN peacekeeping operations. AFP PIC

THE Trump administration’s criticism of the United Nations and the United States president’s announcement that the US would reduce its financial contribution to the global organisation’s budget a few months ago focused attention yet again on UN and its functionality.

One of the most vocal critics of the UN, President Donald Trump pointed out that the US contribution to the organisation’s budget was unfair and stressed that the UN is dysfunctional by defining it as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time”. The US is the largest contributor to the UN’s budget, providing 22 per cent of its US$5.4 billion (RM22.7 billion) biennial core budget and 28.5 per cent of its US$7.3 billion peacekeeping budget.

US Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Nikki Haley, noted that the financial contribution to UN peacekeeping operations has been slashed by more than half a billion dollars, and that the US reduction will continue. Haley pointed out a very important issue, stating that the reduction in financial contribution would contribute to the protection of civilians caught in conflicts. What is the reason behind such a decision that could be related to the idea that the UN is seriously dysfunctional and ineffective?

According to the UN charter, the UN’s most important task is to protect international peace and security — if a situation develops that threatens the peace and security in any part of the world, the UN should immediately intervene and take peaceful measures.

In cases where peaceful measures are not sufficient, military action is one of the most frequently used methods, although not directly regulated under the charter. UN peacekeeping forces are the actors commissioned for this purpose. It is a historical fact that the UN has been quite effective in overcoming many international crises in the past.

In North Korea’s invasion of South Korea in 1950, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and other similar events, the UN immediately intervened and succeeded in stopping the crises and conflicts.

However, there have been many crises and wars where the UN has failed, such as the wars of Algeria (1954-1962), Suez (1956), Hungary (1956), Vietnam (1946-1975), the China-Vietnam War (1979), Afghanistan (1979-1988), Panama (1989), Iraq (2003), Georgia (2008) and Syria (2012-present), and Yemen (2015-present).

The most basic reason for the ineffectiveness and helplessness of the UN is often attributed to the UN Security Council and the “veto power” of its five permanent members. The UN Security Council consists of five permanent members — the US, Russia, China, Britain and France — as well as 10 temporary members that change every two years.

A decision vetoed by any one of the five permanent members can never pass from the council. The other 10 symbolic members have no veto power, and thus, have no choice but to follow the veto of the permanent members. In contrast, the UN General Assembly has 193 members, but the GA itself has no authority to make any effective decisions with the power of sanctions, de facto or legal, other than a few administrative decisions such as approving the UN budget.

Therefore, in effect, the real administrative power of the UN is in the hands of the UN Security Council. It is the ultimate decision-maker in all operative decisions, such as issuing an embargo, sanctioning an international intervention and establishing a peacekeeping force.

The most concrete reason the UN could not immediately take any significant action during the wars listed is considered to be the veto power of the permanent members. Indeed, the veto power is a very powerful force in a positive sense when it is used fairly in the right time and without bias.

However, it has been said that this power has been used from time to time to pursue the national interests of the said countries. As a result, the UN’s most important mission of peacekeeping and stopping wars has been rendered ineffectual.

Another criticism: in the UN, there are no countries among the permanent members of the Security Council that represent the 1.7 billion Muslims in the world. There is no country, with a large Muslim population, that could be an actor on a global scale in terms of economic, political and military power, on the council.

However, the large majority of worldwide catastrophes, such as international crises, wars, conflicts, cruelty, oppression and poverty, are experienced by Muslims. The UN made 1,782 decisions between 1946 and 2010: 47 per cent of these decisions were about Muslim and Middle Eastern countries. In 2005, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation declared that Muslims should be given a permanent seat in the council, yet nothing has come of this suggestion.

The marked increase in crimes such as sexual abuse and exploitation by some members of the UN’s peacekeeping troops in recent years is among the bleeding wounds of the UN. Reportedly, there have been 69 sexual abuse and exploitation claims directed at members of the UN peacekeeping forces in 2015 alone. Such incidents compromise the credibility of the UN. Apparently, as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres emphasised, “UN peacekeeping operations must be reformed”.

First of all, abusing a sacred mission to bring peace, comfort, security and welfare to wronged people who suffer from persecution and injustice must be considered a crime against humanity. Those soldiers of the peacekeeping forces who allegedly abuse, exploit and harass innocent people in need of help must be subjected to severe criminal sanctions.

The UN also, as a whole, requires broad reforms to overcome the barriers that kept the UN passive and ineffective at dealing with the world’s greatest crises for years.

A commission consisting of representatives from all member states jointly working for improvements in technical and legal regulations in this regard and making decisions through a majority vote is essential. The basic issues such as “permanent membership” and “veto power” must be reformulated in the face of urgent humanitarian interventions.

The UN’s basic “peacekeeping” mission must be reformed in the fastest and most efficient way. The world urgently needs an effective, fair, powerful and reliable United Nations, under which all countries can unite.

The writer has authored more
than 300 books, translated into
73 languages, on politics, religion and science

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