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The United Nations: Ineffective or Powerful?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 2720 words Published: 10th Aug 2021

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The United Nations is an international organization which looks to protect the world from another world war and genocide. It contains 193-member states which have all agreed to provide resources and contribute to the fight for world peace and prosperity. Founded on October 24th, 1945, it was meant to replace the League of Nations which failed to provide any real stability and peace to the world in the aftermath of World War 1. It provided the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was the first of its kind at the time. It looked to prevent the events of the past, such as world wars and genocide. The League of Nations tried to keep world peace, but it had many flaws which the United Nations greatly improved on. However, The United Nations has now been in effect for over 70 years, it is now being debated on whether it is effective anymore. The United Nations is outdated and must be updated with policies to reflect the present-day world. The United Nations has been ineffective in recent years because of the structure of the Security Council, lack of involvement in important global situations, and the difference in priorities between its actors.

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The Security Council is one of the main organs of the United Nations. “Its primary responsibility is to maintain the peace and stability in the world.” (“The Security Council”) It consists of 15 members, 10 non-permanent members, and 5 permanent members. These members each are allowed a vote in the decision-making process which is supposed to help maintain peace and stability. The problem mainly arises with the 5 permanent members. These include The United States, The United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China. These members have a veto power in which they can veto any resolution within the security council. This presents a problem because when the Security Council comes to an agreement on how to approach a situation within the world, it can be vetoed by any of these five powers. They could veto for an ally or for themselves, and this can cause an uproar when done in very controversial situations. An example would be the Syrian civil war. In April of 2018, Russia vetoed its ally, Syria, from US-backed investigation to find the perpetrator of a recent chemical weapons attack. This completely blocked the United States or any other member state from doing anything to find the perpetrator of this horrific attack. This is a huge problem because it leaves huge humanitarian crisis unsolved and allows it to go on. This is highly ineffective at keeping world peace. This has been done multiple times by the Russians and Chinese, which prevents other member states from placing sanctions on Syria. Syria has violated even Human Rights, which the United Nations is so serious about, which puts into perspective how powerful these veto powers can be. A veto power can completely throw off the vision of peace that the United Nation tries so hard to paint. Another example of a power using Veto is the United State is when the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s by building an embassy there. When the United Nations held an emergency meeting on December 7th, 2018, 14 out of the 15 countries condemned the United States’ decision. It was vetoed by the United States. This is yet another example of how a huge situation can be vetoed, even when the majority is against this. The Security Council also never approved of the Iraq war, but this did not stop the United States from invading Iraq. Altogether, The United States has vetoed on 79 occasions, and the Russian Federation (USSR included) has vetoed on 107 occasions. France, Britain, and China have collectively vetoed 56 times. This goes to show how important the veto power is to the permanent members of the security council. Although France and Britain believe in limiting the power of the veto, it has been ignored by China, The United States, and Russia. In addition, the 15 countries of the Security Council make the decision for the 193-member states that are in the United Nations. This is too much power put into a single organ of the United Nations.

One way this could be improved is it the veto power is either completely abolished, or is restricted to situations, which are less serious. For example, if Human Rights are being violated, a country should not be allowed to veto against this. This allows the UN’s promise of delivering peace a more achievable one. Abolishing the veto power within the United Nations would allow other members to make a difference within the United Nations, and until that happens, the United Nations will remain ineffective. There has been an overwritten veto before, but it is very difficult to override one, therefore, it arely happens. This is Resolution 377a, “Uniting for Peace,” and this is used to override a veto, but has only been done a handful of times. In conclusion, it is very difficult to override a veto and once a veto is used, it can block anything within the Security Council. The Security Council could also add more seats to accommodate the large number of member states.

 The United Nations has been long criticized for its lack of involvement in major conflicts and disputes is another reason why it is ineffective. One reason why the United Nations lacks involvement is because of the lack of involvement by its developed members such as the United States, Russia, and China. These actors will usually stay out of conflicts that do not directly involve or benefit them. An example would be the 1993 Rwandan Crisis. “The Security Council refused to strengthen the United Nations peacekeeping effort in Rwanda once the killings began” (Winfield). This goes to show the lack of interest by the Security Council to do anything that is not within their own interests. Also, the French, a permanent member of the Security Council, supported the Hutu-led government in their quest for genocide against the Tutsi minority. License plate numbers, addresses, and names of the Tutsi minority were given out on the radio. The United Nations brought in a peacekeeping force who was only there to monitor the situation and help bring in aid. As a result, the United Nations did not classify the situation in Rwanda as a genocide. If the situation in Rwanda was considered a genocide, The United Nations would, by law, must intervene in the situation in Rwanda. Therefore, 800,000 people were killed in a matter of 100 days. This could have been prevented had the United Nations classified the situation in Rwanda as a genocide and intervened. The United Nations lacks the involvement of multiple human crises, such as the Syrian civil war, has allowed these conflicts to further intensify. The UN sent 30 unarmed observers in April of 2012, but this did very little to help the crisis. This does not mean the United Nations does not want to help, but because of Russia, the United Nations is not able to do very much in Syria. This causes a huge problem because the organization that is meant to preserve peace is not very effective in doing so because its actors have other goals. Another pressing issue is that the United Nations’ is that its more developed countries, such as the United States and Russia, are not as involved as other countries in the United Nations. For example, the United Nations peacekeeping force’s top 25 countries include one of the five permanent members in terms of the contribution of personnel, which is China. This isn’t good for the United Nations because the soldiers and officers are much less trained and developed, the United Nations peacekeeping force isn’t as good as can be. Also, this list consists mostly of developing countries, with the exception of a few developed countries. This goes to show how uninvolved the developed countries are. This leads to its ineffectiveness because it means that the United Nations isn’t getting the support of the developed countries, which leaves the strain on the non-developed and developing nations, which also are opposed to this lack of involvement. The United States provides only 54 peacekeepers to the United Nations, compared to the 8,508 from Ethiopia. This shows the lack of involvement of the key players within the United Nations.

 This could be changed if the United Nations were to put in a recommended or goal for the contributions from its member states. This could possibly improve the contribution of its member states and therefore making it fair for all states within the United Nations. This should be based on where a state stands on the global scale, considering GDP and population. Also, the United Nations should get more involved in humanitarian crises and conflicts. This can be done by implementing a policy which would make it mandatory for the United Nations to intervene if the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were to be violated. This would greatly improve the quality of life within the world.

The hard truth is that the member states within the United Nations all have different priorities and goals. This is especially evident within the Security Council. Each state would like to get what they want, all without the consequences of the world. The members within the security council are split in two. The Western members, The United States, The United Kingdom, and France are capitalist and democratic, looking to spread their ideals all throughout the world. The Eastern members are Russia and China. These members are communist and authoritarian, and they are more concerned with their prosperity of their state. These members all use their power within the United Nations to benefit themselves and their allies directly. These member states are less concerned with issues that do not involve them, and so when a decision is reached within the Security Council, the resolution isn’t effective in solving the issue at hand. This upsets the main goal of the United Nations, which is peace and prosperity for all member states.  The United States protects Israel through Vetoes because Israel is the ally of the United States. Russia also protects Syria through Vetoes because Syria is the ally of Russia. These powers have used their veto power multiple times for the sake of their ally, but very little of their veto power does any good. A state has different interests because they want to strive, they want to grow economically, and they would like to protect their core values. In conclusion, the majority of decisions made within the United Nations and Security Council are benefiting the member state who made the decision.

It is hard to improve this aspect of the United Nations’ problems. Sovereign states will almost all the time be greedy about the decisions they make. If a state does not reap the benefits of a decision, it will more than likely not participate in the outcome. A state will be greedy because a state only wants to prosper. Pouring resources into something the state does not want is not something a state wants without receiving something in return. Also, the Security Council refuses to share its power with the other member states. For these reasons, it is hard to improve this aspect of the United Nations’ problem.

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The United Nations’ problems can be solved, but it shouldn’t be. This is a very pressing issue surrounding the United Nations. If the United Nations is updated to be compliant with today’s standards, the stronger members will either cut their cooperation, or they will leave completely. This would cause chaos and may lead to the ultimate demise of the United Nations. The United States alone provides the United Nations with 22% of its budget, having this cut off would be a huge cut in the United Nation, rendering it more ineffective than it already is. The only reason the main players are in the United Nations right now is because they could use it to their advantage, manipulate it, and do it all while little to no consequences. If this were to change, the major players would find that the United Nations isn’t providing it anything that they could benefit from, therefore, leaving the United Nations with a smaller budget and far less power. Also, changing its policies would take a large effort from every member state, but not every member is ready to change the United Nations. Even if a change was going to happen, it would require the approval of all the permanent Security Council member, or a veto could be imminent. Therefore, the United Nations should either stay the same or should be completely dismantled and a new global institution should take its place. The League of Nations was disbanded, the United Nations took its place, which was a huge improvement. If the United Nations were traded in the place of a new global institution, which fixed the problems that the United Nations had, it would be a far more effective global organization.

The United Nations plays a role in the world, but it plays that role very ineffectively. The security council has long been blamed for this ineffectiveness, its 5 permanent members have a veto power which can block anything within it. This causes a lot of turmoil especially when it is a controversial topic, like Russia vetoing any plan to help Syria come to peace. The United Nations also struggles because it cannot get involved in conflicts throughout the world. This is because its Security Council blocks it from doing anything, and its members are very hesitant to get into action and help. It didn’t help during the Rwandan genocide, where almost 800,000 people were killed. This was because the Security Council refused to send in more peacekeepers, and the Security Council also didn’t allow the troops that were already there to engage the killers unless it was for self-defense. This is a huge loss of life, considering the United Nations was created to stop genocide. Along with this inaction, its developed and major powers are lacking when it comes to providing resources to help conflicts like these. A majority comes from the developing countries. Lastly, the United Nations suffers from the difference in priorities and interests of its members. Each and every member makes a decision based on how it would benefit from the outcome. The United Nations is held back from helping because its members control what it does, and the members only want to do what benefits them. Because of these specific problems, the United Nations suffers greatly. The United Nations can change and become better for the world, but it will require a global effort, and the major powers are not ready for change.

Works Cited

  • Andrew J. Carswell; Unblocking the UN Security Council: The Uniting for Peace Resolution, Journal of Conflict and Security Law, Volume 18, Issue 3, 1 December 2013, Pages 453–480, https://doi.org/10.1093/jcsl/krt016
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  • MacFarlane, Neil, and Yuen Foong Khong. Human Security and the UN. Indiana University Press, 2006.
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  • Toye, John, and Richard Toye. The UN and Global Political Economy. Indiana University Press, 2004.
  • Weiss, Thomas G, editor. The Oxford Handbook on the UNITED NATIONS. Oxford University Press, 2007.


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