Created to bring world peace, the United Nations appears helpless in preventing bloody conflicts. Is the UN failing in its mission? If so, what are the consequences?
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A month before retiring, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan questioned the effectiveness of the United Nations, stating, “Sixty years after the liberation of the Nazi death camps, and 30 years after the Cambodian killing fields, the promise of ‘never again’ is ringing hollow.” He was referring to the horrible situation in Darfur, Sudan, where more than 200,000 people have been slaughtered and over 2.5 million made refugees.
His remarks reflected a growing frustration with the UN’s inability to prevent war and enforce international law.
Mr. Annan expressed concern with the UN’s “disproportionate focus on violations by Israel” while atrocities of the most horrible kind are being committed elsewhere. Mass murder occurs regularly in hotspots around the world.
The UN’s influence reaches around the world—but what good is this international body if it cannot subdue or control even the weakest of tyrants?
How did the UN acquire its global reach? How did the framers intend for it to function?
The steam engine increased the speed and ease of travel beginning in the middle of the 19th century. Around this time, the telegraph provided an early framework from which to connect countries and cultures. These technological advancements led to greater communication among nations, and moved to interconnect the world.
Cultural exchange and economic cooperation accelerated. The world’s economic blocs recognized the advantages of specialized production and commerce, as described in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. The vast expanse, power and interdependency of the British Empire also contributed to a shrinking globe.
Early cooperative international agencies began as far back as 1865, when the International Telegraph Union was founded to encourage communication among nations. In concert with the telegraph, postal services became more practical and efficient, and in 1874 the Universal Postal Union was created.
Many statesmen theorized that the increased interaction and interdependency among nations would bring world peace. Thus, the internationalist movement acquired a momentum rooted in commerce as well as the desire for mankind to be free from war.
Along with increased worldwide commerce, communication and travel, the destructive power of the weapons of war increased exponentially.
World War I (or “The Great War,” as it was called) soaked European fields with blood. The antagonists paused from their bloodletting in 1918 after millions lay dead or wounded. Would the horrors of modern warfare now finally move mankind to prevent future conflicts? Many seemed to recognize the need for some sort of supranational body. Thus, the League of Nations was conceived.
Established in 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles, the League’s charter was “to promote international cooperation and to achieve peace and security.” While American President Woodrow Wilson supported the treaty that created the League, Congress refused to ratify it, as the United States concluded a separate treaty with Germany. Reluctance was deeply rooted in the isolationist mindset of 19th and early 20th century America. Rejection by such an important country sealed the fate of the new League, which faded into oblivion as the winds of the next global conflict began to blow.
World War II arrived with weapons more terrible than ever—and millions more perished. As the war concluded, America had become a superpower, and took the lead in framing an organization that embodied hope to eliminate the scourge of war.
The name “United Nations” was first coined by American President Franklin D. Roosevelt as an association of wartime allies united in a common cause to achieve victory over the Axis powers. Ironically, this term was applied to the postwar organization whose mission was to promote world peace and prosperity.
Following the cessation of worldwide hostilities, representatives from 50 countries met in San Francisco, California, at the “United Nations Conference on International Organization.” These were governments that had declared war on Germany and Japan, and that had subscribed to the UN Declaration.
The present organization of the United Nations came into existence on October 24, 1945, following the official ratification of the UN Charter by the United States, United Kingdom, China, France, the Soviet Union, and other signatories. Membership has grown from the original 51 nations to 192 today (official UN count).
The United Nations consists of five active departments: UN Security Council; UN General Assembly; UN Economic and Social Council; UN Secretariat; and the International Court of Justice. (Prior to 1994, there was a sixth department called the UN Trusteeship Council, which was suspended that year.)
• The UN Security Council: The SC is comprised of five permanent member nations and ten that are elected for two-year terms. Amendments to Articles 23 and 27 of the Charter came into effect in 1965, increasing the number of elected members from six to ten.
The five permanent members were the victorious nations of WWII: the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. These members hold veto power over what are called substantive resolutions.
The other ten member states include Belgium, Indonesia, Italy, South Africa, Panama, Ghana, Peru, Qatar, Slovakia and the United Republic of Tanzania. These temporary SC members are elected by the General Assembly and are intended to represent the major regions of the world.
The UN Security Council is charged with maintaining world peace, having power to make decisions that member governments must execute in accordance with the United Nations Charter. The Security Council may convene in a number of cities around the world, but it has usually conducted business at UN headquarters in New York City.
Under Article Six, the council “may investigate any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute.” They may “recommend appropriate procedures or methods of adjustment.” Ironically, such recommendations are not binding upon member states.
Under Chapter Seven of the Charter, the Security Council has much broader power when it has been determined that a particular situation involves “threats to peace, breaches of peace, and acts of aggression.” In such circumstances, power is not limited to recommendations, and can include the use of military force.
This martial power was invoked in the armed Korean action beginning in 1950, as well as the first Iraq war in 1991. A unanimous vote authorizing the use of force in Korea was accomplished due to the absence of the USSR, which was protesting the occupation of China’s seat by the Republic of China (the democratic government that was exiled to Formosa, now known as Taiwan; the communist-led People’s Republic of China now governs the Mainland.)
• The United Nations General Assembly: The GA is the body in which all UN members are represented. It serves as the forum for member states to deliberate on issues of international law and points of contention, as well as make decisions on the operation of the organization.
The GA meets in regular, special and emergency sessions. Its regular session runs from the third Tuesday in September through late December—convening only when required the following year. The president is elected annually. The GA discusses important world questions, and makes recommendations. It has become the major forum for dialogue between wealthy and poor nations.
Special sessions may be convened based on the request of the SC, the majority of UN members, or a single member if the majority agrees. The GA votes on generally symbolic resolutions that are not legally enforceable. However, the General Assembly does have authority to make final decisions on some issues, such as budget.
• The UN Economic and Social Council: The ECOSOC consists of 54 members that assist the GA in promoting international economic and social cooperation, as well as development.
• The UN Secretariat: This consists of a staff of civil servants whose charge is to execute tasks as directed by the SC, GA, ECOSOC and other UN bodies. It also provides studies, data and facilities required by the United Nations for their meetings.
• The International Court of Justice: The principal judicial branch of the United Nations, it is seated at the “Peace Palace” in The Hague, in the Netherlands.
While many continue to view the UN as the world’s last hope for peace, a growing number in the United States would like to see the organization defunded. They are exasperated at what they see as an anti-American bias, bureaucratic incompetence and unfair funding. While only 1 of nearly 200 member nations, the U.S. accounts for 22% of the total budget.
What many see as inflammatory remarks from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on the floor of the General Assembly in September 2006 only served to reinforce this view. Mr. Chavez called President George W. Bush “the devil” in a diatribe against the Bush administration, in addition to criticizing the United Nations.
The United Nations was created to bring world peace. Well-intentioned diplomats from all parts of the globe assembled to establish what they viewed as mankind’s last hope for achieving it.
However, many in the wealthy nations of the world now view the UN as little more than a forum for poor nations to advocate for the transfer of wealth to their regions, and work against the interests of the most powerful.
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was criticized and derided by the Reagan administration as “a wasteful institution that served the interests of anti-Western countries.” Washington withdrew support from this organization in 1984, around the same time Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pulled funding from the United Kingdom.
Though American presidents and British prime ministers have attempted to work through the United Nations to resolve world problems, to many it remains a controversial organization.
UN successes are few and limited. The Korean conflict was resolved with a ceasefire, but only because of the USSR’s absence from the Security Council. The repelling of Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 did not topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who immediately began to defy the UN as soon as the U.S.-led occupying army was demobilized. That same decade, the UN failed to prevent an escalating Balkan conflict, and could not protect its victims. A NATO coalition was required to end the mutual destruction.
In the early 1990s, the gradual escalation of factional fighting in Somalia was met with only half-measures by the UN. Military observers were sent in after an arms embargo proved ineffective. An undermanned force of 3,500 peacekeepers was authorized in August 1992—but only 500 had been deployed by the end of September. Finally, the United States took the lead under Resolution 794, launching a taskforce called “Operation Restored Hope” to secure humanitarian relief efforts.
Attacks on UN forces intensified in 1993, culminating in the shameful killing and mutilation of American, Malaysian and Pakistani peacekeepers operating under the UN banner in Mogadishu. International forces departed in March 1995 as the UN mandate expired, leaving no recognized authority in place. Ultimately, UN humanitarian efforts in Somalia were viewed as a dismal failure.
President Bush has sought to work through the United Nations for a solution in Iraq. The former Iraqi regime had been in defiance of UN resolutions for years, dating back through the Clinton administration. The bickering among leading nations, combined with outright stonewalling, again paralyzed the organization. In the face of international criticism, the United States acted unilaterally with her allies, invaded Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein.
In late summer of 2006, the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon entered a hastily brokered and shaky peace. UN Resolution 1701 called for the disarming of Hezbollah forces in Lebanon as part of the ceasefire agreement. This, in spite of a Hezbollah cabinet minister making clear, prior to the ceasefire, that the terrorist organization had no intention of disarming.
With the ink barely dry on the document, the nations responsible for providing troop contingents to Lebanon for enforcing the resolution balked at their responsibility. The result? Hezbollah remains armed, its influence growing as it awaits the next war against Israel.
Then there is the “Oil for Food” program of the 1990s, which was intended to ease the suffering of the Iraqi population. Serious allegations of profiteering surfaced—not only were Iraqi officials implicated, but the tentacles of corruption appeared to reach to the highest levels of the UN General Assembly.
In the Congo, allegations of sexual abuse by UN staff stretch back for more than a decade. During the operation there, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged that more human rights monitors be put on the ground. In effect, he was asking for UN people to police other out-of-control UN personnel! In June 2004, angry demonstrators stormed the United Nations compounds across the Congo protesting UN peacekeeping forces’ failure to prevent the eastern town of Bukavu from falling to rebels.
On the heels of the Congo are allegations of even more outrageous acts of violence and sex perpetrated by UN personnel in Liberia. Such conduct seems to provide more substance to other charges of corruption, along with calls from many in the U.S. to let the United Nations go the way of the League of Nations. They not only see the UN as corrupt and incompetent, but also as an organization that compromises national security.
One common theme runs through the above accounts. While the UN seems to be rife with incompetence and corruption, the root cause of failure throughout its history is the posturing, competing and self-interested nations all seeking to manipulate facts and events to their own advantage.
Self-interest rules all parties in the UN.
Most reasonable people want peace, and most would readily give their allegiance to a just and righteous leader who could end war—to a leader who would always have their best interest in mind—a ruler imbued with keen wisdom and perfect insight.
But this is a rarity in this and every age. In fact, with no exceptions, such a man has been absent throughout the 6,000 years of civilization!
Throughout all levels of government, in every nation, leaders seek their own interests, feigning concern for those they govern. They speak of compassion, yet show no mercy. Amazingly, the Old Testament section of the Bible foretold this of our time: “They shall lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel, and have no mercy; their voice roars like the sea; and they ride upon horses, set in array as men for war” (Jer. 6:23).
Delegates are sent to the United Nations with marching orders. When they arrive at UN headquarters, they are usually not empowered to negotiate with other delegates. The United Nations, therefore, becomes only a sounding board for each country’s interests and objectives. Such an atmosphere forces the UN members to record rather than negotiate their differences. Instead of resolution, debate and disagreement dominate the forum.
The United Nations is not a world government, as many well-intentioned idealists purpose. Rather, the UN is a composite, or conglomerate, of assembled nations pursuing their own interests, goals and objectives.
The prophet Jeremiah warned of the strife and division that exists today: “For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness…every one deals falsely” (Jer. 6:13).
When self-interest is idolized and the pursuit of peace subjugated to ideological and national goals, the result is division, debate and conflict. Pursuit of gain at the expense of others leads to war.
Renowned statesmen throughout the world speak heartily and frequently of peace: “Peace in our time”—“Peace will result if ‘so and so’ does this or that”—“Peace will come if this nation pulls out of this region”—“If you do this, we will not go to war with you, and you will have peace.”
But Jeremiah warns that people in our time would declare, “Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (vs. 14). Nations often speak of peace to deceive those whom they wish to destroy. Yet human beings do not know the way to peace—only to war!
Sadly, the very structure of the United Nations leads to division! The General Assembly does not have the power to enforce peace. The Security Council, supposedly endowed with the power to police the world, is usually paralyzed because of the veto power of each of the leading nations. In fact, all governments are organized into power blocs opposed to the interests of one another.
Consequently, all attempts of man’s self-government fall short!
In 1945, the United Nations was established in the hope that worldwide nuclear war could be averted. Sir Anthony Eden, who would later become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, then proclaimed, “The work on which we are making a start here may be the world’s last chance.”
General Douglas MacArthur had similarly trumpeted, “We have had our last chance.”
The United Nations Charter seemed to vest real power and influence for peace in the Security Council—but its democratic nature has usually caused paralysis. The UN has been an embodiment of the hope for mankind to achieve peace, yet it was doomed to fail.
Because all governments established by man are destined to fail! Mankind does not have the ability to effectively govern itself apart from its Creator. “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain” (Psa. 127:1).
When men chose to disobey and rebel against God and His Law, God, in effect, told humanity that He would allow it to form its own governments, separate from God and the spiritual knowledge required for success. For 6,000 years, man has vainly attempted to govern himself through different types of government. All have eventually failed in miserable fashion.
Consider the following excerpt from How World Peace Will Come!, by David C. Pack:
“It has been said that all nations are either preparing for war, at war or recovering from war. It has also been noted that history has recorded over 14,600 wars. And this figure was derived in the mid-1960s. Men seem to invariably go to war in search of peace. Yet the outcome of war usually involves a truce, and always fails to yield permanent peace. This is because men cannot, and never will, find the way to peace on their own without outside help. In reality, they have no chance to achieve world peace. Here is why.
“As part of an extensive prophecy about world conditions in our time, the prophet Isaiah answers this question: ‘The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goes there shall not know peace’ (59:8). The solutions of men always lead to more wars, ruin, misery, death and destruction. The apostle Paul wrote, quoting Isaiah, ‘And the way of peace have they not known’ (Rom. 3:17).
“The governments of men simply do not work. They have never succeeded in finding permanent solutions to what are, for them, insoluble problems. They do not have the answers to mankind’s biggest questions. It has not been given to men to understand the path to peace—or, for that matter, the way to abundance, happiness, health and prosperity. No wonder the greatest thinkers, leaders, educators and scientists have failed miserably in their quest for peace on earth! God has not yet revealed to the vast majority of mankind the solution to its unending wars, and world troubles.”
However, there is a government coming soon that will establish peace. That government will be led by such a leader as previously described—an all-powerful Being, possessing perfect character with genuine love, mercy and concern toward His subjects. Not the fake, temporal and sentimental “love” spoken of by so many today. He will be a King of law, order and justice.
Many thousands of like-minded individuals will also rule with Him. They will work together in perfect harmony and agreement with God the Father and Jesus Christ, ruling as “kings and priests” in the government of God. They will have been prepared to rule. They will have been made ready to assume such great responsibility!
Soon, and that time is more imminent than you might think, the prophecy written in Isaiah—which is depicted as a statue on the grounds of UN headquarters—will finally come to pass: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa. 2:4).
The United Nations can never deliver the peace all long for—but a loving and merciful Creator can and will!