The UN was established on October 24, 1945, soon after the World War II ended. The devastation wrought by the war convinced the victors that something had to be done to ensure that humankind entered into an era of peace and never again experience war on the global stage such as that which was instigated by Hitler's tyrannical desire for world domination. Whatever body was established could not repeat the mistakes of the failed League of Nations, which was established after World War I.
Seventy-seven years and counting, the UN has largely lived up to the expectations of its founders. Although there have been wars and skirmishes in parts of the world, global citizenry has not experienced war on the scale of world wars I and II.
Despite obvious flaws, it has succeeded through its various organisations to sow peace in the world. As a global organisation dedicated to fostering peace, it has gone where no individual country could and can go. One can safely say that it has been a force for good in the world.
Having said this, I believe that the UN is at a decisive turning point in its history. There has not been any serious reform of the organisation since its inception and world leaders, especially from low- and middle-income countries, are beginning to question its legitimacy in seeking and maintaining peace in an increasingly troubled world. The still relevant novel coronavirus pandemic has tested this legitimacy and many wonder at the UN's ability to stave of world hunger, which has become more intense in poorer countries, and whether it can adequately respond to the existential threat to life posed by the climate change crisis.
There are other dark clouds that give many people concern as to the UN's relevance. The Secretary General António Guterres, in his address to the body, sounded the dire warning that the UN faces a world in peril, from conflicts and climate change to a broken global financial system that is failing developing countries, poverty, inequality and hunger, division and mistrust. Overshadowing his address, and the meeting in general, was Russian President Vladimir Putin's diabolical war on Ukraine.
The war has laid bare the impotence of the UN to deal decisively with a rogue member who declares war on a sitting member in order to seize territory and make it theirs. The last time the world witnessed this was during the World War II when Hitler invaded sovereign territories, annexed many of the conquered places, and sought to establish his rule over those territories. Outside of this, perhaps America's foray into Iraq and Afghanistan (also invaded by Russia) might be considered. Though I do not believe it rises to the level of the barbarity and obvious criminal, genocidal intention of Putin in Ukraine.
If there is one area of the UN that needs to be reformed, it is the Security Council. Putin's reckless adventure in Ukraine has brought this into sharp relief and with greater urgency. There are five permanent members of the council — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Each member, by a single vote, has the power to veto any resolution that it does not like. This right has been used arbitrarily over the years to stymie the work towards progress of member countries or in a self-serving way to perpetuate their own agenda. In recent times, the most egregious use of this power was by Russia, when it opposed any resolution to punish or reprimand it for invading Ukraine.
Felicitously for Russia, it happened to be the chair of the Security Council when it invaded. It does not take a PhD in astrophysics to know that Russia would exercise this power to its own benefit, and it did. Also, it should take no specific enlightenment to know that no one member of a 193-member chamber of countries should have the right to arbitrarily determine its own course of action by overturning that with which it disagrees. But there may be the argument that this one decision can also work in the opposite direction and prove a benefit to the world, but even then, this kind of power reeks of an arbitrariness that should not be allowed. What is amazing is that it has been allowed to persist for so long.
In any reform process, the five permanent members can be retained, but their power of veto should be disaggregated to allow the general assembly to have a greater say in resolutions passed. There are some urgent matters, such as human rights violation, genocide, and war crimes, which, if engaged by any member, would disqualify that member from participation in debating resolutions for which it is the subject. Also, if a permanent member should invade the territory of another without due cause or reasonableness, it should be recused from any resolution that pertains to such actions.
With fascism and authoritarianism raising their ugly heads around the globe, the UN must anticipate events instead of being overrun by them. The time has come for this organisation, along with other world bodies, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and even the World Health Organization, to be re-evaluated and scrutinised to ensure that they continue to be fit and ready to deal with civilisation and its many discontents which have become more palpable.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm; Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life; and Beyond Petulance: Republican Politics and the Future of America. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.