The best test of any institution, large or small, is to ask whether we could get along perfectly well without it. In the case of the United Nations, the question arises not in some immediate practical sense as for all its well-advertised flaws it is here to stay, but because there is a new leader at the helm of affairs of the world body. Although it is earnestly hoped that Mr António Guterres, who has become the ninth Secretary General of the United Nations, will be able to make the 71-year-old organisation rather more useful than it has been, though the most critical question still remains: Is the UN capable of reform or should we, ideally, start again?
The new Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr António Guterres will now lead an organisation that is very much of its time, and thus rather out of date, and mired in utter confusion about the biggest global challenge of our time.
The huge hole in the UN’s mission, and the thing that makes it obsolete, is symbolised by ISIS. The question the UN is paralysed by—and has been for at least a couple of decades—is whether the so-called humanitarian interventions in the internal affairs of a legitimate UN member state can be justified, legally or morally. Even in its more well-established role of preventing wars between nations, it has shown itself wanting.
To offer just a few examples from the depressingly broad array of contemporary threats to humanity, the UN has proved irrelevant over Kashmir, Syria, North Korea and Ukraine. Each represents different scales of failure; all are, though, equally pitiful and deplorable. In Syria, and indeed in neighbouring Iraq, the rise of ISIS, still occupying much territory, albeit with a diminishing hold, we see this confusion about “interference”, and its human consequences. Common sense, humanity and any moral sensibility should point to an overriding need for a UN effort that is more than just supplemental diplomacy. Even if the UN has no troops of its own, as ever, it can authorise its members to use theirs. No such luck.
Australia, Denmark, Russia, UK and USA are already operating in Syria, but without reference to the UN’s policy, and sometimes even in opposition to it. In Syria, as we see so distressingly, people are being slaughtered, in turns, by ISIS, other resistance and insurgent groups of varying and shifting allegiances, and by the Syrian government itself. Survivors are fleeing across Europe, creating the largest movement of refugees since the end of the Second World War.
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