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The United Nations and Maintenance of International Peace and Security

Despite the failures of the UN and its inherent shortcomings, it is difficult to imagine a world without such multilateral organisation in which the values of peaceful coexistence through political independence, mutual self-respect and territorial integrity of each country, at least, exist on paper.

The United Nations ‘a successor of the League of Nations’ was created in an attempt to reform the contemporary international political order. The outbreak of Second World War convinced the world leaders that the failures of the League of Nations to contribute towards creating a strong international order, with wider acceptability across the globe and that was well placed to address the global problems, sparked the outbreak. After going through the devastation of the war and facing the chain reaction of bloodshed, violence, brutality, hunger, and migration, the victors of the war decided to improve upon the botched experience of the League and thereupon the United Nations was created.

The United Nations officially came into existence when the Charter was ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the US and by a majority of other signatories on 24 October 1945 ‘the day now known as the UN day. The framers of the charter attempted to make the international system more fluid and flexible to respond to the challenges that could potentially threaten ‘international peace and security’. The other motive was to freeze the contemporary status quo to ensure their supremacy and to perpetually outcast the ‘axis powers’ Germany, Japan and Italy’ who fought against the allied powers’ America, the Great Britain and the Soviet Union. Explicit references to these states, in the form of ‘enemy states’ could be found in Articles 53 and 77 of the Charter.

The purpose of the UN as per Article 1 of the Charter is:

  1. To ensure international peace and security and to take collective measures to that effect;
  2. To develop friendly relations among nations;
  3. To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of economic, social, cultural and humanitarian character;
  4. To be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations these common goals.
A cursory look at these objectives will reflect the main purpose of the UN’ maintenance of international peace and security. In pursuance of these objectives, the principles to conduct inter-state relations have been mentioned in the Article 2, which, interalia, states that the member states must resolve their difference peacefully and shall ‘refrain’ from using ‘force or threat of using force’. This article also restricts the UN to ‘intervene’ in matters which fall directly ‘within the domestic jurisdiction’ of the states. This, however, does not preclude the UN from taking action under Chapter VII of the Charter and enforcing its decision upon any state.

The creation of the UN has prompted the debate over the successes and failures of the UN with arguments on both sides abound. Those in favour argue that the UN system has successfully prevented the outbreak of Third World War. Whereas critics support their arguments pointing towards the opaque proceedings on the Security Council — the main decision making body with the powers to enforce its decision under Chapter VII. In order to evaluate the performance of the UN system, first, it is pertinent to understand the infrastructure and the working.

The UN comprises six organs: The General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the Secretariat headed by the UN secretary general. The Security Council has 15 members ‘five permanent also known as P-5 and 10 non-permanent members with two-year term each. The issues on which the Council deliberates upon are classified into ‘procedural’ and ‘non-procedural’ or ‘substantive’. The vote on procedural question requires concurrence of any nine members whereas on substantive issues concurrence of nine members including the concurrence of P-5. A negative vote of any P-5 member is called ‘veto’. Interestingly, the very question whether any issue is procedural or substantive is itself a ‘non-procedural’ question and can be ‘vetoed’. The proceedings of the Council mostly take place in informal consultations and among the P-5. The lack of transparency is the biggest criticism on its working that is entirely indefensible.

The General Assembly is the true democratic organ in which each of the 193 members of the UN enjoys one vote. Under Article 10, the General Assembly can deliberate upon any issue that comes under the charter except those that are already under discussion in the Council (Article 12) and has the authority to frame ‘recommendations’. To a cynic, the assembly is only a debating club as the meaningful actions take place in the Council. However, objectively speaking, the assembly has weight of its own and it is not possible to endlessly resist an issue on which unanimity prevails in the assembly. It has moral authority of its own which is gaining legal leverage under the international law as the time passes. For instance, the ‘uniting for peace’ resolution has authorised the assembly to take action when the Council is deadlocked.

Since the Security Council comprised all the five powers that have the right to ‘veto’ any ‘non-procedural or substantive question, therefore the Council often became hamstrung due to deadlock among the P-5.
The Secretariat is headed by the secretary general with the powers to conduct recruitments. This is the apex of the international civil service.

The International Court of Justice is the main judicial body to conduct mandatory dispute resolution provided the parties submit to its mandate. It also offers advisory opinion when any question is referred to it by the assembly or the council. The specialised organs can also request an advisory opinion ‘on legal questions arising within the scope of their activities’. (Article 96)

The Trusteeship Council has now outlived its utility when the last territory, Palau, has been granted independence in 1993. It’s another reason why the whole UN system needs reformation.

The creation of the UN was a different and a far better experiment in international politics than the League of Nations because of various reasons. The League failed because:

  1. The responsibility of maintaining international peace and security was not well defined between the Assembly and the Council;
  2. The major powers like the US never joined the League and the USSR joined in 1934 only to be expelled in 1939 over its attack on Finland;
  3. The world powers were never interested in maintaining durable peace;
  4. Decision making was done through ‘principle of unanimity’ which means every state, big or small, had equal voting rights. This proved highly defective as it invested with the small states, power to wreck the world peace, when it did not have the capacity to maintain it. Therefore, a small power could irresponsibly hamstring the entire organisation;
  5. It was dominated by the Anglo-French powers in the absence of the US and the USSR that could have balanced the representation and effect;
  6. It was the result of Treaty of Versailles that created a faade of peace which actually proved to be imperialistic in character and therefore, was in nately fragile and short-living.

    In contrast, the UN proved to be a meaningful and result-oriented endeavor, aimed at rectifying the shortcomings of the League. Its success, so far, can be gauged by the fact that it is, at least, effectively eschewing the outbreak of another world war. Moreover, many innovative instruments have been developed by the UN such as ‘Peace Keeping’, ‘Pacific Settlement of Disputes’ through various means including the International Court of Justice, and hierarchic division of responsibility of maintaining world peace’ primary of the UN Security Council and residual of the General Assembly, and finally yet importantly, by securing global economic and social reforms under ECOSOC through specialised and subsidiary organs like World Health Organisation (WHO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), United Nations Education and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and International Atomic Energy Commission, etc.

    Coming back to the main question, maintenance of peace and security, the Charter delegates this responsibility to three different organs: the Security Council with primary responsibility under Article 24, the General Assembly with residual or secondary responsibility under Article 10 and finally, the secretary general under Article 99.

The high hopes of the framers of the Charter soon fizzled out when the differences between the two super-powers grew to an unbridgeable extent. The world was divided into two major power blocs’ the communist bloc and the capitalist or the western bloc. Since the Security Council comprised all the five powers that have the right to ‘veto’ any ‘non-procedural or substantive question, therefore the Council often became hamstrung due to deadlock among the P-5. In this scenario, the General Assembly’s resolution, Uniting for Peace (377) was a major breakthrough that enabled the assembly to step-in where the Council faltered. It happened during the charismatic stewardship of Mr. Daag Hammarskjold. The Korean question was brought before the Assembly when the Soviet representative boycotted the proceedings of the Council and it was the assembly that authorised the ‘Congo Mission’.

The objective analysis of the UN will reveal that there is much to be proud of and a lot remains to be done to enhance its efficacy and effectiveness. It has absorbed the influx of the de-colonised nation-states and has survived the rigours of the cold war and the post war unrestrained uni-polarity. It has promptly acted during Kosovo crisis and actively checked the Serbian aggression; managed to put an end to apartheid in South Africa; swung into action to address the situation in Darfur, etc.

The UN has also helped developing nations obtain funding projects through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, also known as the World Bank.  A related UN agency, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) promotes international cooperation on monetary issues and encourages stable exchange rates among nations. Since the end of the cold war, the UN has become increasingly involved in providing humanitarian assistance and promoting improvements in the health across the globe. The UN has provided relief during humanitarian crises caused by international conflicts, and has responded to the emergencies caused by natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and wars.  The millennium development goals (MDGs) have mobilised the attention, will and resources of the world towards creating a world with better health standards and a sanguine future.

The failures, on the other hand, are also numerous. Primarily the conflict resolution mechanism, particularly at the Security Council has often resulted in a deadlock among the P-5 due to vested interests. The UN has yet to learn how to resist the ‘pull’ of the US national interests. Many pressing geographical disputes such as Palestine and Kashmir are lying pending even though the world knows who is at fault and to what extent?

Pakistan highly values its association with the UN and has played a very robust role in the entire UN system that far exceeds its actual size and potential. We have joined the non-permanent club of UNSC seventh time. Our high value presence in this most important multilateral forum is in line with our foreign policy due to regional and global geo-political realities’ Kashmir issue being the single most important agenda item.

To conclude is to reiterate that despite the failures of the UN and its inherent shortcomings, it is difficult to imagine a world without such multilateral organization in which the values of peaceful coexistence through political independence, mutual self-respect and territorial integrity of each country, at least, exist on paper and these norms themselves could impose a check upon the big powers’ ambitions.

By: Mian Farooq Kashif

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