OPN UN Antonio Guterres
Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres addresses the General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York on September 15, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

The 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly was, in many ways, similar to the 76th session and many other previous sessions.

This should surprise no one. As is often the case, voices like those of Antonio Guterres — who called for “achieving and sustaining peace” — were drowned by those with the big guns and financial means to turn the Ukraine war into a long-drawn battlefield for their own strategic reasons.

Similar to Guterres, the words of the new UN General Assembly President Korosi Csaba seemed least practical or, sadly, even relevant.

“Responding to humanity’s most pressing challenges demands that we work together, and that we reinvigorate inclusive, networked and effective multilateralism and focus on that which unites us”, Korosi said in his speech.

Well of solutions

Korosi’s frame of reference to what, at least for now, seems like wishful thinking, is his understanding that the UN was created out of the “ashes of war” with the intention of being a “well of solutions”.

In truth, the UN Charter was signed in June 1945 to reflect an emerging new power paradigm that resulted from World War II. The UN power structure simply confirmed the gains of the victors of that war and granted the victorious countries far greater influence through their permanent membership in the UN Security Council and veto power, than the rest of the world combined.

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This was not a deviation from the historical norm. After all, the League of Nations, the predecessor of the current UN, was founded in 1920 to confirm the new geopolitical realities that resulted from World War I.

The League of Nations was scrapped as it was deemed ‘ineffective’. This, however, was not the real reason behind its dismissal. In actuality, the League’s old structure and make-up simply did not correspond to the new power formations resulting from the Second World War, where old enemies became new friends and old friends became new enemies.

Effectiveness had little to do with the switch from the League to the UN, as the latter hardly managed to seriously address or resolve major political issues, from Palestine, to Maliand numerous other conflicts, including today’s war in Ukraine.

Still, despite its many contradictions, and overall failure to deliver on its promises of peace and security, the UN continues to serve a role.

For smaller countries — in Africa, the Middle East and much of the Global South — the UN gives them a voice. But does it serve the purpose?

The symbol of the United Nations is displayed outside the Secretariat Building during an emergency meeting of the UN General Assembly, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York. Image Credit: AP

Spiralling global hunger crisis

In an open letter on September 20 addressing world leaders, over 200 humanitarian organisations, including OXFAM and Save the Children, stated that one person is likely to be dying every four seconds as a result of the “spiralling global hunger crisis”.

This crisis is more palpable in Africa than on any other continent. Though food shortages in Africa are an ongoing challenge, many signs have already indicated that an unprecedented crisis is looming, initiated by climate change, worsened by the Covid pandemic, and further accentuated by the Ukraine war and the disruption of critical supply routes.

Despite repeated pleas by UN organisations to prioritise Africa in terms of food shipments, the opposite became true. This begs the question: If the UN does not have the means and power to provide life-saving food to starving children, isn’t it, then, time to question the very mission of the world’s largest organisation?

True, there has been talking about urgent and long overdue UN reforms. Some want the UN to be reformed to reflect new democratic or economic realities, while others feel deserving of being permanent members of the UNSC. The West, of course, wants to keep the convenient power distribution in place as long as possible.

However, for a reformed UN to serve a noble mission and to live up to its lofty promises, the new power distribution should allocate places for all, regardless of military power or economic might. Till then, the UN may not be too effective in solving a lot of the world’s existing problems.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor. He is the author of six books.