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 UN General Assembly has been going on since September 13. The Assembly is meeting in person for the first time after a long gap due to the pandemic, and the high-level general debate will come to an end today.

In his opening remarks before the general debate, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned: “Our world is in big trouble. Divides are growing deeper. Inequalities are growing wider. Challenges are spreading farther.”

There is no doubt that when the world is passing through several survival crises, war, mass starvation, and pandemics threatening global peace and stability, the only option left for world leaders is to cooperate.

Despite its many shortcomings, the UN is the only multilateral platform that brings all the countries together in these pressing times and provides a unique platform for debate, dialogue, and cooperation.

The UN project is more than 120 years old, and its roots date back to 1899. The International Peace Conference that year led to the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration to adjudicate international disputes.

The formation of the League of Nations after the end of the 1st World War in 1919 created the basic framework for an international organisation.

OPN UN Antonio Guterres
UN’s peacebuilding architecture undoubtedly needs long-term engagement, robust financing, and greater coordination Image Credit: AFP

The UN came into existence in 1945 in its present form, when 51 nations signed the UN Charter. The number of member-states has now gone up to 193. In the last 77 years, the UN has seen some successes and many failures.

Still, the world has neither managed to create another global institution of this nature nor has been successful in reforming it to make it more representative and effective.

The formation of the UN im the aftermath of World War II generated massive hopes for the international institution to maintain world peace. However, the ideological and strategic differences among the five ‘veto’ members of the Security Council have throttled its ability to resolve disputes forcefully.

The failure of the UN to prevent conflicts is not difficult to notice with devastating wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen in recent years.

The war in Ukraine has also made it into that list since February this year. Occasional violent clashes also occur between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Ethiopia and Sudan. Besides these interstate wars, the world is experiencing more than fifty internal armed conflicts.

Concrete steps against climate change 

The UN has not only been ineffective in preventing the eruption of these armed conflicts, but it has also achieved very limited success in taking concrete steps against climate change and deadly pandemics within the conflict prevention framework.

While the UN has failed to prevent violent conflicts, its peacekeeping mechanisms have managed, in most cases, to limit the disputes from becoming bigger and deadlier. This containment strategy has also been successful in many cases in preventing the recurrence of the conflict.

The UN’s engagement for long in places like Cyprus has somewhat limited the escalating dynamics of the conflict. UN peacekeeping has also helped to end the conflicts in several countries — from Cambodia to El Salvador, Guatemala to Mozambique, and Namibia to Tajikistan.

The recent or ongoing UN peacekeeping operations in Burundi, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Liberia, Timor-Leste, and Sierra Leone have also helped these countries to transit from conflict and violence to building new institutions and making a peaceful political transition.

The UN’s peacebuilding architecture undoubtedly needs long-term engagement, robust financing, and greater coordination. Moreover, the UN’s focus should not be limited to building peace but rather striving to make peace sustainable by promoting just, peaceful, and inclusive societies.

Besides engaging in peacekeeping and promoting peacebuilding, the other major objective of the UN is to promote cooperation among its member states to advance the well-being of all nations. The UN system comprises several funds, programmes, and specialised agencies, and the UN coordinates with these entities to help it achieve its objectives.

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For nearly eight decades, the UN system has been pursuing its goal in the field of international cooperation in areas such as economic, social, and human development, protection of the environment, and responsible use and management of global common resources like outer space, Oceans, Antarctica, and the Arctic.

The mandate of the UN is primarily to recommend resolutions, and it is for the nation-states to implement those recommendations.

Despite the UN’s failure in preventing violent conflicts, it has achieved noteworthy success in peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and advancing international cooperation among its member-states.

The failure in conflict prevention is primarily due to the turf wars between veto-carrying global superpowers. For the UN to gain the ability to prevent violent conflicts, there is a need to reform the UN, particularly its Security Council and its veto mechanisms.

However, UN reform is a very remote possibility, and even if it ever happens, it will not be easy and quick. But, the world has no time to wait till the UN becomes an inclusive and democratic organisation. With all its limitations, the UN is still the only and the best option at present available to the world to face the survival crises the world is facing unitedly.

The world has never been a just and fair place, and it will probably never be. It is important to remember the wise words of Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary-General of the UN, “The United Nations was not created in order to bring us to heaven but in order to save us from hell.”