Nidhi Razdan: How the UN can make a difference Video Credit: Gulf News

The world has watched with horror the tensions that have escalated in the Middle East over the last few weeks. From Hamas’ attack on Israeli citizens to Israel’s bombing of the civilians of Gaza, the cycle of violence has been numbing.

Last week, a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire, divided the world further. Even though the resolution was adopted with 120 countries voting in favour, the real story lay in those who voted against it, like the US and UK, and those who abstained, like India. It is astounding that a resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire should not be overwhelmingly approved but here we are.

Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu called the resolution “deeply flawed” and by all accounts, it has not swayed his government from carrying out a ground assault of Gaza. Which begs the question: what is the role of the United Nations today, especially in crisis management? This is not the first time this question is being asked.

During the Russia-Ukraine conflict too, similar concerns were raised. A resolution was passed demanding that Russia withdraw its forces from Ukraine, but it barely made a blip. The United Nations appears to be stuck in the geopolitics of 1945, the year it was founded.

Since then, the world has changed drastically and the balance of power has dramatically altered. But the UN is struggling to expand and change in a meaningful way.

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A fundamental difference

One of the most fundamental flaws with the UN is the veto power that is with the five permanent members: the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom.

This basically means that any meaningful move can be struck down by any one of these countries, as China has repeatedly done to India over resolutions on terror designations over the years.

Political differences have nearly paralysed the UN over the years. This has prompted new global bodies to take shape, where countries are now finding it easier to talk and do business in different ways whether it is through the G20, which was originally founded during the financial crisis of the 2000s, or formations like the BRICS and SCO which appear to be wielding more influence or even Nato

The G20 too can become a new global high table. But there is a fundamental difference. The smaller groupings lack the moral authority the UN once had.

A UN Security Council resolution used to mean something. It mattered. And even with all its flaws, the United Nations is still the only really pan global body which can broker peace, especially in the Middle East.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 19, 2023. He spoke about the need to reform the world body, but numerous proposals in the past failed to make headway. Image Credit: AFP

Finding solutions outside

India has been pushing for UN reform for years now, with Prime Minister Modi stressing on the need to make global systems in accordance with the “realities of the present”.

Taking the example of the United Nations Security Council during his recent speech to the G20 leaders, Mr. Modi said “when the UN was established, the world at that time was completely different from today. At that time there were 51 founding members in the UN. Today the number of countries included in the UN is around 200. Despite this, the permanent members in UNSC are still the same”.

India’s Foreign Minister has been more blunt, saying just last month that the resistance of the United Nations to reform its structure, will eventually lead to the body being “anachronistic” and people will start finding solutions outside. Talking about the UN Security Council, he said “there has to be pressure. Over the last few years, a large part of the world feels this is something that needs to be done. There are 54 countries in Africa, but they don’t have a single member. There is not a single Latin American member. The most populous country is not there, the fifth largest economy is not there.”

He added, “So how long would you continue that? What happens if you do not reform, people will find solutions outside. This is a message that the UN has to understand. They will become anachronistic, and develop the danger of heading towards not extinction, but a little bit of irrelevance”.

There seems to be no end to crisis facing the world. From the pandemic to today’s conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine, there is no time like now for countries to be able to sit across a table and find solutions. The UN system as it exists today is deeply flawed but with some structural changes, it is the only meaningful platform to make a difference.