Essay on Working of the United Nations



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The Charter of the United Nations, as it emerged from the exhaustive discussions at San Francisco, is indicative of the efforts of fifty delegations, representing great powers and small, of their will to peace and security, and “better standards of life in larger freedom.”

It provides for the means whereby the representatives of sovereign States may speak as well as listen, and may, by free mutual discussion and patient negotiation, reconcile their viewpoints in the interests of world peace and progress.

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The inclusion of the United States of America and Soviet Russia gave the United Nations a more solid foundation. Its universality of membership now, numbering one hundred and eighty-five, inclusive of South Africa, member-States is expressive of the strength behind the organisation and the strong determination of the nations uniting together to achieve the basic aims of the United Nations.

Moreover, the Charter of the United Nations, as one writer put it, is more realistic in so far as it places the responsibility for security where power lies. The Security Council is vested with the primary responsibility of maintaining world peace and security.

The Charter clearly specifies how these powers are to be used and every member of the United Nations is pledged to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council.

The decisions of the Security Council are not made to remain a mere threat. It may call upon the member- States to break off diplomatic relations with an offending State or declare a blockade or use economic sanctions against it. Should the Council consider that these measures are inadequate, it may take all military action required by the situation.

Every member-State of the United Nations is pledged by Article 43 to supply it, on its call, with the armed forces, the assistance and the facilities it requires, including right of passage.

Then, the Security Council is in continuous session and each member-State is permanently represented at the Headquarters. Eternal vigilance is the price of peace. Eternal vigilance and prompt action may well mean the difference between security and disaster and, by the rules of procedure, the Security Council meets as often as is necessary, and at least once every two weeks.

The Charter also permits the Council to hold its meetings at any place other than the Headquarters, if that would facilitate the Council’s work. The Council is empowered to investigate, on its own initiative, any situation which may, in its opinion, cause international friction or dispute.

The Charter also allows any party to a dispute, any other member-State or the Secretary-General, to bring to the attention of the Security Council any actual or potential breach of peace, for collective action by it.

Furthermore, unlike the League of Nations, the Charter of the United Nations improved the prospects of collective action by requiring a 7-4 majority prior to January 1966, and 9-6 now, instead of a unanimous decision.

There is impressive evidence that in the implementation of its resolve to attack the causes of not only war but of all conflicts, the United Nations, during its career of more than four decades, has devoted almost equal attention to the keeping of peace, decolonization and stimulating economic cooperation between the rich and the poor nations. Particularly notable have been the achievements of the UN Agencies, such as ECOSOC, UNESCO, UNICEF, WHO, and FAO.

Talari says that “before another decade is over, the growing generation in the developing countries will have been assured of at least a square meal a day, opportunities for growth and education and freedom from disease.” If this is achieved, the United Nations really justifies its existence.

The United Nations has also admirably succeeded in its pursuit of decolonization and the rise of one Asian and African country after another to independence. The process of decolonization can be said to have begun after World War I when the Turkish and German Colonies were made mandates of the League of Nations.

But except in the case of “A” class mandates there was no obligation placed on the mandatory powers to develop their charges with the eventual objective of making them fully independent.

After the United Nations came into being, new trusteeship agreements were signed in 1945 and 1946 for the mandates that had survived World War II. By 1961, all the hitherto trust territories had achieved independent status and the work of the Trusteeship Council, which supervised their administration, had virtually been concluded.

The principal exception is South-West Africa for which a special committee still exists. There is also a committee for information on non-self-governing territories. When the founding fathers signed the Charter, the United Nations consisted of 50 members, of whom only nine came from Asia and Africa.

Today the United Nations consists of one hundred and eighty-five members, of whom the Afro-Asians command a comfortable majority. The Afro-Asian member-States have also succeeded in securing amendments to the Charter, for the expansion of the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council.

The record of the United Nations in keeping peace and avoiding conflicts, if not spectacular, is, no doubt, commendable. The United Nations interposed its physical presence between the Arabs and the Israelis in the Palestine conflict and contributed significantly to the liberation of Indonesia and to the ending of the Greek-Albanian conflict. It maintains a ceasefire in Kashmir despite heavy odds.

The Tashkent Declaration, which enabled the USSR to persuade India and Pakistan to abide by the resolution of the Security Council, was a great step forward in dealing with a critical situation, which, but for the initiative of the United Nations, would have certainly led to a large-scale war.

The United Nations can also claim to have brought about a cease-fire in the Arab-Israeli war in June 1967. It intervened effectively in the Suez crisis, prevented the collapse and disintegration of the Congo and calmed the civil strife in Cyprus for keeping peace between the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots. But the remarkable achievement of the United Nations is clarity of its role which the world body has lately recognised.

The rapidity with which United Nations opinion solidified in favour of the view that issues as Farakka are best left to bilateral negotiations is indicative of the fact that the United Nations is now less exploitable as a means by which to whip up support from one case against another in a bilateral dispute.

A 10-year $25 billion African Development Initiative ceremoniously launched on March 15, 1996, by the UN Secretary-General, Boutros, Boutros-Ghali, aims at lifting the African Continent out of the economic and social crisis bedeviling it and by providing assistance to key areas to put it back on the path of development and good governance.

What gives credibility to this ambitious project is that the World Bank has committed itself to find much of resources needed for implementing the venture about 85 per cent of the total cost involved.

“At a time when conditions are improving for many people around the world, the socio-economic plight of Africans remain a matter of concern,” said Boutros Boutros-Ghali, while explaining why the African Initiative had become so urgent. “The situation has reached a critical stage. Of the 47 Least Developed Countries in the world, 32 are in Africa.

Today over 220 million Africans live in conditions of absolute poverty and Africa is the only region in the world where poverty is expected to increase during this decade.” He said the initiative being launched now was both substantive and action-oriented.

In spite of this credit side, there are certain serious defects in the scheme of the United Nations. The attitude of the victors to the defeated powers was exactly the same as it had been after World War I.

The smaller States and even the large ones, which are militarily and economically less advanced, still suspect the United Nations as a mere tool in the hands of the Big Powers. The United Nations is based on the sovereign equality of nations, but, as Field Marshal Smuts, one of the outstanding statesmen at the San Francisco Conference, observed, “Equality of status does not mean equality of functions.”

The war-time allies and the promoters of the United Nations were, till disintegration of Soviet Russia in 1991, divided into two power blocs and engaged in a constant Cold War. Possession of atomic weapons by both blocks with a systematic race in stockpiling and other such developments, made the people at large to believe that it was a mockery of the United Nations.

In his Tenth Annual Report of the United Nations, the then Secretary- General, Dag Hammarskjold, observed that the actual establishment of an agreed international system for the control and reduction of armaments and armed forces “can take place only in an atmosphere of confidence, trust and understanding among the nations, an atmosphere which has not yet come into being.”

The failure of the special UN session on disarmament that crawled along for five weeks was a telling commentary on the attitude of the big powers and world affairs.

In the absence of any worthwhile agreement, the Assembly dispersed in the first week of July 1982 with a so-called consensus report which, even in terms of phraseology, marked retrogression from the resolution earlier adopted in 1979.

When vital questions remain unresolved, it is natural that the common man may think of the United Nations as an organisation of “Disunited Nations.”

The United Nations Organization was really a combination of strange bed-fellows. There were old jealousies and ideological differences between the “Big Five” and these differences were glaringly witnessed by men at large every day in the proceedings of the General Assembly and the Security Council.

Past, but not forgotten, differences persisted between the United Kingdom and the erstwhile Soviet Union.

Disguised economic rivalries persisted between the United Kingdom and the United States of America and with the waning of United Kingdom’s political and economic prestige the inward gulf between the two widened.

The differences between the United States and the former Soviet Russia were irreconcilable, though fluctuating and unpredictable. With the open rupture between the former USSR and China the situation became intriguing.

Then, there could not be any unanimity on the Japanese Peace Treaty, and the Peace Treaty itself was a mere show of power politics. The most regrettable part of the entire transaction has been that the settlement of peace terms with Germany remained in abeyance entailing the division of the country into two parts sharply divided amongst them. Though united now, but old memories still haunt them.

Five Great Powers the United States, the United Kingdom, the former Soviet Union, France and China were given permanent seats on the Security Council with the right of veto, because the authors of the United Nations Charter felt that all these States would be in a position to make an exceptional contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security.

But it was justly maintained that the procedure of voting in the Security Council was designed to shield these “Big Five” powers against their own sins. On all substantive matters the affirmative majority of seven originally, and nine members now, was required. The majority must include then and now the concurring votes of all the five permanent members.

It means that one of the “Big Five” could and can even now vitiate the decisions and discussions of the Security Council at any stage. It also means that a friendly State to any of these “Big Five” can make the decisions of the Security Council ineffective. This indirect veto may be used and it has been used for expediency rather than justice.

For example, the United States vetoed the UN motion criticising the action of Israel in annexing the Golan Heights in January 1982 when it had supported the December 1981 resolution of the Security Council declaring the annexation of the Golan Heights as null and void.

The most blatant attempt by China to pressurize the United Nations by the persistent use (for fifteen times) of veto was witnessed in the third term election of the Secretary-General, Kurt Weldheim.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s second term appointment as Secretary-General was vetoed by the United States. President Bill Clinton openly declared his intention to veto the appointment, though Ghali’s re-appointment was supported by the rest of the four permanent members.

There were heated discussions on the subject of veto at the San Francisco Conference. The non-Great powers, who called themselves “the Little Forty-Five”, fought hard for the modification of the veto.

The “Big Five”, however, stood solidly together and resisted any material modification. Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, called the veto “a shield for the strong and a mockery for the weak.” The “Little Forty- Five” were ultimately reconciled to the veto without illusions.

“When we, Little Powers, are fighting,” said a Latin American delegate at the San Francisco Conference, “the Great Powers will stop us. But, if and when the Great Powers are at loggerheads, God help us.”

In 1950, the General Assembly adopted, as a measure of abundant precaution, a resolution, known as “United Action for Peace Resolution”, to safeguard against the power of veto vested in the permanent member-States.

The Assembly resolved: “If the Security Council because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case, where there appears to be a threat to peace, breach of peace or act of aggression.

The General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to members for collective measures, including, in case of breach of the peace or act of aggression, the use of armed forces when necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

The provision of coercive action against aggressive States was really intended to coerce the smaller States. The Big Powers may themselves disturb international peace and repudiate the principles which they enjoin and even force upon smaller States.

On October 11, 1945, Lord Winster, intervening in the debate in the House of Lords, said: “This Organization (the United Nations) will be one for keeping small boys in order by prefects who themselves are exempt from the rules that they will administer.”

Events in Egypt, Hungary, Jordan, the Lebanon, Congo and Falkland prove it. Even without a Veto UN resolutions are openly flouted. Economic sanctions were recommended by UN resolutions against Rhodesia and South Africa as punitive measures against their racialist policies.

The sanctions did not work because the United States and the West in general were backing these regimes as they were anti-Soviets and anti-communist.

The Secretary- General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, in his first annual report submitted in September 1982, warned of a “new international anarchy” and proposed an extraordinary top-level meeting of the Security Council to consider ways of bolstering the United Nations as the guardian of peace.

Once again, in his 1985 report, the Secretary-General posed a choice for member-States to cooperate in building on the existing foundations of the United Nations as a useful, coherent, effective institution, or the alternative of each member-State taking their own short-sighted and self-interested course.

He warned the General Assembly that if they made the latter choice, the promising foundations would “end up surmounted by a rambling, contentious slum, the breeding ground for endless new troubles and disasters.”

In order to create this sense of awareness, it was decided to hold a special commemorative session of the General Assembly marking the 40th anniversary of the United Nations in October 1985.

More than 80 heads of State or Government attended this session and the Secretary-General expressed the gratification at the response from the world leaders to his suggestion for participation.

The world leaders assembled there recounted, once again, regional conflicts in different parts of the globe, national crisis and called for strengthening of the economic and social functions of the United Nations. All this proved to be a simple rhetoric.

There could be no consensus on the declaration to be issued after the conclusion of a “summit of summits.” As President of Botswana, Dr Quett K.J. Maisre, put it: “The UN had been a victim of the paralysis caused by the East-West ideological rivalry reflecting a competition for world hegemony in which the ideological power blocs were engaged. We play no part in that struggle.”

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