UN is ‘saving humanity form hell’, it should be reformed and strengthen

Kalyani Shankar

The United Nations will be 75 next month. An organization can be considered to be still young but it is time for stocktaking. The UN came into being after its structure was finalized in an international conference in San Francisco in October 1945 in which 50 countries including India participated.  Since then it has grown and today the UN has 193 members. Moreover, the United Nations of today is hugely different from the United Nations 75 years ago, 

The big question is whether the world body has played its role or has it become irrelevant. It was the late UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld who said famously that the UN was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell 

Interestingly, those who support the UN believe that the world body has served its purpose by and large.  The very fact that it has survived itself despite the ups and downs shows success. They point out that most of all there has been no nuclear war in the past 75 years. Others praise the peacekeeping mission of the UN. They also praise its sustainable development programme. 

But the UN is also not being effective for various reasons. On the UN watch several authoritarian rulers have  used conventional weapons against innocent citizens .  The UN resolutions are non–binding. The World Body was supposed to prevent conflicts and war and yet over 80 conflicts started since its inception.  In the past three decades, the US Presidents from Bush to Trump have all criticized the UN for its functioning.  UN is also facing resource crunch because members including the US do not pay their contribution in time.

India’s involvement with the United Nations is remarkable.  As a founding member, India’s contribution to implementing the goals of the United Nations Charter and programs has been substantial.

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She has been involved in many UN bodies.  India is the current chair of the WHO executive committee. She is right now a member of the United Nation’s Commission on Status of Women (UNCSW), for four years (from 2021 to 2025).

India has been elected as a non-permanent member of the powerful Security Council for two years in June 2020. She served eight two -year terms earlier.

India has been lobbying for the expansion of the Security Council and also staked a claim for a place in it. For some years now, whenever our prime ministers went abroad or any heads of state visited India, one issue was getting support for India’s candidature to the expanded Security Council. The reforms are not taking off for various reasons. For instance, the P5 are not keen on losing their veto powers 

The UN chief has praised India’s contribution to the Peace Keeping Forces. She has been the driving force behind many issues like the end of colonialism and apartheid and of global disarmament and terrorism.

India is an ardent advocate of UN reform.  She initially had no ambition of becoming a permanent member of the Council. However, when the General Assembly took up the UN reforms in 1992, Japan, Germany and Brazil sought membership in an expanded Security Council. India too joined them.  Many European countries object to Germany’s claim, Argentina opposes Brazil and Pakistan opposes India, and so on. The four countries formed the BRICS group to work together.

What is the future of the UN? Some want the UN to play a greater role in world affairs, while others want its role to specifically focus on humanitarian work. Reforming the system and getting wide international support and funds are the most important things needed for the UN. Almost from the early nineties, the reforms are being talked about but there is no progress in this regard, which is indeed unfortunate.

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 Secondly, the UN needs to be modernized. Many feel that the present structure is flawed and many programs are often duplicated.

Thirdly, the UN should be strengthened. The world body should be vested with more powers to deal with the errant members who defy the UN. 

Fourthly, UN funding should not be stopped for any reason, as the world body must remain independent. The UN is dependent on the contribution of cash, goods, and services from its member states to finance and help its activities.

Fifthly, there is a need to cut down the strength of the staff. As the Guardian newspaper pointed out some time ago “85,000 bureaucrats, annually spend of about $40bn (£26bn) – 2,000 times that of the organization’s budget during its first year in 1946. Spending has quadrupled in the past 20 years – and still, several agencies struggle to balance their books.

“Despite all complaints and criticism, the UN is currently the only international organization where heads of states from all over the world can gather to discuss important issues. This is one international forum where different countries come together to try to work out some of the world’s problems. It is most useful for the members to discuss and negotiate

Over all it is a mixed bag and it is for the members to make it effective. At this juncture it is crucial to improve the UN rather than destroy it. 

Kalyani Shankar is a senior journalist and analyst based in New Delhi. 

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