As overpaid and under worked United Nations bureaucrats quaff champagne and feast on canapés and shrimp in Turtle Bay to celebrate U.N. Day, it is important for the world to remember those who have been failed by the organization, or have suffered at its hands.
They include: the one million Tutsis slaughtered by Hutus in the Rwanda genocide of 1994 while U.N. peacekeepers looked on; the 10,000 Bosnian Muslims massacred at Srebrenica by the Serbs while under the protection of Dutch troops in a U.N. “safe haven”; the more than 200,000 villagers in Darfur killed by Sudanese-backed Janjaweed militias while the United Nations debated whether or not it was an act of genocide, and the regime in Khartoum sat on the U.N.’s Commission on Human Rights; the millions of Iraqis who suffered under the brutal boot of the Baathist regime while Saddam Hussein plundered the U.N.’s Oil-for-Food Program; the millions of inhabitants of Zimbabwe and Burma who continue to suffer at the hands of brutal tyrannical regimes while the U.N. turns a blind eye; the hundreds of refugees raped by U.N. peacekeepers in both the Congo and southern Sudan.
The U.N.’s failures, from its inability (and unwillingness) to stop ethnic cleansing in Africa and the Balkans to wide-spread abuses by U.N. peacekeepers across the world are legion. Inaction, incompetence, and even abject inhumanity have all too often been the hallmarks of U.N. operations, which have frequently demonstrated a callous indifference to human suffering.
As Anne Bayefsky, editor of the superb Eye on the U.N. website has catalogued, there is scarcely any section of the world body that is not tainted with the whiff of despotism and state sponsors of terror. The list is a veritable chamber of horrors and makes a mockery of the UN’s supposed commitments to human rights.
• Libya has just been elected to a two-year term on the United Nations Security Council;
• Zimbabwe sits on the Executive Board of the World Food Program (as does Sudan), even though millions in southern Africa are facing starvation due to the repressive policies of the Mugabe regime.
• North Korea, the poorest and least free nation on earth, sits on the U.N. Commission for Social Development;
• Syria is the vice president of the International Atomic Energy Agency General Committee, as well as holding the vice chair of the General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security;
• Iran, which has threatened to wipe Israel “off the map”, is the vice chairman of the UN Disarmament Commission;
• Burma is the vice president of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF);
• Sudan, with its extensive experience of backing mass killing in Darfur, sits on the Executive Committee of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees;
• The U.N.’s new Human Rights Council, boycotted by the United States, includes China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Cuba among its members;
• Tehran’s Deputy Minister of the Interior is a member of the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The United Nations has also earned a reputation as an institution rife with corruption and dominated by a sleazy political culture of "see no evil, hear no evil." The several investigations into the massive Oil-for-Food scandal opened up a massive can of worms. More recently, the United Nations has been rocked by another major corruption scandal, this time involving procurement for U.N. peacekeeping operations. Yet neither has led to discipline of corrupt officials. We await any real reform of the bureaucracy and the culture of corruption.
The U.N.’s failures are multifaceted and cannot be ascribed to one single cause. It is partly a failure of leadership from both the U.N. Secretariat and many U.N. member states, combined with poor management, disci¬pline, and widespread inefficiency, as well as a deep-seated culture of corruption. It is also due to a complete lack of moral clarity on the international stage — an unwill — ingness to confront acts of genocide or totalitarianism, coupled with a ready willingness to accommodate tyrants and dictators. It has led to a loss of faith in the U.N.’s ability to stand up even for its own Universal Charter of Human Rights, or protect the world’s most vulnerable people, including victims of ethnic cleansing and refugees seeking protection under the U.N.’s flag.
The U.N. today is best described as a sickly patient awaiting a blood transfusion, a world body that is increasingly ill-equipped for the demands of the 21st Century and working its way towards irrelevance.
Founded in 1945 with lofty ambitions to advance peace, prosperity, and security in the world, the United Nations can point to few significant achievements. Its two supposed finest hours — the defense of South Korea in the Korean War and the liberation of Kuwait from Iraq — were both American-led operations that frankly would have taken place even if the United Nations did not exist.
Without the presence of the world’s greatest power, the U.N. would be an impotent body, lacking in legitimacy, and financially crippled.
The United States has been the United Nations’ biggest contributor since its founding, giving over $5.3 billion annually to the world body. The U.S. provides 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular annual operating budget – more than the combined contributions of France, Germany, China, Canada, and Russia.
The U.S. contributes 41.5 percent ($1.12 billion) of the World Food Program budget, 24 percent of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees budget, and 9.4 percent of the UNICEF budget. The United States is the world’s biggest contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations, funding 27 percent of the total worldwide U.N. peacekeeping budget ($870 million a year). Between 2001 and 2005, the United States gave $3.59 billion toward U.N. international peacekeeping operations.
The United States will have to bypass the U.N. where it is seen to be obstructing U.S. interests or incapable of action. The US will have towork more aggressively through organizations such as NATO, and lead coalitions of the willing in order to deal with specific threats to international security, as well as humanitarian crises. At the same time, America, together with close allies, should build more bodies outside of the U.N. system to handle global issues. The United States should for example seek the creation of a new human rights body outside of the U.N. that would be composed solely of democratic states that adhere to the basic principles of individual liberty and freedom
The United Nations should have to compete in a global marketplace of international institutions. The U.N.’s privileged position as the dominant world body in areas such as human rights, humanitarian relief, and international development must be increasingly challenged, both by other multilateral organizations or by ad hoc coalitions.
Whether the U.N. goes the way of its predecessor, the League of Nations, and sinks into the abyss of history as a huge failure depends upon its willingness to be reformed as well as its ability to confront the challenges of today, whether it be the threat of global terrorism, the aggressive actions of a dictatorial regime, or the mass slaughter of one ethnic group by another. Terrorism, tyranny, and genocide remain the three great evils of our time, and the U.N. will be judged by how it responds to them. If the United Nations is not up to the task, then it will soon be time to take a bow and give way to a successor.