Read one of this year’s winning entries to the Immerse Education Essay Competition from the International Relations category.
Congratulations to all participants and in particular to the 10 winners of 100% scholarships!
Is the UN an effective body?
While the United Nations has an, undoubtedly, extremely difficult task of preserving peace, order and safety in essentially every corner of the world, there have also been an undeniable number of concerns raised throughout of the world, by both everyday citizens and international academics about the true effectiveness of the body. From its inability to prevent conflicts, to the bias in its fundamentally democratic character, there are many improvements that can be made to the organization, and thus, to the world.
Firstly, the ineffectiveness of the United Nations is displayed in its numerous failures in stopping or preventing conflict, which was its original goal when the organization was established after WWII and the failure of the League of Nations. In the Rwandan genocide of 1994, in which Hutu extremists killed 800,000 ethnic Tutsis, the UN peacekeepers simply deserted the people during the middle of the conflict. The UN secretary-general himself said, in 2015, “we could have done much more” and that the UN was ashamed (‘UN “shame” over Rwanda genocide’, 2014).
Another inadequacy of the United Nations in the under-representation of countries that make up the security council, and the role of the five permanent members who have the power to cripple any resolution to potential world crisis with their singular vote (Shetty, 2018). Understandably, the crumbling system created 70 years ago is in desperate need of a change today. With the lack of African or Latin American countries in the permanent seats, very few people still agree that the security council is representative of the 193 member states (Borger et al., 2015). Meanwhile, controversial topics such as the Syrian conflict have been paralysed with vetoes from China and Russia, which has frustrated many critics (Nichols, 2019). Despite all this, the veto power is a tool which only serves to further the interests of certain countries, which is a difficult imbalance to fix.
The current system supports the narrowly-defined interests of each country’s government and undermines the overarching aim of the United Nations, which is to protect the interests of humanity as a whole (Weiss, 2012). The USA, for example, has consistently acted against the common interest in resolutions regarding Israel, having vetoed 43 resolutions in the security council in total. This includes one resolutions condemning Trump’s decision to move the Israel embassy to Jerusalem, though every other country voted in favour of this condemnation (MME Staff, 2017). However, this unilateralism is not confined to the veto power. Poorer countries in the UN General Assembly would often vote in the interests of a hegemon in exchange for aid. In the case of China and many African countries, this is usually in the form of large infrastructure projects such as bridges and high-speed trains (Yang, 2019). A US data analysis project shows this if Rwanda, for instance, voted in favour of China an additional 25% of the time, their aid could increase in value by 289% (China and Africa — A despot’s guide to foreign aid, 2016).
While there is consensus that the UN is ineffective, few people agree on how it should be improved. On the surface, it appears that the organization has simply been incompetent in maintaining peace, but what is more problematic is the member states’ reluctance to work multilaterally to create good as a whole. This is amplified by the skewed distribution of power in the security council. After all, it is extremely difficult to reduce the power of the states currently in charge which would be needed to make a substantial difference to the body’s effectiveness.
Borger, J., Inzaurralde, B., Levett, C., Newell, C., Sheehy, F., & Maynard, P. (2015, September 23). Vetoed! What’s wrong with the UN security council – and how it could do better. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2015/sep/23/un-security-council-failing-70-years
China and Africa—A despot’s guide to foreign aid. (2016, April 16).
MME Staff. (2017, December 19). The 43 times US has used veto power against UN resolutions on Israel. Middle East Eye.
Nichols, M. (2019, December 20). Russia, backed by China, casts 14th U.N. veto on Syria to block cross-border aid. Reuters.
Shetty, S. (2018, September 30). The Problem With the UN Veto Power [Interview].
UN ‘shame’ over Rwanda genocide. (2014, April 7). BBC News.
Weiss, T. (2012). What’s Wrong with the United Nations and How to Fix It (2nd ed.). Polity Books.
Yang, D. (2019, July 19). How China’s Africa Alliance is Shifting World Order. Inter Press Service.
There were over 5000 entries to the Immerse Education Essay Competition 2020. Return to our blog over the coming months as more winning entries are published.