UN ineffectiveness - Allowing tyranny to prevail

The United Nations Security Council yesterday called for an immediate end to hostilities in Gaza as the Palestinian death toll passed 500.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who is in the Middle East, condemned the killings as an “atrocious action” and called for an immediate end to the fighting.

It is another, ongoing tragedy of our world that those pleas will be, as they always are, blithely ignored — just as an identical plea made on July 12 was. Israel will continue its campaign of murder and terror and, unfortunately, the legitimacy and authority of the UN will be undermined again. The organisation set up to try to maintain world peace will be seen as utterly ineffective.

Former president and now a UN special envoy for climate change, Mary Robinson, yesterday made another contribution to the decades-long debate about reforming the UN and, specifically, how the veto is used at security council level to limit UN effectiveness.

This is not by any means the first time these issues have been raised — they last came to the fore as Syria’s civil war escalated — but they highlight the paralysis rendering the UN almost irrelevant. Friction and barely concealed self-interest among the permanent members of the security council — China, France, Russia, Britain, and the US — exacerbate a situation already weakened by a deep and persistent democratic deficit and increasingly questionable legitimacy.

In almost seven decades since its foundation, the UN’s membership has more or less quadrupled from 51 to 193 states but the number of permanent members has not changed. The number of non-permanent members has increased marginally, from six to 10. Originally a ratio of one permanent member for 10 countries was agreed, but now there is one permanent member for nearly 40 countries. This means that swathes of humanity have no voice in UN decision-making. It is estimated that over 80% of the council’s work deals with African issues but bizarrely the continent does not have a voice as an influential permanent member.

Naturally, the five permanent members see no need for reform and they are happy to sustain the status quo until a clearer idea of what reform of the organisation, and especially if its objectives are political, military or just humanitarian, emerges.

All the while besieged and threatened populations — Syrians, Libyans, Burmese, Timorese, Rwandans, Congolese or, not so very long ago, the 8,000 Bosnian Muslims massacred at Srebrenica as Dutch UN troops looked on — can expect their pleas for protection to fall on deaf, ineffective ears.

Ireland can be proud of its participation in UN missions. Our soldiers have acted as peacekeepers and our diplomats have played a positive role, one far beyond the influence our small population might expect. Maybe it is time that we, and all the other small nations, served the organisation in a different way. Maybe it is time to unite around an agenda that would change the organisation in such a way that next time a terrorist state decides to visit carnage on a neighbour that the UN can do much more than plead emotionally and ineffectively for the atrocities to end. Until that happens, as the people of Gaza and the families of those murdered on Flight MH17 will confirm, state-sponsored tyranny will prevail.


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