The UN: A Broken Guardrail

The United Nations Headquarters, New York City (centre) from above, on a cloudy day (Ori Epstein, 2019).

Russian troops invade Ukraine, a large-scale war returns to Europe for the first time since World War Two; Ukraine’s Ambassador turns to the United Nations Security Council in desperation. 

After Ukraine finishes speaking, the Security Council President says with a lack of sincerity discernable from the edges of the galaxy, “as President, I am obliged to thank Ukraine for its statement.”

Presiding over the mighty United Nations Security Council is none other than Ukraine’s greatest foe, Russia. 

A few days later, Western nation propose a draft resolution condemning Russia. It gets the support of the vast majority of the council, eleven out of twelve members present in voting (i.e. excluding abstentions). The resolution fails due to Russia’s veto.

Later, Russia calls for a special session of the UN Security Council to claim that Ukraine has US-backed bioweapons laboratories. No such bioweapons program exists, outside of Russian propaganda.  

Obviously, these events pose questions about the fitness of the UN in the current world. Opponents of the UN in its current form, like Hillel Neuer of UN Watch, criticize the status of dictatorships like Russia and China as all-powerful permanent veto powers in the UN Security Council, the atrocities many nations on the Human Rights Council commit, and the UN’s general inability to prevent conflicts. Proponents of the UN counter that, while the UN is not perfect, it has achieved a great deal for international collaboration and global development, as seen by the COVAX program.

While both claims are true, the claims of the UN’s proponents, in my mind, do not provide a sufficient defence of the United Nations.

The UN’s primary goal is not to provide vaccines to impoverished nations or to promote the stability of aquatic habitats, but rather: “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.” If the UN cannot succeed in its founding mission, we can, and should, establish another organization better able to do so. 

Some claim that the organization capable of ensuring global security already exists; they suggest we use NATO for security matters and the UN for everything else, but, as we are currently witnessing in Ukraine, NATO is unable to guarantee the security of non-NATO states. 

Thus, the world is left with a need for a new international organization that will promote peace, stability, and democracy in ways which the UN has not; an organization made up of democracies and allies throughout the world, functioning as a robust geopolitical force to combat tyranny without being limited to the North Atlantic. 

The organization should, in my view, have two main bodies, one for liberal democracies and one which also includes allies like Bahrain which, while committed to peace, do not meet the first threshold. Bad actors, which promote instability and commit grievous atrocities, such as Syria, Russia, and North Korea, must be excluded from both forums.

This organization should be committed to helping nations under military threat like Taiwan and South Korea, and nations large and small, from Canada to Micronesia. A primary goal must be the support and defence of democracy. The organization should send observers to ensure fair elections and peaceful transfers of power in nations like Turkey and the United States. 

We should continue to rely on the UN for projects that require global collaboration like economic development, environment conservation, and vaccine distribution. However, we must differentiate between these objectives, which benefit all and have near-unanimous support, and matters where the inclusion of bad actors renders progress and peace impossible. The UN is decent at providing international public goods but has failed in its quest to provide international security.

For too long, we have chosen to ignore issues with the UN and allowed authoritarian regimes to increase their control over its subcommittees. The consequences of this have been felt before, but were never as noticeable as they are now. I fear that if we do not learn the lessons from this most recent and colossal failure of the UN, the world will only become more violent. 

Not only in this current conflict does the UN’s incompetence fail humanity, but it is also a liability in potential future conflicts. If the UN cannot succeed in penalizing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, what suggests that it will be able to do the same if China invades Taiwan?

Canada’s Ambassador to the UN, Bob Rae, likened blaming the UN for Russia’s war in Ukraine to a basketball team blaming the court for losing a game; this analogy must be soundly rejected. War is not a game, and the UN is not merely a field. The UN was founded to stack the deck in favour of peace as an organization intelligently designed to prevent a third world war.

Maybe, then, it is time we stop seeing the UN as a field of play, but rather as a half-broken, ineffective guardrail that cannot, on its own, prevent fatal collisions and, thus, is in dire need of reinforcement.

About the Author
Ori Epstein is a recent graduate ('21) of TanenbaumCHAT, a Jewish high school in Toronto, Canada, and is now studying at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Ori holds dual Israeli-Canadian citizenship and had the privilege of attending the International Bible Contest in Israel in 2019.
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