Like many others, I have written extensively about the United Nations having outlived its usefulness. Some writers believe that the UN has merely become corrupted over the course of many decades — having granted membership to many non-democratic regimes — and continues to exist because world leaders naively still believe it contributes to peace. In truth, the organization is little more than an outdated, neo-colonial tool of the “global north” (First World) that is used to consolidate and preserve the dominance held by Russia and Western countries over the peoples of the developing world (“global south”). The recent positions taken by the UN regarding Jerusalem and Kurdish independence only reinforces this fact.
The first examples where this is the case are in Israel and Kurdistan. The UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, held the San Remo Conference in 1920, which established that the future Jewish state should consist of Mandatory Palestine. While Transjordan was severed from the territory eventually and closed off to Jewish settlement, the conference held that Judea & Samaria (later to be known as the West Bank) and the Gaza Strip would remain part of the Jewish national home that Britain had promised in 1917’s Balfour Declaration. The mandate system that was established following World War One was eventually passed from the League of Nations (which eventually met its demise) to its successor, the UN. While it gave Britain trusteeship over Palestine following its liberation from the Turkish Ottomans, a Jewish national home was supposed to emerge not long after. Instead, under the UN, British control of Palestine (and Iraq, for that matter) continued for over twenty more years, with restrictions on Jewish immigration during the Holocaust and a plan to give portions of the Jewish national home to the Arab community in the colony.
The international sympathy that the Jews received in light of the Holocaust gave more credence to the idea of the emergence of a State of Israel. But it also became a convenient way for Europe to send its unwanted Jews–many of whom were abandoned by these countries in one way or another during the Second World War–elsewhere to be destroyed by enemies or die off in a wasteland. After Israel’s miraculous survival despite numerous wars and acts of terrorism to destroy it, these anti-Semitic, European countries were joined by anti-Zionist Arab ones. Seeing an opportunity to once more have influence in and dominance of the Middle East, Europe increasingly tried to paint itself in a more pro-Palestinian light than the US.
All of a sudden, there was a change in the status of Judea & Samaria, Gaza, and east Jerusalem. Rather than belonging to the Jewish nation as the conference in San Remo established, or at least being disputed land, these areas were seen as “illegally occupied” territories, where Jewish presence was considered illegitimate. UN resolutions and activities in UNESCO continuously deny Jewish history in Jerusalem and the biblical heartland and give voice to those trying to destroy Israel. While many countries in the European Union profess to historically-having strong ties with Israel, they are more preoccupied with appeasing their increasingly far-left and Muslim electorate at home, even if it is the wrong thing to do morally and strategically. In addition to aiding anti-Israel NGOs and calls for Israeli “restraint” in conflict with terrorists, the European Union consistently uses the United Nations as a weaponized system of containing Israeli/Jewish self-determination and sovereignty in the land promised to it by international law, and undermining its defense against hostile actors. With the recent US recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and Trump’s overtures towards Netanyahu and away from the UN, this increasing pro-Palestinian position of the EU is poised to give it more sway over America’s traditional regional allies–at least according to the logic of Brussels.
In Iraq, the UN bizarrely contradicted its own charter and statements on self-determination by opposing a Kurdish referendum this fall for independence. Despite claiming it desires “peace, prosperity and stability” in the Middle East, the UN has undermined the most progressive, stable, peaceful portion of Iraq, where international law has been violated multiple times by the central government of Baghdad to entrench a system that discriminates against non-Arabs and non-Muslims in the country. In addition, there is no regional stability anyways, especially in Iraq, which has become the Wild Wild East as various militias and terrorist organizations clash in endless battle largely based on sectarian lines and doing the bidding of foreign powers (such as Iran). In the past, the UN, US, and other powers have looked the other way as atrocities were carried out against the Kurdish people by Turkish, Iranian, and Arab regimes that, like the European colonial powers before them, denied them their right to freedom and equal rights.
Rather than support the Kurdish bid for liberty, the UN condemned it as a “destabilizing move,” allowed Iranian-backed Shiite militias to ethnically-cleanse historically Kurdish areas, and now calls for endless and useless “dialogue” between an authoritarian and chauvinist government and a people seeking freedom from occupation and prejudice. The explanation? That the European powers and United States, both of whom betrayed Kurdistan in the past when it came to creating an independent Kurdish state out of the collapsed Ottoman Empire, are too wedded to the Western ideal of “nation-states” based on regional colonial borders they drew in the 1910s. These borders have allowed for constant infighting, making it easier for Western powers to militarily dominate and use Iraq and have access to its oil reserves. A strong and independent Kurdistan would be in a better position than a weak and unstable Iraq to demand more from the West in return for oil, or nationalize it outright. Moreover, endless conflict and instability in the Mesopotamian country allows European and American arms dealers and weapons companies to make millions of dollars worth of sales to various armed groups inside the country, whether the Iraqi military or the more reliable Kurdish peshmerga. Thus, as in the case of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, rather than using history as an example of to learn from, and trying to progress forward with new tactics, the unstable status quo is settled on in the case of Kurdistan and Iraq. This may not benefit those living in the region, but it does benefit UN employees who rely on the conflict for their jobs and salary, as well as the countries and companies who benefit from exerting their influence and domination over the region.
These UN maneuvers and backings also give legitimacy to other colonial projects by the world’s strongest countries. One such example is Libya. It’s true that Muammar Qaddafi was a brutal dictator that deserves no mournful ceremony for his 2011 demise. That being said, he was known for his brutality and support for terrorism decades ago–why was he not removed then, when he actively worked against US and European interests rather than collaborating with them? Why was the West unconcerned with his brutality at this time? Instead of nobly acting on behalf of oppressed Libyans (after all, their suffering continues to this day with little Western regard or acknowledgment of the failures of the 2011 intervention), United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 gave impetus for a Western military intervention that would remove Qaddafi to secure the strength of the US dollar and access to Libyan oil for Westerners.
In Syria, both Russia and Western powers have sought to dominate the country and determine the civil war’s outcome using resolutions and garnering votes in the Security Council, only for them to repeatedly be stalled or vetoed. In Haiti, United Nations peacekeeping personnel are heavily believed to be responsible for an outbreak of cholera on the island that may have killed 30,000 people. Rather than being held accountable, showing remorse, or increasing aid as soon as possible, the UN tried to cover its tracks with a campaign of denial. In other countries–largely war-torn or Third World nations–peacekeepers get involved in sexual abuse, bribery, or theft, and the organization tries to cover up rather than investigate, punish, apologize, and reform. This is no different than other Western attempts to whitewash the history of suffering imperialist powers have inflicted upon unfortunate populations they seek to dominate, rather than making amends and improving upon the situation after reflection.
It’s true that the UN in the past was an effective organization that upheld peace and promoted human rights. And there are certainly some branches of the organization that contribute to stability, peace building, economic growth, and humanitarianism today. However, it’s time to acknowledge a few obvious truths. One is that the UN has been corroded over time by the admission and influence of non-democratic states that have no interest in peace, human rights, or democracy, and are often very corrupt. The UN cannot be taken seriously when it disproportionately focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict — the least bloody conflict in the entire Middle East — while refusing to condemn notorious human rights violators in Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran.
The legitimacy and power of the UN — already sharply degraded since its founding era in the mid-20th century — will continue to decline as countries leave its institutions or decrease funding to it in light of its bias and ineffectiveness. Secondly, the UN is in dire need of reform. While part of this could theoretically come from budget cuts that seek to punish the UN for admitting and kowtowing to non-democratic regimes, the violations of peacekeepers and institutions within the organization need a more thorough investigation and response. If the UN wishes to be seen as a promoter of peace and human rights throughout the world, it cannot continue to cover up its sins and commit terrible abuses. And finally, the UN cannot remain a tool of imperial powers if it wishes to make a difference and be viewed positively in developing countries (or smaller/less influential ones in general). As it stands now, the UN is not being used for peaceful purposes. Instead, it is either manipulated by its funders and most powerful members for their own hegemonic ambitions, or is an active player in contributing to instability and conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere. The Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres of Portugal, should be commended for his attempts at reforming the UN and making it a less biased and corrupt organization. Budget cuts to the UN by the US and potentially other countries, as well as their boycotts of certain institutions within the organization, should be welcomed (at least initially) as an attempt to nudge it towards reform. But seeing a true difference in the organization requires us to stop putting it on a pedestal and start seeing it for what it truly is—and, subsequently, to hold it accountable for its actions, past and present, in hope of a better and more just future.