The United Nations (UN) was formed on June 26, 1945 with the goal, as stated in the preamble of the Charter, to allow states to live in peace with each other, unite nations to maintain security, and promote the economic and social advancement of all people. It states the intention to reaffirm the worth of humans, while promoting "social progress and better living standards of life in larger freedoms". (UN, 1968 p.3) The primary purposes stated in the Charter are that the UN will be used to maintain peace on a worldwide scale and between states, and to handle international relations and disputes. (UN, 1968 p.4) Thus, much of what the UN was designed to do falls under "peacekeeping", which includes the "enforcement of the peace" and action to promote "peaceful settlement". (Russell, 1958 p.232)
By understanding what the UN was set up to do and then looking at how it was designed to do it, one can see that the United Nations is, and has been since its creation in 1945, a tool of the imperialist states and super powers. Extreme inefficiencies and undemocratic mechanisms are fundamental to the UN's organization. It is inefficient simply because representative democracies tend to disagree due to conflicts of interest, and thus are slow at making decisions and acting upon them. And, yet it is not completely democratic in certain areas, such as on the Security Council, in which certain states permanently retain the control over how peacekeeping operations are done and which peacekeeping operations are done. Even so, it is a very strong organization with great potential that serves great needs, of which all would be irreparably lost if it were dissolved.
It has been stated in the US media that since the Soviet Union has dissolved, the UN is free to act, as it was designed to. This alludes that the existence of the USSR somehow held back the progress of the UN. This is not quite true when one considers that the US has blocked more Security Council Resolutions since 1970 than any other nation and has blocked initiatives on disarmament and peace, international law, terrorism, the Middle East, South Africa, protection of the environment, and others. (Chomsky, 1993 p.55-56) The USSR has participated in blocking initiatives in the years initially after the UN's formation, essentially because the US "ran the world", had an "automatic majority", and used "the UN as a weapon against" the Soviet Union. (Chomsky, 1992 p.275) Since 1970, the USSR and the Russian Federation rank a distant 4th (behind Britain and France) in vetoes and they have historically voted with the majority. (Chomsky, 1993 p.56)
Since one of the main functions of the UN is peacekeeping --which specifically entails implementing peace agreements, monitoring cease-fires, patrolling demilitarized zones, creating buffer zones between opposing forces, and facilitating negotiating between warring parties-- the Security Council plays an extremely important role in the business of the UN. The Security Council, responsible for dispatching UN troops from participating nations, is the sole voice of military and peace action in the UN. Coincidentally and exclusively, the Security Council is anchored by five permanent members who represent both current and past imperialist states and super powers: China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. (UN, "Peace-Keeping") These five states represent populations of 1.74 Billion --little more than 30% of the entire earth (5.77 Billion)-- yet they act in the interest of all other states while they possess economies which are 158% larger than the whole world. (CIA, "World Factbook") The strongest nations economically are also the strongest nations militarily.
The UN sites the unwillingness of warring parties to seek peaceful solutions as the major reason that some peacekeeping missions have been thwarted. (UN, "Peacekeeping") Yet, it is also worth noting that this does not refer to peacekeeping initiatives that never got started, at least initially (e.g. East Timor, South Africa, Haiti, Kurdistan, Rwanda). Other problems have been that the UN usually takes quite a bit of time to react and provide troops, and sufficient resources are often hard to acquire. With the way things are currently done in the UN, individual states pledge troops to peacekeeping operations, so it is possible for many states to not pledge any assistance if they see no benefit in doing so. Thus, peacekeeping operations only need to be supported by the Security Council and a few states. This is especially the case when they are the only ones with vested interest in the conflict's resolution.
How do imperial powers control the UN peacekeeping operations and prevent action? A good example is found by looking at how the US, with the help of Daniel Moynihan, made sure that "the United Nations could not act in any constructive way to terminate or reverse the Indonesian aggression" against East Timor in 1975. He brags in his memoirs how he "carried out that task with remarkable success". (Chomsky, 1992 p.252-253) The United States has also blocked Security Council condemnation of its own invasions. Such is the case with Nicaragua in 1987 (Chomsky, 1993 p.55), the Dominican Republic in 1965, Grenada in 1983, and Panama in 1989, just as the Soviet Union has done in the earlier UN years with invasions of Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Afghanistan in 1979. (Ray, 1998 p.402) It is apparent that superpower states on the Security Council have consistently used their veto leverage to exonerate themselves in the UN. Other states not lucky enough to possess vetoes get labeled (though just as accurately) as aggressors and are acted against by the world community (e.g. Korea, Libya, Iraq).
It seems that the core issue of the UN's unfairness is how it can be used as a tool by the five permanent Security Council states (which also includes preventing it from being used as a tool against them). The question arises, how can these states be seen as the protectors of world security when they themselves are carrying out a great number of aggressions and invasions, and preventing the UN from taking appropriate action to preserve peace like it's supposed to? One must also ask whether or not the states on the Security Council are maintaining their own status quo and striving to meet their own goals of control and domination, instead of the UN Charter's goal of peace? Light can be shed on these questions by understanding that 32 of the remaining 49 dependent territories in the world are held by France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and the rest are retained by other former European colonial powers. (Glassner, 1996 p.273, Table 18-2) These states retain control of these territories through their control over the Security Council. It is clear that the five permanent members use rhetoric to support high morals of peace when it suits them, and then use it as a defensive weapon when they need to protect their own aggressions.
When considering the dissolvement of the UN as a solution to such problems, one needs to question if such an action will actually improve things. First, let's consider the important role of peace: without the UN in place, states will be just as likely, if not more so, to carry out invasions of other states; the permanent members of the Security Council wouldn't even have to waste their time vetoing anything. The fact that the peacekeeping missions are slow and/or inefficient is not a good reason for abolishing the entire structure. It would be much easier to rework the existing system than to scratch it all and try over again with a more "fair" system.
The other main functions of the UN, such as those carried out by the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice, and the General Assembly itself (Ray, 1998 p.397 Fig.11.1), even though not always momentous, have been important enough to garner four separate Nobel Peace Prizes. Two have gone directly to the UN for its work with aiding refugees, and one each for helping the children of the world survive and securing rights and protections for workers. (UN, "Achievements") Without the catalyst of the UN, states would have a difficult time assembling conferences, meetings, and organizations on important topics. Worldwide progress and agreement would, most definitely, be inhibited.
The UN has undertaken initiatives to improve peace, economic development, international law, human rights, health, and the environment. (UN, "Achievements") Whereas most everyone would agree that these are noble goals, one could argue that not enough has been done. The UN has structures that have allowed individual countries to block progress and improvement on these initiatives, structures such as the Security Council and other arbitrary councils that the UN sets up to deal with issues. Even though there is disparity with how issues are handled, an international organization that at least gets together to discuss the aforementioned issues is a useful and valid organization. The UN deserves to be acknowledged for whatever agreement, consensus, or actions that the states of the world attempt to make together.
All the issues and problems tackled by these programs are lofty, noble, and beneficial towards all people. However, as it happens in many cases, certain countries or groups of countries attempt to block improvement that will benefit the world and their own citizens. If the United Nations is to have the goal of world improvement on an international scale, it needs to correct for inconsistencies in "democratic" theory that allow certain nations to exert the importance of their affairs over the affairs of the world. It is not wrong for a state to want to emphasize its own problems, but the United Nations should not permit certain states to blur the difference between international goals and the goals of individual states.
The UN brings with it the moral authority of the world, something that could not be easily duplicated if it were dissolved. Conferences, committees, and councils have been organized by the UN which support the expansion of women's rights, population control, pollution control, land mine removal, nuclear disarmament (not just "reduction"!), and educational improvement. These are important things that could not be as easily enforced if they didn't carry the "weight of the UN" with them.
It is clear that the United Nations is a relatively beneficial intergovernmental organization that works for good causes that are of interest to the entire world. It is also vividly clear that the UN is occasionally manipulated by powerful nations for limited and individual objectives, at the cost of the rest of the world. This is one large area than requires a massive overhaul to redistribute power and make the UN more democratic. Yet, those who say that this is cause for complete dissolvement of the organization are not being intellectually tolerant and have a poor attitude with regards to change. Improvement should be made from the inside-- such an attack would be more efficient and useful than attempting to create another organization.
The extreme idea that the world does not need a mediating organization is not only ridiculous, but also very dangerous. With no medium for disputing nations to bring their quarrels, the world would find itself at war much more often than now. It is analogous of the court system in the US: without the courts two parties with disputes would resort to harmful and perhaps violent tactics to obtain their ends; the court system facilitates peaceful resolution of these disagreements. The UN serves the same purpose and is undoubtedly the most important facilitator of peace that exists on the international level.
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