The Charter of the United Nations begins with the words “We, the peoples of the United Nations…”. Six decades and more down the road we are today left with the contemplation of whether or not the United Nations has actually lived up to the high ideals it was set up for. What to talk of the United Nations (Nobel Peace Prize and all!), several piddling outfits have taken it upon themselves the task of the establishment of world peace that the founding fathers had envisaged as the exclusive preserve of the United Nations Organization.
The era of the Cold War, when the Warsaw Pact and NATO arrogated unto themself the powers that should best have been vested in the United Nations, is a case in point. Then it came to pass that all of a sudden the Cold War came to an end. While the Warsaw Pact died a natural death, NATO was left in a wilderness of sorts. When the European Union had taken the decision to set up the EU Rapid Reaction Force, it had raised several eyebrows among the International Affairs buffs. Having officiated at the birth of NATO and being one of its recognized godfathers, the Americans too looked askance at this decision of the EU. The decision went against the US’ long held assumption that they (USA that is) should have the decisive say in matters concerned with – among other things – the defense of Europe.
The end of the Cold War was bound to have repercussions of some sort. The European Unionhad been squirming for quite some time to acquire some freedom of maneuver for itself. After some notable successes in the economic field, defense was but the logical next step. The Americans were worried, and justifiably so, that the decision to set up the EU Rapid Reaction Force would pose a threat to NATO primacy in the field of collective defense. On the other hand it was generally recognized at the time as to how long would the European Union be content to confine its foreign policy instruments to an America–dominated alliance.
This is hardly the time to delve into the merits or demerits of the EU decision. What did interest one, though, was what role, if any, might have been envisaged for the Force in international peacekeeping operations. By hindsight, such operations have at best been a mixed blessing. In some instances they have failed miserably to prevent the worst. In others they came into operation so late that the world was left wondering as to their efficacy.
The NATO operations and, subsequently, the EU Rapid Reaction Force gave rise to other question marks too. For one thing, they put the United Nations’ role in peacekeeping into a gray area. After all, peacekeeping was, and should be, one of the principal concerns of the United Nations. This is not to say that the United Nations has exactly covered itself with glory in this particular field.
The events of nine/eleven turned every known paradigm on its head. All Western-oriented Defense Organizations – and NATO in particular – were roped in to do America’s bidding. The United Nations provided the umbrella for the stationing of NATO forces in Afghanistan in an operation that, by no stretch of imagination, can be seen as a peacekeeping venture. And all under the notional command of the United States Armed Forces. The NATO authorities must surely have wondered sometime as to what made then enter into this rather murky situation.
As mentioned earlier, the Charter of the United Nations begins with the words “We, the peoples of the United Nations…”. This connotes a symbolism of sorts that should not be lost on world leaders: that it is all “peoples”- and not just some governments – that form the bedrock of the World Organization. Whether one looks at the peacekeeping role or the economic logjam, one cannot help the feeling that the United Nations, that, as the universal institution having the responsibility to devise worldwide solutions based on equity and rules that are fair to all, has let “the peoples” down.
While on the subject of peacekeeping, one is also tempted to venture the remark that this process should also encompass the ‘establishment of durable peace’. In other words, mere papering over of the cracks can hardly do the trick. Cessation of hostilities should be viewed merely as a first step towards the ultimate goal of am equitable and durable settlement of the dispute. Too often, regrettably, the United Nations has arranged for a ceasefire and then rested on its laurels. Jammu and Kashmir issue is a case in point. In so doing, the International Organization has helped to nurture festering flashpoints the world over.
In order to ensure a peaceful World Order, the United Nations should also have striven to ensure a fair and equitable World Economic Regime. Here too the world body has failed “the peoples of the United Nations”. It needs to be counted among the failures of the United Nations that the international economic assistance regime, instead of assuming the role of healer of the economic ills of the poor, has been given free rein to degenerate into a re-incarnation of the money-lending system of medieval ages, with its built-in inequities. Rather than working towards the general uplift of the living standard of the deprived millions of this planet, the ‘system’ has become a millstone around their collective necks. Instead of freeing them from economic blackmail, it has laid them open to shameless manipulation.
One would risk the charge of over-simplification in suggesting that to make the United Nations effective what is sorely needed is some kind of an ‘enforcement mechanism’. Mere ‘informed debate’, in which our multilateral diplomatists revel, or even high-sounding ‘resolutions’ can hardly deliver, unless they are backed up by a self-executing mechanism to ensure the timely implementation of the decisions of the World Body.
The United States, as the sole superpower, is in a unique position to guide the United Nations to fulfill its noble mission by upholding the human and humane values that all right-thinking peoples of the world hold dear. And let the leaders of the influential countries take a conscious decision to use their collective weight on the side of good and justice and not to allow their vision to be clouded by extraneous and biased considerations. For a change, let ethics rather than expediency be the controlling force behind the actions of the powers that be. “The peoples of the United Nations” deserve no less.