September 2, 2011 Leave a comment
Most of us in the Western world have learnt in school that the UN is an impartial global organization, where all countries get representation, which was formed after World War II for the purpose of providing a framework for talks between countries to ultimately prevent international conflicts.
Grasping the work of the UN is not an easy task, as it is a convoluted organization made up from many offices, committees and specialized bodies. The major building blocks are the different departments most known are probably the General Assembly, Security Council and International Court of Justice (in the Hague). However it also includes the Secretariat, Economic and Social Council and Specialised Institutions. Under these departments operate numerous bodies, for example the Human Rights Council (HRC), World Food Program (WFP), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and over ten more. In a similar way, there are councils under the other departments, such as the Military Staff Committee under the Security Council …etc. Working along the different parts of the UN are specialized bodies such as the famous International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and many more.
It is not unreasonable to assume that anyone not working in the UN or studying the UN is unlikely to understand all the different bodies and where they are in the hierarchy. Since the mainstream media has to avoid reporting too much information or topics which lack interest, the result is scarce reporting on the UN. However despite the little reporting most understand the basic function of the UN, which is that different country delegations vote on decisions whether a topic should be researched and later whether it should be addressed and how. For example, the UN General Assembly could vote to deploy the World Food Programme on a hunger stricken country and later vote again to increase the budget, based on the WFP findings.
The funding for the UN is made by its members and currently most of the budget comes from the US (22%), followed by Japan (12.5%), Germany (8%), UK (6%) …etc. The amount paid to the UN does not give the members any more power as all votes are equal, however there are 5 countries that wield the veto power in the Security Council (US, UK, Russia, France and China), which is an extremely powerful tool, as the recognition of countries and military actions are decided within that council.
While the members of the UN are not elected in the same way as our local politicians and therefore do not have to campaign to the public and gather votes, unfortunately, it still relies on voting as a way of operating. As a consequence alliances and dirty politics to secure votes is still very much part of the game. It creates strange alliances not dissimilar to local politics, for example like the UK’s Liberal Democrats from the far left, who have joined power with right wing conservatives to gain a majority on votes in the coalition, despite Labour being the Liberal Democrats natural partner. Similar behaviour could be viewed in the UN, where different countries have created a voting coalition against a common “opponent”.
While there is nothing illegal about the voting alliances, there is a lot to say about the morality, which is expected to be held at the UN and the consequential diversion from its goal. One of the most noticeable examples is the Human Rights Council, who managed to condemn the violence in Syria only on the 23rd of August, after over 1000 civilians were killed by the army. Strangely, China, Russia, Cuba and Ecuador still voted against the decision, while other countries insisted on the watering down of the condemnation, before agreeing to vote in favour. A look at the trading agreements and investment between the countries in question, may help to explain the dubious decision to vote against condemnation.
Just as the UN various bodies are not immune from perversion of justice, accordingly they employ research bodies that follow their politics and do not always adhere to the highest professionalism. A famous case is Richard Falk and his bias against US and Israel politics, which despite outrages statements has not suffered any consequences. In the Op-Ed, in which Richard Goldstone has retracted some of the allegations made against Israel, he clearly stated that the research done was not thorough and contradicted facts that later became available through by other independant means.
Another example of self-interest voting results in the repeated vilification of Israel in the UN. While Israel is a democracy defending itself with a relatively low number of deaths and numerous evidence of taking measures to protect civilian lives, it is routinely criticized in the UN. There is no argument that Israel should be criticized for mistakes and taken to court for deliberate wrongdoing, however, it is perplexing that so much emphasis is put on Israel, when there are so many tyrannies and conflicts around the world with a significantly higher death toll (refer to the table on this page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ongoing_military_conflicts).
Other than the notoriously biased HRC there are plenty more examples of double standards in the UN and a deeper examination would reveal a clear pattern of a Communist-Arab block that repeatedly votes against Israel and the US, while protecting its members, often dictatorships allowing very little freedom. This alliance makes any vote doomed from the start, as the contents plays a small part, what matters is who is in the voting panel and who would benefit from the outcome.
However despite the troubling politics, the UN is also responsible for a great deal of positive impact around the world through its organization such as the World Food Programme, UNICEF and others. The UN has funded many laudable ventures helping nations in need, as well as maintaining or preventing conflict.
It is very important therefore to maintain the UN for all its good, but at the same time scrutinize it, as one should scrutinize any political body. The organization UN Watch (unwatch.org) has been extremely good at not letting some hypocrisy or controversy go unnoticed. However the difficulty of addressing or bettering the situation remains, since the delegates are not elected and little can be done to remove them.
Only time will tell, whether the UN will make itself irrelevant by making unacceptable decisions prompting its funders to pull their money away and consequently its power would be diminished, or whether the changing of the world economics would bring new funders to the tables, which would ultimately change the tone of the UN accordingly. The third option of course is that delegates serving in different bodies, would vote based on the values the committees demand them to uphold and leave their country politics behind, however this looks like the most unlikely scenario.