United Nations – an uneven terrain of power structure and execution

The United Nations Charter promulgates that the organisation is a place for conflict resolution, where political and territorial disputes are resolved in a peaceful manner.

It is also an organisation that works towards reducing the social and economic disparities and inequalities among nations, ensuring that justice prevails in resolving political and economic differences.

At the same time, its Charter mandates that the United Nations maintains international peace and security, upholds international law, and strives for economic prosperity for all citizens, while addressing economic, social, and health problems, and promoting international respect for fundamental human rights.

It also mediates disputes, authorises economic, diplomatic, and military sanctions, as well as the use of force for peace-keeping, and to reconcile disputes.

The United Nations has been relatively successful in fulfilling some of these mandates through its specialised agencies, such as the World Bank, World Health Organisation, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Culture Organisation (Unesco) and United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

It has also been steadfast in peace-keeping and applying economic and military sanctions, especially on Third World countries, and in countries like Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, that the superpowers (some permanent members of the Security Council) regard as rogue nations that do not submit to their agenda.

The dominance of the superpowers in major United Nations resolutions is because of the uneven administrative and enforcement structure within the UN.

The Security Council, which is one of the six principal bodies of the United Nations, consists of five permanent members with veto powers – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America – with 10 elected members (for a two-year term). The Council is empowered to investigate and mediate disputes, and to authorise economic, diplomatic, and military sanctions, and the use of force to resolve disputes.

It is the only United Nations body with the authority to issue binding resolutions on member states.

Another one of the six principal organs of the United Nations is the General Assembly. The Assembly deliberates on policies and issues brought up by member states, and serves as a forum for world leaders to enunciate their positions on pertinent issues that affect the wellbeing of the world.

It can make any recommendation within the purview of the United Nations, except for matters of peace and security, which are under the purview of the Security Council.

Most of the General Assembly resolutions are not binding, as it lacks enforcement powers. It, however, has the authority to approve the budget and can elect members to its various bodies, such as the President of the General Assembly, 10 non-permanent members to the Security Council, the Human Rights Council, and the International Court of Justice.

The real power of the United Nations lies in the Security Council, especially among its five permanent members who can veto any substantive resolutions passed by the General Assembly that could prevent action against itself.

Russia’s veto of the United States’-sponsored Security Council resolution condemning the referendum on annexing several Russia-occupied regions of the Ukraine is a perfect example of that power.

At the same time, the United States and the United Kingdom had, on numerous occasions, vetoed the General Assembly’s resolution condemning Israel’s atrocities and illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories.

The power structure of the United Nations favours the five permanent members of the Security Council who hold sway over the other member states, some of which would align themselves with any one of the five permanent members, depending on the issues at hand.

Others are permanently subservient to some of them, as in the case of Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Japan. Several Nato countries are permanently aligned with the United States and the United Kingdom.

Israel is a classic example of a nation favored by three permanent members of the Security Council, namely the United States, Britain, and France. The three of them, especially the United States, had on numerous occasions, vetoed resolutions condemning Israel. And Israel, emboldened by this support, has continuously spurned or ignored the General Assembly resolutions condemning its atrocities and genocide against the Palestinian people.

This uneven power and enforcement structure within the United Nations is undemocratic and prejudiced towards developing and underdeveloped Asian and African nations.

The need to review this power structure has been mentioned several times in the United Nations General Assembly meeting by world leaders.

Former Malaysian prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad deliberated on it during his address to the General Assembly. Recently, the same issue was raised by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

However, Ismail Sabri spoke in Malay, which is not one of the six official working languages of the United Nations, the others being Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.

Ismail Sabri delivering his address to the General Assembly in Bahasa Melayu on Sept 24, 2022.

Thus, Ismail Sabri’s speech in Malay would not be officially translated into the six official languages of the United Nations, except through Malaysia’s own interpreters. It is hoped that Ismail Sabri’s message would have been communicated to the other world leaders. Otherwise, it would have been an exercise in futility.

Issues on Palestine, the Rohingya and others impacting Third World countries raised during the United Nations General Assembly were noted but without any immediate or concrete action, unless they directly affected the interests of the permanent members and their allies, as in the case of Ukraine.

The United Nations was quick to react to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with resolution ES-11/1 condemning Moscow’s military actions and demanding for the full and unconditional withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.

Together with Nato countries, the West sent military aid to Ukraine. The International Court of Justice, which is usually sluggish or reticent to act against the permanent members and their allies, was quick to respond to investigate Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

But there were no such swift actions on the Rohingya genocide perpetrated by the military junta of Myanmar. Only lip service and weak diplomatic initiatives because presumably, the victims are non-whites and non-Christians, unlike the Ukrainians.

Likewise, the perennial plight and suffering of the Palestinian people committed by Israel remains unresolved because of the connivance of the United States and Britain in condoning such atrocities despite several United Nations resolutions on this matter.

There is a need for reforms within the United Nations to make it truly a democratic organisation that is not structured to merely serve the interests of the rich and powerful, but to serve equitably the needs of all nations, and ensure a dignified existence without consideration to race, sex, language, or religion, as enshrined in its Charter.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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