UN birthday – nothing to celebrate?

Image: Wendelin Jacober


The UN created a huge bureaucracy and grew old. From the point of view of ensuring peace, the result is disastrous, despite the efforts

This October 24, 2023, the UN celebrates 78 years of existence. When the UN was created, on 24/10/1945, a French jurist, whose name I don't remember, said the following: “If two small countries go to war, the UN ends the war. If a big country goes to war with a small country, the small country ends. And if two big countries go to war, the UN ends.”

Indeed, from the point of view of peace and security, the UN does not have the power to intervene and end wars. Attempts to negotiate, generally from a humanitarian perspective. Even so, he doesn't always manage to achieve his goal. A good example is Brazil's recent humanitarian proposal in relation to the Hamas x Israel war, which was rejected by the USA. The Security Council, as we know, operates on the basis of unanimous decisions. The permanent members of the Security Council – the US, UK, France, Russia and China – each have the right to veto.

The UN is made up of six main bodies: the General Assembly: security advice: Economic and Social Council: Human Rights Council: Secretariat and the International Court of Justice. In addition to these, there are complementary bodies from all other agencies in the United Nations SystemLike World Health Organization (WHO), the World Food Program (PAM) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), UNESCO etc. The highest position at the UN is General secretary, currently occupied by Portuguese António Guterres 2017 since.

The UN is often criticized for excessive bureaucracy and little impact on people's lives. But the main criticisms refer to its inability to control armed conflicts in numerous parts of the world, in addition to having been subservient to the United States on occasions such as the Iraq War, in which the Americans, even without the entity's approval, attacked and invaded Iraq. Criticism of the UN Security Council highlights the fact that its five permanent members are nuclear powers.

Other critics argue that it is necessary to increase the number of permanent members of the Council, to include non-nuclear powers, aiming at greater democratization of the Organization, as the current temporary election is not enough. The veto power of permanent members is the main target of criticism. The UN rules themselves allow any decision to be overturned only with the veto of one of the permanent members.

The UN does not prevent wars, nor does it manage to impose peace. Even worse: the USA invaded Iraq contrary to the UN decision and nothing happened. According to journalist Dorrit Harazim, citing historians Will and Ariel Durant, co-authors of History of civilization, in the entire history of humanity there has only been no war for a period of 27 years (The Globe, 22/10/2023). In other words, war is the rule, not the exception. In every war, when one country invades another, soldiers rape women and kill civilians. Israeli soldiers did the same in the various invasions of Palestine. In the Vietnam War, American planes bombed villages where there were only women, children and old people, men were fighting in the war. In the invasion of Iraq, the US bombed entire neighborhoods, killing the civilian population. Ditto in Afghanistan.

At the end of the Second World War, with Germany practically defeated, two months before the Soviet army took Berlin, British aviation bombed Dresden without military justification, killing mainly women, children and the elderly, as men, including teenagers, were on the battle fronts. Even worse was the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima (140 deaths) and Nagasaki (70 deaths), with Japan already defeated. As you can see, barbarism is not Hamas's monopoly.

The UN has been criticized as useless. But it is undeniable, for example, his contribution to the fight against hunger by the FAO, the fight against diseases by the WHO and support for children by UNICEF. That's no small feat. It would be a mistake to judge the United Nations solely from the military aspect of security and peace. The UN has played an important role in various sectors such as social, economic, cultural programs, health, childhood, etc.

It is true that the UN has often failed in the search for peace among peoples. But it is also true that the UN was committed to decolonization, development and cooperation between States in the most different areas, such as health and education, science and culture, commerce and industry, etc. And, more recently, it has stood out in proposals to protect the environment and combat climate change. It is important not to forget, however, that the UN is not an autonomous entity that hovers above the will of its Member States. It expresses and decides what its members want, especially the most powerful national states.

In a speech at 78a. UN General Assembly, on 19/10/2023, in New York, President Lula stated that the UN Security Council has been progressively losing its credibility, while inequalities increase. “The world is increasingly unequal, 735 million people are hungry in the world and the Security Council is progressively losing its credibility”, stated Lula in his official speech as President of Brazil. But change in this global governance, if it happens, will take a long time, as countries with veto rights are not willing to give up that power.

There are numerous proposals for UN reform. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has presented proposals to reform the United Nations since the beginning of his mandate in January 2017. These are changes in the areas of Development, Management, and Peace and Security. As stated on 27/11/2018, “The objective of the reform is a XNUMXst century UN, focused more on people and less on processes, more on delivery and less on bureaucracy. The true test of reform will be measured in tangible results in the lives of the people we serve – and in the trust of those who support our work.”

In an article published by the Institute of Advanced Studies at USP, diplomat Celso Amorim stated that the guiding principle of the UN reform is to encourage “a gradual transition towards a more multipolar order, potentially generating greater stability and more diversified opportunities for action diplomatic, with Brazil’s growing relevance on the international scene”. He spoke of principles, but did not make any concrete proposals for UN reform, perhaps out of diplomatic prudence.

The UN is a meeting of National States, whose constitutive principles since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 are territoriality, sovereignty, autonomy and legality. All these principles have been weakened by the process of globalization, of neoliberal dominance, ignoring borders. Electronic communication, drug and weapons trafficking, financial capital, displacement of immigrants, pollution and environmental impacts, climate change, cultural values ​​and fashions, bypass territories, ignoring national sovereignty.

Several authors have analyzed this process. “National identity is in decline, but new – hybrid – identities are taking its place” (Hall, Stuart. Cultural identity in postmodernity, DP&A). “Other identities – ethnic, religious, gender, social class, sexual preference – that are not rooted in attachment to a particular territory become highly significant” (Krause & Reinwick. International Relations and Identities, MacMillan). “The nation’s strength of identity has lost its vigor and today takes refuge in specific areas such as sport, especially football” (Hobsbawn, Eric. Nations and nationalism since 1780, Peace and Earth). Postmodern identities are structured less by the logic of States than by that of markets (Canclini, Nestor. Consumers and citizens: multicultural conflicts of globalization, Editora UFRJ). As can be seen, with the exception of religious fundamentalist groups, in the vast majority of countries, they die for their country (Pro Patria Mori) went out of fashion. Soldiers are compulsorily recruited to fight in wars, and punished for disobedience.

The concept of sovereignty is one of the main foundations of the modern international system. However, the growing interdependence between national societies, the transnationalization process, the role of non-state actors and the large number of issues that go beyond national borders have increasingly weakened the importance of national sovereignty. The weakening of sovereignty and the National State in the face of transnational and subnational bodies is already visible. National States weaken to the extent that they can no longer control dynamics that go beyond their territorial limits (Citizenship and globalization, Liszt Vieira, Editora Record). If we take into account the budget of large transnational companies, most countries have become provinces.

One of the fundamental consequences of globalization is the problematic coexistence between the logic of the territorialized power of the nation-state and that of the increasingly deterritorialized power of globalized capitalism. The ongoing processes of globalization are challenging the political principles of the nation-state, diminishing the importance of borders and shaking the foundations of traditional citizenship. (The Argonauts of citizenship – civil society in globalization, Liszt Vieira, Record).

The decline of the National State has been discussed everywhere. In Brazil, one of the pioneers was Otavio Ianni, for whom the nation-state is suffering a process of obsolescence. National sovereignty “is not simply being limited, but shaken to its core.” According to him, little by little, “global society has subsumed, formally or actually, national society” (Globalization theories, Brazilian Civilization). In practice, proposals for overcoming the limits imposed by sovereignty have the European Union as a model, aiming at the formation of a supranational institutional structure. For this to be possible, a general reform of the UN is necessary, prioritizing the creation of new supranational agencies.

In the same direction, civil society organizations accredited with the United Nations have generally worked to strengthen global Governance, which should not be confused with World Government. It is with this legacy of the last century that the current XNUMXst century faces the long, contradictory and conflictive process of transition from unilateral US hegemony to a world based on multipolarity, without the benefit of an international organization capable of imposing an order with a view to regulation of conflicts and wars between nations.

So, on this 78th birthday, there is not much to celebrate. The UN created a huge bureaucracy and grew old. From the point of view of ensuring peace, the result is disastrous, despite efforts. The wars continue and the UN, paralyzed by the veto rights of the permanent members of the Security Council, has been unable to prevent or negotiate an end to the wars, often not even achieving a truce. From a social point of view, it is fair to recognize the positive role of various UN agencies in the areas of health, childhood, fighting hunger, culture, development, environment, refugees, etc. In other words, the world is very bad with the UN, but perhaps it will be worse without it.

*Liszt scallop is a retired professor of sociology at PUC-Rio. He was a deputy (PT-RJ) and coordinator of the Global Forum of the Rio 92 Conference. Author, among other books, of Democracy reactsGaramond). [https://amzn.to/3sQ7Qn3]

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.

See this link for all articles