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The United Nations: What Went Wrong?

Last updated on January 28, 2023

Phrases such as “The United Vacations” popularized in Venezuela, which encapsulate international resentment towards historical inaction and abuse, have some justification: the United Nations’ structural failures enabled the genocide in Rwanda, cholera in Haiti, and atrocities in Xinjiang – among other catastrophes. 

The United Nations’ irresponsibility under these pressing circumstances has stemmed from a lack of sufficient motivation to cooperate in a meaningful and thorough manner. The corrupt power dynamics which fuel this are not confined to the United Nations alone: within interactions inside and outside of official multilateral bodies, it has long been the case that select powerful nations such as the United States, Russia, and China dominate the decision-making process. Less influential countries are often offered very little power concerning global decisions, and there is insufficient incentive to cater to their interests. 

As a consequence, multilateral peace mechanisms fail when powerful countries’ own interests are not at stake. This has, for instance, allowed for the circumvention of the UN Charter. Fundamental human rights are left vulnerable when their protection is inconvenient, destroying these institutions’ reputations as champions of equal protection. This also discourages countries from aligning with global interests, simply because those interests lack credibility.

When utilized correctly, however, the United Nations and similar global institutions serve as avenues for global dialogue, conflict resolution, and unity, bridging the divide between national goals and the advancement of humanity as a whole. Thus, in the face of global conflict and climate change, it is crucial to amend this representation issue and bolster internationalism. 

The global community should equalize power within multilateral institutions by incentivizing dialogue and limiting the power of select countries. Amnesty International notes that the five permanent members of the security council “promote their political self-interest or geopolitical interest above the interest of protecting civilians.” The United Nation’s P5 veto power should be removed with cases of human rights violations: vetos currently create paralysis when humanitarian crises such as the Rwandan genocide demand a response. 

Furthermore, many civil wars continue after peacekeeping initiatives such as those of the United Nations leave countries with unrest. This is why such initiatives should encourage the pursuit of “bottom-up” strategies, prioritizing the research of a population’s specific needs to build sustainable and long-term peace.

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