Towards a more effective UN with powers of enforcement

Dealing with breakdowns the world over

The perception has been growing across the world that there is something wrong with the way things are being done all over the planet.

America has just come out from a potential debt default which could have had catastrophic global consequences, thanks to a handful of Republicans focussed on partisan considerations. Iranians have just sat around the table in Geneva after over three decades of quasi-isolation in a bid to sort out the Iranian nuclear threat which had the potential to unleash a global war with Israel’s persistence to go and hit targets within Iran. A second meeting with the European Union is scheduled in a fortnight’s time in a bid to solve this thorny issue.

In Syria and other Middle East countries, the political crisis is far from resolved. But the threat of a military strike whose consequences could have been even more difficult to predict than what went on in Afghanistan during the past 10 years, was averted thanks to the acceptance by the Syrian regime that the UN set out to dismantle its chemical weapons.

The world has been and remains nevertheless in a state of turmoil. We do not know where the next conflagration will erupt from and whether it will have global implications. Chaos can erupt today in any part of the world on any unsatisfied claim by select groups being unhappy at being denied the order of things they believe in. This state of affairs is generally attributed to a lack of effective political leadership in both individual countries and at the global level. Many go back in nostalgia to a world in which leaders of society were more altruistic than what we see today. Many don’t find the fairness they had expected at the end of the tunnel after making the painstaking efforts they were required to make to get out of their under-development.

Yet the fact that there is general dissatisfaction with the current state of things, as they’ve been unfolding, holds out a promise of better things to come. We mustn’t forget that we’ve evolved out of a crude feudal society in which the individual had barely any rights other than what the feudal lord would be pleased to grant him under laws made to suit his own convenience.

From here, we’ve landed into democracy, a form of government Winston Churchill praised for having its own failings but better than anything else we have invented to govern society so far. Leaders are being made more accountable than ever they’ve been in different parts of the world. There may be shaky coalitions in places (e.g., Italy, Greece) but they are inching slowly towards solutions.

The world today is much more complicated than the world of yesterday. Things that were never social issues of great importance e.g., gay marriage, have to be formally dealt with in certain societies. No doubt, the variety of claims and counter-claims end up in perpetual tensions of one sort or another on the face of the globe. New problems will keep cropping up.

It is evident that growing populations the world over and intense industrial activities on a scale heretofore unknown have been putting a strain upon resources. For example, all this activity has been taking a heavy toll on the availability of water across various parts of the world. Predictions are already on for the coming “water wars” among nations. Faced with a drastic reduction in its water supply, China has a plan to divert water resources from the Tibetan plateau to itself. Its neighbours might have to bear the consequences.

All these problems will be addressed, no doubt, one way or the other. There may be gainers and losers across the planet. Those who will see more clearly into emerging problems and take steps in anticipation to deal with them effectively will save themselves. But it is not a question of who survives and who doesn’t. The best thing would have been to act in the best interests of the planet as a whole and to get a clear sense of direction which brings comfort into the hearts of all.

We’ve seen how artificial constructs such as the G7, then the G8 and now the G20, set up to avoid making the big countries accountable before a wider and more inclusive forum, such as the United Nations, have petered out on their specific agendas. By using all sorts of tricks, such as unfair representation of the bigger powers on the UN Security Council or keeping the UN budget under tight control, the big powers have managed to reduce the UN’s role where it matters most, only to keep those roles to themselves with the help of institutions they have under their own control, e.g., the World Bank, the IMF.

But the fact of having had the UN still as a global forum has nevertheless served to defuse dangerous tensions, bring conflicts fomented by power-seekers under control and, more than anything else, kept up the hopes of humanity of a better tomorrow. Where single nations cannot step in to separate warring factions within countries or between countries, the UN has proved to be able to keep tensions on hold duly mandated by the concert of nations represented in it.

One has a feeling that the global division of power, in its vastly polarised form of the past, is coming to an end. America has clearly indicated that it is not equipped to intervene in a hotspot such as Syria, especially after the years of waste it has encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan. The other side of the global divide of past years, notably communism, doesn’t have the global appeal it once had as a counterforce against wild capitalism.

This situation could have become an occasion for more moderate countries of the world help expand the role of a global body like the UN and its various emanations in different fields of endeavour. The UN could take on a more independent and assertive alternative credible roles at the level of the planet instead of leaving it all to the rich countries solely to determine the course humanity should take. If this is an acceptable plan, countries will have to resolve among them how to move on from the ungoverned entities they tend to become with the passage of time to becoming more responsible and credible countries at the global level having the moral strength to enforce high standards of conduct and a more balanced world economic order across the world than what we’ve seen in the past.

For too long, countries that had this potential have left this role to the superpowers with the consequences that we know. Moreover, for the world to become a multipolar and better governed place, such countries will have to put up the money it requires to run an otherwise more effective UN with powers of enforcement. Experience shows that this could be the next stage to evolve towards instead of accepting to be under the tutelage of ‘big brother’ all the time.

* Published in print edition on 18 October 2013

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