United Nations Essay, Research Paper
The United Nations turns fifty-five this year and, like many individuals facing middle age, it worries about the future. Created as a bold experiment in collective security amid the ruins of World War II, the U.N. has many accomplishes to its credit, from successfully mediating numerous peace accords to the countless ways it has improved economic and living conditions in less developed countries.
When the leaders toasted the U.N.’s past accomplishes in 1995, the primary topic behind the scenes was what was to be done about the U.N.’s current travails in the former Yugoslavia. As they celebrate this year, might the topic be on how they failed and had to have the North Atlantic Treaty Organization take over the peacekeeping forces and bombing raids?
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The civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina is now over, but the U.N. peacekeepers were powerless to stop the aggression of Bosnian Serbs against the majority Muslim population. Images of blue-helmeted U.N. solders taken hostage by Serb forces have cast a pall on the world body’s anniversary events.
The failure of the U.N. peacekeeping mission to Bosnia has called into question the very heart of the organization’s mandate. It also had precipitated a political crisis in Washington.
Neither Congress nor the White House wanted to send U.S. ground troops to Bosnia. But Congress had approved legislation requiring that the president unilaterally end U.S. participation in a U.N.-imposed arms embargo against all parties to the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. (1) Congressional supporters said that the policy sift was needed to permit the beleaguered Muslims to defend themselves against the well-armed Serbs. President Clinton vetoed the legislation on August 11, 1995, saying it “would intensify the fighting, jeopardize diplomacy and make the war in Bosnia an American responsibility.”
The Bosnian crisis had reinvigorated a longstanding debate in the United States about using the United Nations to achieve U.S. foreign policy goals. The Clinton administration, through its policy of assertive multilateralism,” has tried to increase American participation in the U.N. Clinton argued that the U.S., as the world’s sole remaining superpower, cannot afford to assume the role of global cop and must act in concert with other powers in the multilateral body to keep the peace. (2)
Supporters of a strong U.N. agree with this assessment. “You may not like the U.N., but the truth is that some kind of organization of this kind is absolutely vital,” says Brian Urquhart, a British scholar at the Ford Foundation in New York who began his forty-year career as chief aide to U.N. secretaries-general at the organization’s founding in 1945. “We really don’t need a third world war the prove that.”
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Supporters say the crisis in Bosnia should not detract from the U.N.’s successes. “There is a lot of shared embarrassment in the mess that is the dormer Yugoslavia,” says Edward C. Luck, president of the United Nations Association of the United States, a New York-based research and educational organization. “But no one is paying attention to the new U.N. peacekeeping operations in Angola and Haiti, which are unfolding on a very businesslike basis.”
For U.N. peacekeeping to work, Luck says, “you have to have consent and cooperation” from all parties, which is the case in Angola and Haiti. In Bosnia, however, “everyone thinks they have more to gain on the battlefield, and no one is really ready for peace, so [peacekeeping is] just not going to work.”
Even some of the U.N.’s harshest critics think the international body is being blamed unfairly for the failure to bring peace to Bosnia. “In some ways, the strongest supporters of the United Nations have been the organization’s worst enemy,” says Ted Galen Carpenter, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. “They’ve tried to have it do too much. They’ve tried to have the organization perform functions for which it was never designed.”
“There is a curious attempt to use the United Nations as a scapegoat,” Carpenter adds, “as though it were truly an independent actor, as though the U.N. were responsible for what has occurred in Bosnia. In truth, it’s mainly the five permament members of the Security Council and what they are asking the United Nations to do.”
“If Bosnia proves anything,” Urquhart says, “it has proved that the Western allies don’t have the stomach for fighting. But what else is new? Of course they don’t”
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Where friends and critics of the U.N. part ways is over the organization’s proper role in world affairs. Critics say the crisis in Bosnia is only the latest failure among many. “If you look at the ups and downs at the U.N. over the past fifty years, it started with very high promise, but got locked into the Cold War gridlock very early,” says John Bolton, assistant secretary of State for international organizations in the Bush administration and now president of the National Policy Forum, a Republican think tank in Washington.
In Bolton’s view, the U.N. can point to only one great military success—the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when the Security Council supported the U.S.-led military coalition that successfully repelled Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. That victory, Bolton says, led to unwarranted expectations of what the U.N. could accomplish in the post-Clod War era. “Now,” he says, “there was a sort of sour, moody environment at the fiftieth anniversary that was a result of earlier, misplaced euphoria.”
For the U.N. to work effectively, experts agree, it must undergo reforms to strengthen its power to influence events given the new political realities. With the world no longer divided into two blocs supporting the United States or the Soviet Union, conflicts are breaking out between rival ethnic and religious groups. Bosnia, Rwanda, and Somalia are but a few examples of what many experts predict will be the scourge of coming years—highly lethal, localized civil wars between groups bent on their rivals’ extinction.
“One of the major obstacles to successful operation of the U.N. in the 1990s is the rapid, almost overnight, change in its responsibilities that occurred with the end of Cold War,” says Dick Thornburgh, a former governor of Pennsylvania (1979-87) and former U.S. attorney general (1988-91) who served as U.N. under secretary-general for administration and management in 1992-93.
“For the first forty-five years of its existence, the U.N.’s operational responsibilities were very much limited by the confrontation of the two superpowers,” Thornburgh says. “Then, almost overnight, it was asked to become operational in a wide variety of situations around the world, becoming a kind of worldwide 911 emergency number, and it was simply not geared up for that kind of activity either in terms of resources or in terms of mindset. Those growing pains are still evident.”
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To deal with the changing international realities, reformers say, the United Nations must become more efficient, shedding redundant and marginal agencies. It also must face up to its increasingly vocal critics, who say the organization squanders its 185 members’ contributions through corruption and mismanagement of its vast bureaucracy.
“Purely and simply,” Thornburgh says, “people are not as much interested in supporting an organization that doesn’t have a capability to deal with allegations of fraud, waste, and abuse as they would be if that were in place.”
But for all the talk about reform, little has been done. Luck of the United Nations Association attributes this paralysis to inaction by the member states, including the United States. “People talk about reforming the U.N., but in terms of really putting forward a concerted program and working at it the way you have to work to make things happen here, the United States hasn’t done much,” he says. “It’s been mostly talk and a couple of gestures here and there.”
Before the United Nations can become the efficient organization its supporters what it to be, its members must agree on what role they want it to play. “They’ve got to ask themselves whether the governments are their brothers’ keepers or not,” Urquhart says. “My view is that they are, because the people won’t let them not be. But the trouble is, nobody wants to really put the capacity in the United Nations to make it real.”
As policy-makers look back over the past half-century of U.N. activities and debate the future of American involvement in the organization, they will consider the following issues:
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Does the United Nations have a role to play in the post-Cold War era?
For most of its history, the U.N.’s peacekeeping role was restricted by the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Allies in World War II, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. became rival superpowers on the strength of their growing nuclear arsenals and created alliances that divided most of the world into opposing camps. While regional conflicts raged throughout the postwar period, it was the dread of tripping a nuclear holocaust, rather than the peacekeeping authority of the U.N., that prevented the outbreak of a third world war.
With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, the nuclear competition came to an end –as did the global order imposed by the Cold War. No longer constrained by alliances with one or the other superpower, ethnic and religious tensions flared into open combat from the republics of the former Soviet Union to Africa, while regional powers lashed out against their neighbors. At the same time, the United States was eager to shed its Cold War defense burden and tend to its worsening budget deficit.
Under these circumstances, hopes ran high that the United Nations could finally assume the central role its founders had defined for it in 1945—to be the world’s preeminent peacekeeper and a mediator by giving all members a forum for airing their grievances. (3) When Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the U.N. found an ideal opportunity to fulfill its mission. Led by the United States, a U.N.- sanctioned multinational force repelled the invaders in early 1991 and oversaw the cease-fire and the restoration of Kuwait’s boundaries.