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Minahil Toor |

Antonio Guterres, became world’s top diplomat on Jan 1, 2017. He has replaced Ban Ki Moon, as UN’s Secretary General and will hold that post for the next five years.

Over the past two decades of inaction and miserable failures, UN has become a boring topic; its mention today makes people sleepy as if being hypnotized. But challenges faced by Guterres will be much different than his predecessor.

When 193 member General Assembly selected Guterres, through a consensus resolution, as UN Secretary General, on the recommendation of Security Council on Oct 6, 2016, he thanked them all and said:

” having been chosen by all Member States, I must be at the service of them all equally and with no agenda but the one enshrined in the UN Charter ” 

And this essentially defines his problem. Guterres inherits challenges and situations created by all those who have unanimously elected him to resolve them – if the theory of UN has to believed.

These moral dilemmas and issues of judgment will test every nerve and every cell in his brain.

His decision making skills are confronted by an unending civil war in Syria, festering Boko Haram conflict in Nigeria, repeat nuclear weapon testing by North Korea, imminent failure of a two state solution in Palestine, mounting human right violations in Indian controlled Kashmir, millions of internally displaced people in middle east alone and hundreds and thousands of refugees heading towards Europe to name just a few.

His decision making skills are confronted by an unending civil war in Syria, festering Boko Haram conflict in Nigeria, repeat nuclear weapon testing by North Korea, imminent failure of a two state solution in Palestine, mounting human right violations in Indian controlled Kashmir, millions of internally displaced people in middle east alone and hundreds and thousands of refugees heading towards Europe to name just a few.

A great political flux

Apart from these visibly bleeding wounds, world today is in a great political flux with the election successes of right wing nationalist politicians throughout the world.

Trump with little understood brain waves, Modi with his right wing Hindu extremist agenda and a Britain under Theresa May threatening to declare a trade war against EU – and lets not forget all those ultranationalist right wing parties across Europe who are sharpening their knives to stab liberal democracy on one or the other pretext.

Fresh journey for UN begins?

A stage is thus set for Guterres to make his name in the UN history. He is expected to not only live up to the inceptive UN slogans for peace and security throughout the world, but also help to redefine a new world order.

One that was defined by the US and its allies after the fall of Berlin wall is coming to an end. The appearance of assertive Russia supported by China and a Europe consumed by its internal squabbles a new one – a new world order – is being shaped.

redefine a new world order – One that was defined by the US and its allies after the fall of Berlin wall is coming to an end; and with the appearance of assertive Russia supported by China and a Europe consumed by its internal squabbles a new one – a new world order – is being shaped.

In some ways, this begins a new fresh journey for the UN, like it was at its creation. The United Nations Organization was created after the conclusion of the Second World War in 1945. It is the successor to the League of Nations, which had been created under the treaty of Versailles, to ensure world peace, after World War I.

The United Nations was formed as a fresh attempt to bring stability to the world. Its interventions in early years, post-war, to intercede, negotiate and restore order were more successful for the world was divided between two seemingly equal power blocs.

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UN peacekeeping forces

One important component of UN has been the setting up of its peacekeeping force. But in last two decades, the examples of successful use of the UN peacekeeping forces can be counted on our fingers. Major violations have occurred during this period about which the UN kept silent or chosen to be inactive.

With the collapse of Soviet Union it was expected that the UN will become more effective, but the opposite happened.

This includes UN’s failed attempts in stopping the Rwandan Genocide, resolving the unrest in Sri Lanka by Tamil Tigers, no significant work done on countering terrorism or on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. In fact it has been embroiled in financial scandals including the one from the sale of Iraq oil for the UN food program.

All these failures by the UN lead to an increasingly important view that the UN cannot bring peace and stability through its forum.

The fact that the UN is the major central repository for all international treaties should ensure its neutrality towards all countries.

Theoretically, international law finding its implications through the structure of UN should oblige its members to abide by its statues.

But practically UN ends up only serving the powerful members of the security council – and those aligned with them. Numerous examples can be taken into account where UN decided to stay silent even though it’s charter was being openly violated.

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For instance, UN has prohibited the use of force for any state. According to the UN charter, if any state requires help for internal terrorism or chaos through intervention of another state, the UN will decree such an option.

Helplessness of UN

But in case of Iraq, during the Second Gulf war, world witnessed the helplessness of UN when, on false and fabricated accusations, the United States and UK – two permanent members of Security Council – sent their troops to Iraq even though the use of force was not sanctioned under the UN charter – one under which Guterres has to work.

Similarly, when UN is the prominent voice for equal rights and duties of states, the concept of Veto Power should become obsolete, since this suggests that the regional hegemons will always remain the most powerful in all political and economic domains. Hence showcasing that the wish list of these influential powers will get implemented.

Therefore, the Security Council must be harmonized in accordance with the international ordinance. Either the exclusivity of Veto Powers be curtailed or it must be extended to all the members of the UN, as they are the representatives of particular regions of the world.

UN role in subcontinent

In the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, we observe how over the years UN has visibly neglected its peace keeping role in the region; be it the human rights violations in Kashmir, the non-resolution of the Indus Basin Treaty violations, leaving Afghan turmoil to the NATO allies discretion and even putting the Afghan refugees issue  on the back burner.

And now for the past several months, since the killing of young Kashmiri insurgent, Burhan Wani, Indian controlled Kashmir has witnessed unprecedented violence unleashed by the state apparatus – including the use of pellets that have blinded hundreds of young men, women and children. Despite some notice by the Geneva based human right bodies of UN, overall secretary council has remained mum. These repeat visible instances of impotency reduce the overall effectiveness of the UN.

We thus witness UN propagating dependence of periphery states over the core countries thereby maintaining the North and South divide in the world.

This is primarily done through the instrument of transnational diplomacy. By this tool of diplomacy, national interests of major powers are fulfilled when conditioned monetary aid is being provided through IMF to periphery states that enables political, economic, social and technological penetration.

Is there any success?

While listing these failures, it cannot be denied that some visible successes like food aid, aid for the refugees, reproductive and population management, prosecution of war crimes, fighting AIDS, eradicating small pox, protecting the ozone layer, running elections in areas of monarchy and dictatorship among others have happened.

However this reflects that while UN structure cannot mediate to reduce conflict at the macro level it has more freedom to alleviate the effects of that conflict.

In view of this we can conclude, that in this present structurally liberal world, UN reflects the assumptions of realism through modified mechanics of influence.

The transnational diplomacy that UN now promotes has shifted the world from a Westphalian structure to a new medieval order, and hence contributes to disruption and unwanted interventions.

While after the collapse of Soviet Union, in a unipolar world, where US and its allies could dictate, UN became weaker and less relevant at the macro-level, now with an assertive Russia backed by an economic giant – China – UN may again find its lost role: of mediation between warring interest.

It is only if the International Law is given more of a binding nature by UN, that we can enhance cordial relations among developing and developed countries.

While after the collapse of Soviet Union, in a unipolar world, where US and its allies could dictate, UN became weaker and less relevant at the macro-level, now with an assertive Russia backed by an economic giant – China – UN may again find its lost role: of mediation between warring interest.

It remains to be seen if Antonio Guterres and his team will be able to capitalize on this new historic opportunity. His challenge to test his ‘balancing act’ can begin from Syria.

Minahil Toor is President of the International Relations Club at the Kinniard College for Women, Lahore. 

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