United Nations for Peace and International Security

Peter Launsky-Tieffenthall

Peter Launsky-Tieffenthall

The United Nations is an international organization based in New York. Having currently almost 193 member states, namely almost all the world countries, it aims at securing peace and international security, developing international cooperation, and promoting human rights.

Established on 24 October 1945 on the entry into force of the Charter of the United Nations stipulating the legal framework for its operations, it was formed by 51 founding-states, including Poland, which in the post WW II-world wanted to safeguard peace thanks to international cooperation and collective security. Once the UN was established, the League of Nations had ceased to exist, having dissolved and handed over its mission to the new organization.

United Nations

United Nations

Despite not having been able to prevent numerous conflicts and crises from striking the international community, the UN has remained the largest world platform for solving political conflicts. For quite some time criticized for acting superficially, inefficiently, and slowly, it has been struggling with financial difficulties.

Throughout the major part of its history, the organization whose task was to eliminate the disaster of war remained the arena for Cold War conflicts. Two blocs: one headed by the USA, and the second dominated by the USSR, checked each other on the UN forum resorting to their veto, or to the threat of using it, thus paralyzing the organization’s operations.

With time, less spectacular goals, such as promoting social and economic justice, human rights, boosting health, or consolidating cultural and educational cooperation, moved higher on the UN goal priority agenda. However, even the specialized UN Agencies aiming to solve the problems remaining at conflict roots, were affected by the Cold War strategies.

Despite all its weaknesses, the UN led to, e.g., establishing the state of Israel; it joined the US in the war against Northern Korea when the latter attacked Southern Korea; it helped to dissolve colonial empires; and supervised the end of the civil war in Cambodia. The organization also played a major role in ending the Iraqi-Iranian war and assisted in keeping peace in Cyprus, El Salvador, Cambodia, Mozambique, as well as numerous other countries.

On the whole, however, the UN history has been dominated by the East-West confrontation. In the course of the Cold War, UN Secretaries-General were sometimes able to overcome crises, as can be best exemplified with the Burmese U Thant who back in 1962 helped prevent a dangerous confrontation after the USSR had deployed their missiles in Cuba.

With decolonization completed, serving as one of the UN’s major accomplishments, the Third World countries gained the majority in the organization. Moscow often used them in the games against the West. All the USA and its allies could do under the circumstances, was to ‘minimize the losses’, while the American delegates referred to the UN General Assembly as ‘a theatre of the absurd’, also mentioning the ‘tyranny of the majority’.

It was only in 1990 when the Cold War had ended and when the Security Council whose decisions are binding for its member states approved of the use of force to remove the Iraqi troops from Kuwait, that voices could be heard judging the UN as finally demonstrating what it was capable of and acting in compliance with its founders’ intentions.

Meanwhile in former Yugoslavia, Ruanda, Haiti and other conflict-struck zones what dominated at the onset of the post-Cold War era were ethnic conflicts with state structures collapsing. In those cases, however, UN member states were not extremely eager to intervene, as contrary to the times of the Cold War they could not envisage any strategic interests in the regions.

In the 1990s, peace keeping in the old style when UN troops were deployed only once the cease-fire had been concluded, was giving way to a more determined peace-enforcement in which the UN Blue Helmets seemed sometimes more as a fighting party. Meanwhile, the losses incurred by the UN Peacekeeping force, particularly in Somalia, and afterwards Bosnia, triggered debates on whether that world organization was able to carry out similar military interventions.

At the beginning of the new century, the UN was faced with new tasks formulated as Millennium Development Goals whose implementation was declared by 2015. Addressed predominantly to the Third World Countries, they are meant to help them in their development process. As of now, it is already known that the 2015 timeframe will be extremely difficult to meet. The MDGs include: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education;  promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality rates; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; developing a global partnership for development.

The organization has six principal organs: the General Assembly; the Security Council; the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); the United Nations Trusteeship Council; the International Court of Justice; and the Secretariat. Among the above the General Assembly is the most important, as it is the plenary body composed of representatives of all the member states, also enjoying the widest scope of powers; while the Security Council is held most responsible for keeping international peace and security, thus for achieving UN’s major goal.

The Security Council is composed of 15 countries, five of which are its permanent members (world powers with the nuclear potential: US, Russia, China, Great Britain, and France). The remaining 10 states are elected by the General Assembly for 2-year-terms, with additional 5 non-permanent members elected annually. The stepping down member cannot be immediately re-elected. In order to follow appropriate representation, the General Assembly decided in 1963 on the following quotas: 5 seats for African and Asian states; 1 seat for Eastern Europe; 2 seats for Latin America and the Caribbean; with 2 seats reserved for countries from Western Europe and Other regions. Poland was SC’s non-permanent member in: 1946-47, 1960, 1970-71, 1982-83, 1996-97. Currently Warsaw is lobbying for its UN Security Council non-permanent membership in 2018-19.

The UN System also includes task-focused Agencies founded in compliance with Art. 57 of the UN Charter which can deal with economy, social, cultural, educational, and healthcare issues. Such major UN Agencies include: International Labour Organization (ILO); Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development); International Monetary Fund (MFW); World Health Organization (WHO); and World Trade Organization.

In 2001, the UN and its then Secretary-General Kofi Annan were ‘jointly awarded’ the Nobel Peace Prize for their work for human rights and peace in the world.

Karolina Cygonek (PAP) 

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