We Should Rethink the UN

William Hudson ’24


It’s time to replace the United Nations

After the disastrous Second World War and the League of Nations’ failure to stop it, world leaders created a new multinational organization: the United Nations (UN). The UN, like its predecessor, aims to prevent wars by encouraging international dialogue, safeguarding human rights, and seeking collaborative development. However, also like its predecessor, it fails to achieve these goals due to its dysfunctional constitution and lack of legitimacy. The key issues with the UN include its inability to substantially influence member nations, its lack of influence, and the Security Council veto.

The UN is unable to influence the decisions of member nations. It cannot pass legally binding legislation or penalize nations for ignoring the rulings of the International Court of Justice. For a group meant to arbitrate the highest-stakes relationships on the planet, this is unacceptable.

Countries, even democracies like the United States, routinely ignore resolutions, disregard the UN Charter, and refuse to cooperate knowing they will not be penalized. Recent instances of disregard for the laws of the UN include the American invasion into Iraq and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Both violated the UN Charter and have been condemned by the General Assembly. Condemnation is inadequate to deter nations from advancing illegal foreign policies: enforcement is also essential.

The UN has 193 member states — countries that pledge to uphold the Charter. Allowing states to remain in the UN while they violate the Charter is implicit endorsement of their actions, especially when condemnation is minimal or absent. Furthermore, allowing authoritarian governments to vote on resolutions which democratic nations hold themselves to and permitting dictators to speak in the General Assembly is simply embarrassing.

Events organized by the UN are a fantastic place to set empty promises. Especially in the case of climate change, nations are expected to set goals but only a few journalists attempt to hold countries accountable for exaggerated promises and those made in bad faith.

Finally, veto privileges have been a longstanding issue for the UN Security Council. Five nations, the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, France, and China, were given the unrestricted ability to block any resolution in the Security Council. Over the course of the Cold War (1949-89), and continuing today, the United States and the Soviet Union were able to split the UN using this extreme power, slowing progress, and even preventing intervention. This practice has continued long after the end of the Cold War

Recently, Russia used its veto power to prevent the Security Council from moving to halt the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A vote in the General Assembly to condemn the attack is a step in the right direction but is immaterial, demonstrating the sweeping power of the veto.

The UN is a dysfunctional international organization. It lacks the ability to hold nations accountable, it embarrassingly honours the votes of authoritarians, and it maintains an outdated veto privilege which continues to let its holders tear the world apart. Due to these issues, a serious review of the UN is in order, as is the support of a more balanced international body.

Photo Credit: Barry Tuck/Shutterstock

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