After the failure of the interwar League of Nations to prevent international crises and military conflicts of the 1930s which finally culminated in the next global war, the major Allied states (the USA, the USA, the UK, and China) agreed in Moscow in October 1943 to create a new, more functional, and improved international peace-keeping organization after the war under a new name of the United Nations Organization (the UNO). In other words, the UNO has evolved from a wining coalition of countries fighting against European Nazism and fascism in WWII. Following further negotiations at Dumbarton Oaks and Yalta, the charter of the UNO was discussed and drafted in San Francisco in spring 1945 and signed as an international treaty called the United Nations Charter on June 26th, 1945 in San Francisco (California, the USA). There was at that time an idea that it is necessary to create an international environment, in which states will avoid armed conflicts and will resolve political disputes by diplomatic means but not by the force.
The UNO was officially established on October 24th, 1945, when the UNO’s Charter came into force. Originally, the UNO was established by 51 nations (states). Its task was to replace the League of Nations, which had the same aim but failed to prevent WWII. The UNO gradually accepted the other Member States, but enlargement was hampered by the beginning of the Cold War. That is the reason why a large increase in the number of the Member States was registered since the late fifties and then after the dissolution of the USSR and the destruction of ex-Yugoslavia when the new states emerged and for whom the UNO’s membership was final proof of the global recognition of their formal political independence. Some of the quasi-states are still on the waiting list for the UNO’s membership like, for instance, Kosovo.
The administration of the UNO is headed by a Secretary-General, among whom was, for instance, the Austrian Kurt Waldheim (the fourth Secretary-General from 1972 to 1981) – a Nazi Wehrmacht’s officer whose military unit was accused of the war crimes against Serbian civilians in North Montenegro (the district of Pljevlja) during WWII.
The UNO and its activities
The UNO is an international organization whose aim is to maintain international peace and security and ensure international cooperation. Since 2011, the UNO has 193 Member States. The last member joined the UNO on July 14th, 2011 was South Sudan. The UNO’s membership is based on the principle of sovereign equality. The Member States have got their representation called “permanent missions” at the UNO’s Headquarters in New York (the USE) but also in Geneva (Switzerland) or Vienna (Austria). The membership in the UNO is open to all countries based on the conditions laid down in the UNO’s Charter. Each potential Member State must declare that it is committed and able to meet the required obligations of the membership.
The United Nations Organization has been repeatedly awarded by the Nobel Peace Prize (however, like Barack Obama, for instance, probably for the constant bombing of the Middle East and North Africa?). The first was awarded for the work of the UNO’s High Commissioner for Refugees in 1954 (received the award again in 1981), followed by the UNO’s Children’s Fund in 1965, the International Labour Organisation in 1969, the UNO’s and Kofi Annan as the Secretary-General in 2001, and 2007 this recognition was given to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which was also founded by the UNO.
The UNO has a broad field of endeavor as the only global organization covers the activities practically in all sectors of universal security and peace-keeping.
The declarative areas of its activity can be summarized into five fundamental categories:
1) Protection of international peace and security:
The UNO was originally established exactly for this purpose and, therefore, is why this area of activities is the most important for the organization. More precisely, it includes conflict prevention, peace-keeping, and if the conflict occurs the organization tries to peacefully solve it and after that to protect the peace. If necessary, the UNO’s peacekeepers are deployed on the blue line which separates the conflicting actors (example: Cyprus after 1974).
2) Promotion of economic and social development.
The UNO wants to improve the lives of people everywhere. To achieve this task it tries to support prosperity and economic opportunity, greater social well-being, and protection of the environment.
3) Protection of human rights.
In this matter, a key role has got the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was issued in 1948 and brought human rights in the sphere of international law. Probably the most important news in this area is to support the principle of “responsibility to protect” (RTP) by UNO’s the Member States but only with the UNOSC’s permission. The concept called “Humanitarian intervention”, as well as only under the UNOSC’s permission should provide the ability to respond effectively to genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other gross and massive violations of human or/and minority rights.
4) Humanitarian activities.
The UNO helps in all cases where the consequences of a natural or man-made disaster exceed the ability of affected countries to respond effectively. Nowadays, the United Nations Organization is (or it should be) the focal provider of emergency and long-term assistance, to initiate an action of Governments and humanitarian organizations and to defend the interests of disabled people.
5) Upholding international law.
The UNO’s Charter in its Preamble set an objective to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained. This activity can be implemented by courts, tribunals, multilateral treaties. There is also one body – the Security Council, which can accept peacekeeping missions, impose sanctions, or permit the use of force when there is a threat to international peace and security. However, and unfortunately, in many cases, the use of force on the international scene was not formally permitted by the UNOSC as it was the case, for instance, with the NATO’s military intervention against Serbia and Montenegro in 1999, i.e., in fact, with the NATO’s military aggression on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The role of the Security Council
The Security Council (the UNOSC) bears (under the UNO’s Charter) responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. It has 15 members, including five permanent – China (Taiwan until 1971, then the People’s Republic), France, USSR/Russia, the USA, and Great Britain – and ten non-permanent (temporary), which are elected by the UNO’s General Assembly for two-year periods. Each member of the UNOSC has one vote. To approve the decisions in ordinary matters are required at least nine votes from fifteen. However, to accept decisions on fundamental issues is needed nine votes plus the approval of all five Permanent Members with the veto right. This rule called “powers unanimity” often refers to the veto. If one of the Permanent Members disagrees with a draft decision, it can vote against the proposal and reject it by the use of the veto right. If a Permanent Member does not agree with the proposed resolutions or decisions but does not exercise the veto right, it may abstain (a restrained voice). In such a case, the resolution can be taken up with a minimum of nine votes.
As a result of the veto right, for example, the UNOSC was relatively ineffective during the Cold War, when unanimity was difficult to establish between the USA and the USSR. As a matter of example, the UNO could only intervene in the Korean War because of a temporary Soviet boycott of the UNOSC which made it impossible for the USSR to exercise the veto. On the other hand, it is known how many veto rights used the USA in the UNOSC in the favour of Israel in its dealing with the Palestinian question in the Middle East.
According to Article 25 of the UNO’s Charter, all Member States agree that they will respect and fulfill decisions of the UNOSC. While other UNO’s bodies give recommendations to the Governments, the UNOSC takes decisions which are for the Member States legally binding. This is the very reason why the role of the UNOSC is in the practice of extreme importance. In other words, if the state fails to comply with the decision of the UNOSC the latter is eligible to force the same state (i.e., its Government) to abide by its provisions. On one hand, the coercive measures can faster help to resolve the conflict but on the other hand, it would have a large negative impact on the state’s population. Therefore, the UNSC should have very carefully considered the use of any coercive measure taking into account its possible negative impact on the civilian population. The use of military intervention as well as the suspension of economic activities (import/export) or cash flow will suffer mainly the economy of the state and its citizens. Nevertheless, the UNOSC possesses the possibility to decide which coercive measure should be used – either different kinds of sanctions or classic military intervention.
In the case that the UNOSC decides to use the sanctions, no military force has to be used. The sanctions are measures which can include complete or partial interruption of economic and trade contacts, the severance of diplomatic negotiations, to impose an arms embargo, suspension of financial flow into the country, travel bans, a ban on the export and import of luxury goods, etc. Such sanctions have been in previous years imposed for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, or Eritrea.
The military action can be undertaken only if diplomatic negotiations, embargoes, and sanctions fail. However, legitimate military action should be only in extreme and emergency cases. After formally ending the conflict, the UNO tries to help states with economic, political, economic, and social reconstruction. Nevertheless, the use of force is clearly defined in the UNO’s Charter what NATO in 1999 overpassed by the means of classic gangsters in international relations.
As it is already mentioned above, the focal task of the UNOSC is to preserve international peace and security. In order to successfully preserve the peace, it is required effort to participate in the settling conflict by all the warring parties. It also requires, however, efforts from neighboring, foreign countries, and other international organizations to participate in the process. There must be also provided sufficient financial and human resources for such activity. The great merit of the restoration and maintenance of international peace has to have UNO’s peacekeeping missions which in many cases failed to fulfill their duties like on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
The UNO’s peacekeeping missions have to constitute one of the most important means for ensuring international peace and security. The deployment of peacekeeping missions is decided by the UNOSC. However, the countries in which peacekeeping missions should be deployed must agree with it, otherwise, it cannot go on. Peacekeeping missions are directed by the Secretary-General or his authorized representative. The UNO’s peacekeeping missions have to work closely with the regional organizations.
As a matter of fact, the UNO does not have its own military forces and equipment. It is provided on voluntary basis decisions by the UNO’s Member States. In peacekeeping missions can participate soldiers, police, and civilians from various countries. Peacekeeping missions are financed from a special budget for peacekeeping missions, which is formed from the financial contributions by individual Member States (but not on an equal basis). Funds from the special budget are by the predetermined conditions distributed among the Member States, which provided the UNO’s military equipment. In the context of peacekeeping operations, the military observers, who are unarmed, can act with the right only to supervise compliance with the peace. Nonetheless, there are also the UNO’s military units that are indeed armed but only for their self-defense.
According to the UNO’s Information Centre in Prague, from 1948 to 2005 it was a total of 60 peacekeeping operations, which was attended by more than 81,000 military observers and members of the military units. A total UNO’s spent on the peacekeeping operations in 2005 is estimated at 36 billion USD. In recent years, there is a need to figure out the issue of how is to better organize peacekeeping missions for the sake to be more flexible, readier, and quicker, to have secured political and financial support, and to have more powers on the ground.
To understand the UNO, its functioning and the real impact on global affairs and security is of particular significance to understand firstly what this organization is not. In other words, the UNO is not a global domination institution, the Secretary-General is not the President or the Chairman of a Global Government. The UNO does not seek such a role and is not able to pursue such a role. The UNO is no substitute for the sovereignty of the nation-states. The UNO, therefore, cannot replace or completely cure the current international system based on the coexistence of independent and sovereign states.
However, the UNO is rather a mirror of the contemporary world in which national interests still prevail over common interests. However, some issues and problems are common to all and require common solutions. From poverty, AIDS, water scarcity, despite a changing climate, drugs, COVID-19 to migration – these are all issues that do not recognize national boundaries, and which require international cooperation. Without the UNO’s structures and its Security Council as the main security body responsible for maintaining international peace, such cooperation is very difficult.
© Vladislav B. Sotirović 2020
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