Empty promises: What has the UN ever done for the Middle East?
Given the self-professed failure of many UN peace-keeping missions (notoriously Bosnia and Rawanda) people have a hard time remembering the great good done by the UN, and its auxiliary bodies: the World Health Organization, which worked so hard to eradicate polio; the International Court of Justice, which has brought peace of mind, if justice to few; and Goodwill Ambassadors, who sent Angelina Jolie to Syrian refugee camps. Its flaws are easier to fault, but how did this giant beast come to exist, anyway? Continue reading below »
On the ashes of the Second World War, the powers left standing on the globe—the United States, the Soviet Union and China, alongside has-beens Britain and France—decided that the structure of the League of Nations hadn’t made things any easier. So they re-invented it, this time calling it the “United Nations”. Lovingly known as the UN, it had a number of issues to deal with. It was a body which was based on the recognition of the sovereignty of each member-state, but most of the people it purported to represent lived at the time in un-free colonies. Even today, the positions and voting records of member nations are decided by horse-trading between the haves and have-nots of this world, more than a free expression of the popular will.
Part of the problem that the Arab public has with the UN has to do with its inability to do very much. When it is constricted by the lack of an international consensus, the body allows the strong to act against the weak: when the US invaded Iraq in 2003, the UN observers in Kuwait stood by. When a two-bit film producer spit in Muslims’ eyes, the body which many in Arab countries turned to for some form of international jurisdiction seemed pointedly incapable of doing very much. Even when the International Court of Justice passed sentence on the Israelis for building their wall on Palestinian land—even getting the court to hear it was a tortuous mission—the body was powerless to implement anything.
Very soon after the UN was created, one of its first bodies was UNRWA, set up to protect Palestinian refugees. Sixty-four years later, however, and UNRWA’s mission has not expanded very much, or managed to change much with the times. One could say that the UN is like a bandaid for a tumour, but that would be insulting to bandaids.
At the very least, we can say that the UN is not the only ineffectual, intergovernmental body where decisions are made by diplomats at infrequent meetings. Over the course of the convulsions to ripple through Syria during the Arab Spring, the Arab League has joined its more globalist partner. A delegation sent by the body more formally known as the League of Arab States, with headquarters long in place in Cairo, can be seen walking around touristic areas of Damascus and taking in the scenery, but achieving little for the cause of peace in the country, or resolving the conflict.
Still, we can't blame the UN for everything. A 1975 Resolution (3379), which recognized Zionism as a form of racism, was rescinded in 1991--but only after the Palestinians played a part in brokering this change.
Should Arabs spring up against the UN 'inshallah' approach to world peace-keeping?
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