Thursday, November 05, 2015

The UN is far from "ineffectual and hopeless" . Let's support it and make it better.

For some reason Tory Councillor, Dr Teck Khong drifted on to my Twitter timeline today with a little burst of invective about the United Nations (see above, and my reply). Now 140 characters don't allow us much space to develop complex points and no doubt Dr Khong could back up his burst of bile with a more substantive argument if he wanted to. And equally I can support my "No" with reasons as well. Here they are.

1. History teaches that "Jaw Jaw" is better than "War War". There is plenty of the former at the UN and in nearly 70 years they haven't eliminated the latter. But the UN is supported by all the Nations of the world and without doubt the presence of a forum for debate helps mutual understanding. If it wasn't  there we would have to invent it.

2. The UN sometimes takes positive action on the ground. UN peacekeeping missions have helped in the world's trouble spots for decades. They have stopped conflict and bought time for peace to follow. Not always. And not always successfully. But they do it, courageously and especially when nobody else can play the role. Which is nearly always.

3. UN bodies like UNICEF, UNHCR and the many agencies controlled by or linked to the UN do amazing work around the world. That they operate under the UN umbrella and with the UN's guidance gives them a mandate for this work which would be simply unachievable without it.

4. The modern world is interdependent, and increasingly so. This is a good thing. If we work together for mutual advantage with other nations we need bodies to maximise the benefits of this cooperation. And the UN plays a key role. History is sullied by the evil scourge of Nationalism and Imperialism. Part of the role of the UN is to find areas where we can cooperate and set the conditions for the post Imperial world. When the UN's wishes are ignored (Iraq, Afghanistan...) it is common that chaos and resurgent Nationalism is the result.

5. The UN's educational Programmes help give our children a world view.  They will learn that "No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main...I am involved in mankind..." 

The charter of the United Nations has lofty goals:
  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

Does it always achieve these goals - of course not. Are they goals worth striving for? They are. Is the UN with all its Nation state members the best body to do it? Indisputably.