By AFE babalola
TWO weeks ago I started an examination of the recent face-off between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) brought about by the latter’s nuclear weapons program in the course of which it has continually tested missiles despite warnings from the former and other countries.
Matters came to a head a few weeks back when the President of the United States in a speech at the United Nations gave a very stark warning to North Korea. Since that event, the rhetoric surrounding the development has pushed the world more towards war rather than peace.
It is for this reason that I have taken an interest in this development and decided to draw examples from history in the hope that the conflagration which seems so imminent may still be avoided. Having examined the effects of World War one, I will move on to World War two and how the international structure put in place after to it to prevent future conflicts has failed to achieved its purpose.
The Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945, although related conflicts began earlier. It involved the vast majority of the world’s countries—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. It was the most widespread war in history, and directly involved more than 100 million people from over 30 countries.
In a state of total war, the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources.
World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 million to 85 million fatalities, most of which were civilians in the Soviet Union and China.
It included massacres, the deliberate genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, starvation, disease and the first use of nuclear weapons in history.
World War II altered the political alignment and social structure of the world. The United Nations (UN) was established to foster international co-operation and prevent future conflicts. The victorious great powers—China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States—became the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.With a membership of 193 its objectives include maintaining international peace and security, promoting human rights, fostering social and economic development, protecting the environment, and providing humanitarian aid in cases of famine, natural disaster, and armed conflict.
However there is a widespread belief that the United Nations has failed in its mandate. Before the current events, critics had pointed to the failure of the United Nations to prevent conflict in several parts of the world and particularly its failure to intervene in the genocide in Rwanda as indicative of its inability to meet with demands of an ever changing world.
Instructively the body is at the moment failing to avert the coming conflict. I doubt if sanctions and verbal reprimands alone will convince the regime in north Korea to drop its nuclear program. Critics have argued that a country like China upon whom North Korea depends a lot can exert more pressure than it is currently doing to bring about change in its attitude.
However it appears that for reasons of international politics, that may never happen. Some of the factors which have been identified as affecting the cohesiveness and effectiveness of the UN are:
(a) Outdated structure
The same five countries — the victors of World War II — have been the power players since 1945: the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. They are the only permanent members of the powerful, 15-seat Security Council. Each has veto power, which has led to near-paralysis at the council on some major crises like Syria and Ukraine. Since 1982, the US has used its security council veto to block resolutions critical of Israel 35 times while in recent times Russia and China have used their vetoes to block UN intervention in Syria.
Critics say the council simply does not represent the world today. At its inception, the U.N. had 51 member states. It now has 193, many of them clamoring for more clout. All countries are represented in the General Assembly, but that body can only pass nonbinding resolutions.
Germany, Japan, India, South Africa, Nigeria and Brazil are often mentioned as countries deserving of permanent Security Council seats.
(b) Unwieldy organization
The U.N. has become a sprawling system with 15 autonomous agencies, 11 semi-autonomous funds and programs, and numerous other bodies. There is no central entity to oversee them all. The secretary-general, currently Ban Ki-moon, can try to coordinate their actions but he has no authority over many of them.
The cumbersome structure was recently blamed for the World Health Organization’s delay in recognizing the Ebola epidemic. The WHO’s country directors in Africa report to the Africa regional director, not WHO headquarters in Geneva. And the WHO’s director in Geneva does not report to the secretary-general in New York.
© Increasing demands
The U.N. is almost constantly asking its member states to contribute troops for its far-flung peacekeeping missions, currently numbering 16. The number of peacekeepers has risen to a record 130,000 — compared to 11,000 at the end of the Cold War — but the system is under severe strain. More than 100 peacekeepers have died this year and dozens have been taken captive.
The world’s refugee population has soared amid a growing list of humanitarian crises. The U.N. refugee agency is trying to help over 51 million people forced from their homes and displaced inside or outside their country, the highest figure since the U.N. began collecting those data in the early 1950s. The U.N. humanitarian office is tackling a record of four top-level emergencies — in Africa and the Mideast — as well as Ebola.
(d) Unreliable funding
Raising money is a constant problem with so many crises vying for the world’s attention. Many U.N. agencies and humanitarian operations are funded by voluntary contributions, and appeals aren’t getting enough donations. On Monday, the World Food Program suspended a food voucher program serving more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees after many donors failed to meet their commitments.
All 193 member states contribute to the U.N.’s regular budget and a separate peacekeeping budget, but some countries are chronically behind on their payments. In early November, members owed about $3.5 billion for regular operations and peacekeeping.
(e) Political horse-trading
There is widespread behind-the-scenes jockeying for top jobs in the U.N. Secretariat and U.N. agencies, not to mention seats on key bodies like the Human Rights Council and the Security Council. Every country belongs to a regional group that lobbies to ensure it is well represented. There is often criticism that those who get the seats are not the best qualified, such as dictatorships elected to the rights council.
The world still remembers the colossal loss which World War Two brought about. Millions of lives and property valued at Billions of dollars were lost. The devastation brought upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki after nuclear bombs were dropped on them are well documented. The world cannot afford any such conflict at this time. Just some hours ago it was reported by the british press that Britain is already preparing for the eventuality of war with North Korea! The United Nations was set up with great ideals of world peace. I do not see why those ideals and objectives should not serve as guides towards a reform of its systems and operations. Humanity demands these reforms. Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary General of the body stated that the United Nations “was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell”. Decades after, his words still ring true!