The UN’s archaic system must be overhauled sooner than later

There are obviously many positives about the UN, notably, keeping nations of the world in a state of capability to sit around the same table – under the same roof - and pursue dialogue, as opposed to military or any form of confrontation. Picture: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

There are obviously many positives about the UN, notably, keeping nations of the world in a state of capability to sit around the same table – under the same roof - and pursue dialogue, as opposed to military or any form of confrontation. Picture: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Published Sep 26, 2023


THE nations of the world, represented by heads of state, converged on a site beside the East River in New York – the headquarters of the United Nations (UN) – for the annual gathering that seeks to keep global cooperation and harmony intact.

This time, from September 19, the occasion was the 78th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 78). Their theme was: “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all.”

Although UNGA 78 officially opened on September 5, the “High-Level Week” started on September 18-22. Looking at the theme for UNGA 78, there can be no doubt about the noble objective of the world’s mother of all multilateral forums to rally the international community to a co-existence of universal harmony and equal opportunities.

In fact, the theme took me back to the UN Charter at its founding following the end of WWII from 1939-1945. Its preamble reads: “We the peoples of the United Nations (are) determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our life-time has brought untold sorrow to mankind…” The First World War (WWI) was fought from 1914-1918.

A quick perusal of the world’s contemporary history shows a litany of wars and a growing decline of multilateralism – characterised by self-styled wealthy nations of the global north who tolerates the world order strictly through their prism only. As multilateralism gradually took a nose-dive, so did the rapid rise of a unipolar world order emerge, championed through and by the US-led Western hegemony and using NATO is a tool of enforcement.

Amidst all the geopolitical changes accentuated by the collapse of the Soviet Union at the turn of the 1990s and the end of Cold War, the US emerged as the world’s only remaining superpower.

Sadly, Washington’s intolerance of dissent against the US foreign policy dictates has resulted in full-frontal attack on the perceived “enemies of the State” regardless of their Geographical location.

Examples are aplenty. They include the illegal US invasion of Iraq in 2003 on baseless grounds that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The mighty military of the US ran amok inside the Iraqi capital Baghdad, unleashing what the Western media gleefully described as “shock and awe” as bombs rained on communities and left many dead. Saddam Hussein was later cornered and publicly humiliated before eventually being killed.

There has been no consequences faced by the US in the aftermath of its unilateral act of illegal invasion of a country countless of miles away in the Gulf.

It is acts such as these that had eaten away at the credibility of the UN over the decades. The unending bondage of the people of Palestine who have been living under a 24/7 occupation of apartheid Israel is another case in point that undermines this year’s theme of UNGA 78.

Israel continues to cage the Palestinian people in various pockets of the land of their birth. The Jewish state has turned Palestine into a huge penitentiary for Palestinian men, women and children alike. Since 1967, to be a Palestinian in Palestine is tantamount to living in burning hell.

To paraphrase Steve Biko, it is a miracle for children in Palestine to live up to the age of adulthood. They die, nay, they are killed young by heartless Israeli security forces and militia. They systematically maim and annihilate the Palestinians with shocking impunity. To crown it all, they remain boastful about their abominable reign of terror against the defenceless State of Palestine.

Each time concerned nations attempt to raise the issue at the UN General Assembly, or in the Security Council, where punitive resolutions could be adopted against Israeli brutality against the Palestinian people, the US boisterously defends and protects the Jewish State, using their veto power.

Furthermore, the Western enthusiasm to defend Ukraine against Russia “at all costs” is a clearest example of the double-standards of the powerful nations against weak. The usual threats against Africa to toe the line of the West has for the first time fallen flat as most of the global south has either supported Russia or elected to remain non-aligned and this time without any fear of reprisals.

The world is indeed changing. And this brings me to the urgent need to reform the entire system of the UN Security Council. Although there are some 193 member-states of the UN, only five are “permanent members” of the UNSC.

The five are the US, UK, France, Russia and China. Of course, each possesses a veto power. Like the US, they can annul any unwanted resolution the UNSC takes, without much ado.

Antonio Guterres, speaking at the opening of UNGA 78, correctly pointed at the need to reform the UN system in its entirety. There are obviously many positives about the UN, notably, keeping nations of the world in a state of capability to sit around the same table – under the same roof - and pursue dialogue, as opposed to military or any form of confrontation.

However, as Guterres noted, the UN was founded at the end of WWII in 1945 when most countries in the global south were still under European colonialism. Since then, the “winds of change” have blown – as the 1960s British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan observed. The world has therefore changed beyond recognition. Sadly, and in my book regrettably, the UN has stayed the same.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has bemoaned this lack of change. So has the entire AU membership in Addis Ababa, representing more than one billion Africa people. The Arab League has similarly decried the archaic UNSC, and so has the entire Latin America. In fact, across Asia and the global south, this is a common cry: Reform the UN and its security council so that it may reflect the reality of the present-day global order.

The chief beneficiaries of the UN system have been Europe, if truth be told. It amazes me that such a tiny continent of countries that size of a several football fields put together can hold the entire global community to ransom a la Europe.

Not only did Europe cause pain, heart-ache and destruction of African societies and everywhere colonial appetite drove them, they have left their cruel legacy of imperialism and colonialism still being felt to this day. They have paid no reparations for slavery or colonialism, and the UN has done very little or nothing to put such matters at the top of their agenda.

These are just a few examples of the failings of the UN system as fathomed at the height of great inequality among the nations of the world.

Inequality among the UN member-states is too glaring. The global north remains in the pound seat, enabled by the wealth they amassed in part through colonialism and stealing natural resources and other riches from the former colonies.

Fast-forward, the UN continues to struggle with credibility in the 21st century. Again, examples are aplenty. They include a Barrack Obama-led invasion of Libya to oust former leader Muamar Gaddafi in 2011.

They hounded and hunted him through a NATO military operation that bombed pro-Gaddafi crowds and, like Saddam Hussein, humiliated Gaddafi in public before raping and killing him. There have never been any consequences at the UN for NATO’s role in the chaotic ending of the Gaddafi era, and their recorded excesses.

Where there is conflict, settlement is often pursued along partisan and ideological lines. Syrian conflict, or civil war, continues to this day due to the inherent foreign interests. Iran has been politically and economically isolated at the whims of the US – unilaterally – and the international community simply falls in line or risk the wrath of Washington.

In spite of the existence of the UN, when the US coughs, the rest of the international community catches the cold.

Resistance to this growing unipolar world order has been led mainly by the emergence of BRICS Plus. The rise of China and Russia’s retention of her nuclear power arsenal following the collapse of the Soviet Union has helped in challenging Western hegemony.

Although BRICS started as only five countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, six more new members have been accepted into the emerging global south bloc that realistically pose a first-of-its-kind challenge to the dominance of the global north.

Dozens of other countries are queueing up to join the ranks of BRICS Plus. There can be no doubt about the rise of BRICS in geopolitics. Among the bloc’s radical policies has been a process better-known as “de-dollarization”.

By this the bloc means eradicating any use of the US dollar in economic dealings between and among themselves and the like-minded. The BRICS Bank has also emerged as a counter-force to their ideologically-linked World Bank and IMF.

As an emerging lender, BRICS Bank gives opportunity to the poorer nations of the global south to walk away from the stringent conditions of Western financial institutions.

Already, the 11 members of the BRICS Plus make up almost half of the world’s population. The other six are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Argentina, Egypt and Ethiopia. Within BRICS Plus bloc alone already rests 80% of the world’s oil-producers.

The economic might of China alone frightens the global north as it shakes the very foundations of an unequal world order. There can be no doubt that the louder voices that were heard in the chambers and corridors of the UN these past weeks will continue to grow louder.

Change is inevitable, and it looks and smells like good change. As the global south mobilise among the formerly colonised, they should work effectively with the office of the UN Secretary-General in seeking the reforms of the out-dated model of the UN system. The future has never looked oh so brighter.