FOR the United Nations

AGAINST the United Nations


The United Nations (UN) was founded in 1945 after the end of the Second World War with one central aim: to maintain international peace. Ever since, the UN have been working to prevent conflict, help parties in conflict make peace, and create the conditions to allow peace to hold and flourish. The UN has conducted a large number of successful peacekeeping operations, for example: in Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mozambique, Namibia and Tajikistan. The UN was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts in 1988.


Despite peacekeeping being one of its main objectives, the United Nations has had several high-profile failures. In many of these instances, missions failed because of ineffective leadership and a limited range of actions available to the UN. In other instances, the UN was unable to launch operations because permanent members of the Security Council vetoed resolutions.


One of the UN’s most important goals is to improve living standards around the world – particularly in developing countries. 70% of the work of the UN system is spent on the promotion of economic and social development. For example, in 2018, the UN Development Programme invested more than 1 billion US dollars to strengthen communities’ resilience to crises and provided 31 million people with better services to keep them out of poverty. The UN believes that lasting world peace can only be achieved by eradicating poverty and improving the well-being of people around the globe.


The UN Security Council is tasked with ensuring international peace and security. However, the set-up of the Council does not give all UN member states the same say. This is because its five permanent members (USA, Russia, UK, France and China) have the power to veto any substantive decisions. When the Council was set up in 1945, giving veto powers to the victors of WWII was meant to provide stability in the post-war world. Yet, critics argue this arrangement is undemocratic and has been a principal cause of inaction on war crimes and crimes against humanity. Furthermore, it makes the Security Council useless against violations of international law committed by its permanent members. For example, over the last fifteen years Russia has used its veto largely to avoid interventions against its own actions, such as its annexation of Crimea in 2014, or to protect its allies, such as the Syrian regime.


As climate change is a global problem, it also requires a global solution – and ever since the 1990s, the UN has been a key actor in promoting international commitments to tackling climate change. In 2015, all UNFCCC members (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) adopted the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. Central to both is the aim to limit the increase in global temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels to reduce the impact of climate change. However, many states are not following their commitments and much action is still required to reach the goals.


Critics (as well as proponents) of the UN have lamented the inefficiency of UN institutions, stating that it is overly bureaucratic and slow in the way it deals with many issues. Former UN officials have also criticised the lack of coherent strategic planning and pointed out the outdated structure and business practices of the organisation. Perhaps because of its inefficiency, the UN is also very expensive: In the first 70 years of its existence, the UN cost half-a-trillion dollars. Peacekeeping makes up a large part of the UN’s annual budget, but critics have also pointed out the staggering personnel costs, which include “mouthwatering daily allowances” for some bureaucrats. In contrast, the UN has received great criticism for refusing to pay the thousands of university-educated interns that work full time in its multiple agencies.

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