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Disunited Nations: Disaster for Diplomacy


Image Credit / The United Nations


World wars alter the course of history. World War I, nicknamed the Great War, shook the international governing fabric of the world in unprecedented ways. As the curtains closed on War I, the world was restructured to prevent the gory theatres of war from occurring again. The League of Nations was established as the first worldwide intergovernmental organisation whose principal mission was maintaining world peace. Founded on 10 January 1920, following the Paris Peace Conference that ended World War I, it ceased operations on 20 April 1946. As stated in its covenant, the organisation's primary goals included preventing wars through collective security and disarmament and settling international disputes through negotiation and arbitration. The diplomatic philosophy behind the League represented a fundamental shift from the preceding hundred years.


However, this vision of international cooperation remained a half-baked solution in the long term. The League of Nations came to be viewed as an organisation of the allied powers, especially France and Britain, set up for the implementation of unjust peace treaties, which failed to consolidate the global standings of the allied powers. The League of Nations was not a truly representative organisation. It had limited membership and the USA did not join it. This resulted in a lack of funds for the League’s work. The Conference of Ambassadors was set up as a temporary body to resolve disputes, yet continued to exist even after the formation of the League. This hurt the legitimacy and the authority of the League of Nations. The never-ending imperfections of the league culminated in a haphazard mishap during the second major world war. After failing in its fundamental mission, the organisation lost credibility. The restructuring was the only path forward.


Enter contemporary times, when the League's successor, the UN has been entrusted with the paramount undertaking of international peace and harmony. As World War II was about to end in 1945, nations were in ruins, and the world was desperate for the glimmers of diplomacy and world peace to take over the chaotic and manic existence of the war years. Representatives of 50 countries gathered at the United Nations Conference on International Organisation in San Francisco, California from 25 April to 26 June 1945. For the next two months, they proceeded to draft and then sign the UN Charter, which created a new international organisation, the United Nations, which, it was hoped, would prevent another devastating world war like the one they had just lived through. 77 years after its initiation, the UN’s goal of world peace is still a star in the sky, a dream unfulfilled.


Wars ravage dozens of countries. Starvation, malnutrition, and exploitation haunt the Global South. Homes are bombed; rights are disregarded. Humanity bleeds because of gashes and wounds inflicted by other humans while the United Nations plans conferences and creates initiatives. When the League of Nations could not abide by standards, there was an institutional dismantling. The UN, on the other hand, retains global legitimacy despite obvious missteps. Though an agency maintaining global stability may seem like a squeaky-clean idea on the outside, the reality unfolds differently. The international governing order stands to be critiqued in its entirety – from structural difficulties to the role of international law in maintaining imperialism, to diplomacy obstructing the path to justice.


Image Credit / The Japan Times


The UN's basic purpose is to keep the peace in the world, but even this seems too much to handle. Diplomats may gather at scheduled conferences throughout the year to have pressing discussions about the trending geopolitical ills plaguing the earth, but no action is taken to resolve the issues. Delegates of the UN as well as all beneficiaries involved hold tremendous amounts of power in the world. With their knowledge and social capital, great strides could be made towards the resolution of international conflict. Instead, they choose to sit in conference halls and debate bills which have to be passed via bureaucratic, time-taking mechanisms. The ordinary people of countries suffering from violence are never given a voice on the global stage. A delegate or government official is supposedly “representing” their wishes. A repetitive pattern emerges where the UN proceeds through the formalities but is hesitant to take direct action. The pattern is present in disturbed regions like Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Haiti and others.


Rwanda and the UN’s pathetic attempt to end violence will go down in the hall of fame. Rwanda was involved in a civil war between its major ethnic groups, Tutsi and Hutu in the year 1994. The international community watched the killing of more than 800,000 people in under 100 days during the 1994 Rwanda genocide. The genocide in Rwanda is perhaps one of the most intensive killing campaigns to take place in human history after the Second World War. It is factual that the UN failed to prevent Rwanda's genocide as the then Secretary-General Kofi Annan profusely apologised for failing to halt the gruesome killings. The UN and some of the world’s most formidable nations were utterly incompetent in preventing the Rwandan genocide.


The UN’s main role is to maintain international security and peace through the help of the Security Council. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) was created in 1993 through the support of the Security Council to end the Rwanda civil war. The mission lasted for three years from 1993-1996, but it was unable to aid peace relations in Rwanda. The United Nations forces had the mandate to monitor the entry of illegal arms which triggered the genocide. The UN peacekeeping troops had a significant deficiency in their investigation capability as the key weapons which led to genocide were brought into their presence. They were to assist in disarmament and pave the way for a transitional government, but nothing was achieved as it was planned and war broke out in the process of peacekeeping. Assessing the failure in Rwanda leads to despair. The quagmire was inadvertent but to this day, stays a prominent example of the UN’s impuissance in resolving hostilities


After a profane tragedy like Rwanda, the natural assumption would be that the UN improved. Unfortunately, they never did – no introspection was done into their obvious failure. A similar course of events happened in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan Civil War. The United Nations had a pretty clear idea of what was happening in the bloody battlefield of Sri Lanka during the bloody climax of the civil war, especially the plight of the Tamils. Yet it suppressed or diluted that information, utterly failing once again in its core mission of protecting civilians. Charles Petrie, the head of an internal review panel famously stated: “The UN’s failure to adequately respond to events like those that occurred in Sri Lanka should not happen again. When confronted by similar situations, the UN must be able to meet a much higher standard in fulfilling its protection and humanitarian responsibilities.”


Image Credit / Human Rights Watch


The UN has now acknowledged that it withheld releasing the more accurate numbers, extrapolated from dispatches received from domestic Tamil staff, doctors and civil administrators in Liberation of Tamil Tigers (LTTE)-held territory, and data collected by diplomatic corps in the country, all while the death toll rose to at least 70,000 within a mere five months. The report tacitly accepts the 70,000 figure, and a further 146,000 estimated missing. Church leaders who stayed behind, working from census statistics for the area, have calculated the deaths at nearly 147,000. Silence by the UN, self-gagging, sheltered Colombo from global criticism and allowed the regime to continue apace, unobstructed by international conventions — the mandate of proportionality — in the waging of war, as it wiped out the remnants of the LTTE.


With its selective dissemination and quashing of facts, The UN inadvertently collaborated with the regime in what many have since decried as war crimes. They focused solely on preventing violence on the LTTE’s end, paying no heed to the tyrannical Sinhalese fascist movement. Political analysis which centred on calming down a war instead of caring for the rights of the oppressed led to an unforgettable blunder in world history. The UN’s strategic ignorance of Sri Lanka also rendered the Tamil genocide obscure in the political imagination of the wider world. Information has not reached the audience and a heavy amount of blame can be doled onto the UN for this.


Recently, the UN, or specifically the United Nations Security Council, went astray again in another country. Gangs had been blockading Haiti’s biggest fuel terminal since mid-September 2022, strangling Haiti’s food and energy supplies. Expressing its “deep concern at the persistent and destabilizing criminal activities by armed gangs in Haiti,” the UN Security Council adopted a resolution responding to the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the country, setting out a travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo on individuals and entities responsible for the violence. The World Food Program said that Haiti’s need for humanitarian aid was urgent.


The government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry began in early October to call for foreign troops to come to help it gain the upper hand against the gangs. The first international response has been a UN resolution placing sanctions on the primary gang leader, former police officer Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier. By the resolution, and under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council demanded an immediate cessation of violence, criminal activities and human rights abuses undermining the peace and security of Haiti and the region. It also urged all political actors to engage in meaningful negotiations to end the current political stalemate.


Conditions in Haiti were alarming, but what was more alarming was Haiti being at the precipice of foreign intervention at the hands of the US. It had been clear for months that acting Prime Minister/President Ariel Henry — appointed 16 months ago by the U.S. with the blessing of the Core Group — had not been able to control the rising, militant, hungry anger of the Haitian masses. Since their puppet Ariel has proven to be hugely unpopular, the U.S. has decided to try someone else. A Disaster Assistance Response Team went to the capital city of Port-au-Prince. DART teams generally consist of “experts” from the political arms of U.S. imperialism, who assess “needs” and organize the delivery of “aid.” The UN Security Council should have been wary of the US’s actions and pledged against any threat of intervention. Instead, the entire council was silent on passing bills related to the sovereignty of Haiti. They did not care enough; it was simply not pertinent enough of a matter. Had the council asserted itself and passed a clear objection to the US’s imperialist ambitions, thousands of Haitians would not have had to march on the streets for the US to leave them be.


From the aforementioned examples of Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Haiti, the UN’s commitment to restoring justice for those wronged is questionable. Whether that is shutting down the LTTE or passing resolutions fighting criminal gangs instead of imperialism, the UN consistently goes along with the popular narrative instead of formulating a stance of its own. The UN, at its core, is a reflection of power dynamics between different countries. Though they brand themselves as an international organisation, equity is impossible when the world’s systems have been manipulated to benefit only the wealthy. Countries like the US are far more represented on the global stage. They have unimaginable amounts of wealth and citizens positioned at high levels who can persuade the public to follow them at their whim.


Image Credit / CTV News


Weak countries like Haiti bow down at the behest of giants like the US. The sheer hard and soft power of the US allows them to control the global political economy to benefit their status. The United Nations as a diplomatic structure does not exist as a system of accountability but as another agent of status quo maintenance. US imperialist hegemony allows them to bend international law in their favour. Their methods are comparable to the wealthy in a domestic constituency; they can “buy themselves” out of any issue they encounter. They can circumnavigate regulations by convincing everyone to follow their demands. Questioning the reign of the US is daunting for other countries, especially the Global South, considering how reliant everyone is on American support.


Diplomacy warps itself here into a tool of abuse. In the quest to keep the peace, cries of rebellion against imperialism must be quelled. Every country plays a part in this chessboard of diplomacy. They are codependent and forced into the neoliberal economic order. Diplomacy asks for manners, not justice. Sit still, look pretty, and agree. Follow the proceedings and no one will be bullied into submission. If anyone expresses an opinion too radical, they shall be shunned from the UN, put under sanctions, and deprived of their wealth. Simply put, powerful countries like the US or Europe should be put under deeper scrutiny than others. The resources they have gathered purely from their influential power are enough for them to compensate for any damage they have caused, and any liability they hold. The major organs of the UN are concerned with the principles of diplomacy and international relations far more than they are with justice. Justice would demand equity and fair play. Diplomacy, on the other hand, demands cooperation even when the other party has committed grave crimes. This is why the Global North benefits from diplomacy; it is a fine cover-up for imperialism.


Still, the state of international law cannot be left unquestioned. International law relies on an epistemology where the Global North is positioned as the “here” acting as a judge for the “there”. In turn, the law turns into a tool of colonialism wherein the faraway “there” must be civilised through the legal imposition of the “here”. International justice, too is governed by the neoliberal economy. Legal precepts are used to discipline and punish countries in the hope that they will bend to the will of the West. The same principles are never applied to countries like America because they are the judges and never the accused.


The brain of the court is Global North, Western, and American. If a decision runs contrary to the values of the Global North, there will be no justice. Take the criminalisation of the LTTE, a militant liberationist organisation for Eelam Tamils of Sri Lanka. The radical and leftist nature of their politics broke the rules of disciplines as ascertained by international law, thus they were punished into oblivion. International law should be concerned with truth, as truth renders justice; instead, the law is concerned with capitalist status quo maintenance. If the country is successfully able to replicate the passive wanton capitalism of the Global North, they will be cleared of their criminal record. Neoliberalism is reproduced through the law.


World wars must be prevented. No peace can be achieved in any country by acting alone. Worldwide solidarity is a must for advancement. As Malcolm X said, “Internationalism, comrades abroad. You must build an international movement.” On a grassroots level, global cooperation is a crucial tenet for any progressive. This dream of connection, however, cannot be realised through the neoliberal tentacles of the United Nations or its subsidiaries. Diplomats represent the ruling class philosophy. They embolden war rather than prevent it, and shut down any hint of a working-class uprising. Through their humanitarian endeavours, they hope to erase their history but the proof is in the pudding. They belong to the imperialist ideological creed of the US of which they are a puppet. Militant leftists view them as a threat to their survival. Their political discussions, their conferences, their perfect speeches and flawless manners serve as a grand performance for the clear truth that the United Nations does absolutely nothing at all!


The United Nations creates funds for women, children, the abused, and the hungry, yet there is no documentation as to where this funding goes. Hunger remains unsatiated. Poverty is only worsened. War after war. Failure after failure. “Peacekeepers” wreak havoc. The structure is not revised. The goals are not revised. Conveniently, the people speaking about their country’s state of affairs are never the ones who have directly experienced the hardships. There lies no purpose in criticising them because they will never improve. Most delegates to the UN as working to maintain an image. They are disconnected from the poor. It is more of a corporation than an organisation with feasible goals. For any resolution to international struggles, the economic order must be overturned. The structures must be rebuilt anew to centre the survivors and not the perpetrators. Internationalism is impossible in imperialism. Other countries must be able to think on their own without the Global North’s constant imposing desires. Moreover, if change is to be made in the world, first everyone will have to make a little noise.



Image Credit / VOA


References


  1. Barnett, Michael. Eyewitness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda. Cornell University Press, 2012.

  2. Doucet, By Lyse. “UN ‘Failed Sri Lanka Civilians’, Says Internal Probe.” BBC News, 13 Nov. 2012, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-20308610.

  3. Human Rights Watch. “Sri Lanka: UN Rights Council Fails Victims.” Human Rights Watch, 27 May 2009, https://www.hrw.org/news/2009/05/27/sri-lanka-un-rights-council-fails-victims.

  4. Lynch, Cecelia M., et al. “United Nations (UN).” Encyclopedia Britannica, 26 July 1999, https://www.britannica.com/topic/United-Nations.

  5. Musa, Mansa. “We Lost Malcolm X, but We Can’t Lose the Dream of International Revolution.” The Real News Network, 20 Feb. 2023, https://therealnews.com/we-lost-malcolm-x-but-we-cant-lose-the-dream-of-international-revolution.

  6. Nations, United. “History of the United Nations.” United Nations, 2023, https://www.un.org/en/about-us/history-of-the-un.

  7. Nichols, Michelle. “Deputy U.N. Chief Urges Countries to Send Armed Force to Haiti.” Reuters, 21 Dec. 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/deputy-un-chief-urges-countries-send-armed-force-haiti-2022-12-21/.

  8. Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute. “Milestones: 1914–1920.” Office of the Historian, 2023, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/league.

  9. Staff, CFR. “The UN Security Council.” Council on Foreign Relations, 16 Sept. 2020, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/un-security-council.

  10. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “United Nations Security Council.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 July 1998, https://www.britannica.com/topic/United-Nations-Security-Council.

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