With the civil war in Libya reaching an endgame, commentary will undoubtedly shift to who should run the country. Rebels aside, international assistance will be inevitable, and people will look to the United Nations – the dominant supranational institution – to lead the way.
The UN, though, should not be seen as the answer to the Libyan crisis, or any conflict in international relations for that matter.
The UN is unnecessary in global affairs. The organization cannot respond quickly and accurately to fluid events in international relations due to its clumsy political structure, lack of a singular mission, and lukewarm support from member states. Instead, smaller trade and security organizations should take the lead in global affairs.
Organizationally, the UN is ill-equipped to handle the rigors of complex world events. Limitations exist in the UN’s very foundation, forcing it to be passive-aggressive, often a bystander unable to intervene in conflict. For example, if country A and country B dive into war, the UN must seek to protect both nations’ interests, as both will likely be members of the UN community. The UN cannot fully support any single nation or their goals.
Moreover, there is no unified voice in the UN. The General Assembly – the democratic body which provides “equal” voice to all members – is nothing more than a forum for useless speeches (i.e. Muammar Gaddafi’s rant in 2009). No constructive legislation can be implemented by this body, and only the Security Council can formulate policy on international peace and security issues. Thus, power is removed from the more democratic body of the UN, vested instead in the oligarchic Security Council. At the Security Council, only certain views carry weight (Western Europe, America, China, and Russia), two of which remain undemocratic. African, South American, and Indian voices are only included on a limited basis, thereby severely constraining any holistic, democratic response by the UN.
This in itself sets off a legitimacy crisis in terms of states and their relationship to the institution. With an opaque legal authority to govern, many nations fail to buy into the UN and its objectives. This is evident in the UN’s failure to reach the self-mandated Millennium Development Goals seeking to lessen world poverty, inequality, and disease – especially in critical regions like Africa. To succeed, the UN’s biggest member states were required to provide 0.7% of gross national income to the MDG campaign, funds which never materialized despite countries' stated support for the project.
The MDGs are too broad. Often, the UN seemingly tries to accomplish the impossible, rather than focusing on single, achievable realities (also see: world carbon reduction and the failures of the Kyoto Protocol). The MDG campaign also highlights the financial limitations of the UN. Often the organization simply does not have the funds to adequately provide humanitarian assistance or peacekeeping initiatives. The UN must rely on member states for equipment, troops, supplies, and commanders, all of which must also be paid for by the richest member states. This money often does not materialize. The U.S. has been a major withholder of UN money, accumulating a massive debt which could have otherwise helped fund programs. Without a stable checkbook, the UN underperforms in its duties.
An alternative to the UN is regional blocs and multi-national institutes. Treaty blocs offer flexibility. NATO – a democratic and a staunch defender of human rights – led the charge in Libya, instead of blue helmet peacekeepers. A more singular mission, unified alliance, and bank of ready resources allow blocs like NATO to act swiftly. A growing number of private arbiters, like the United States Institute for Peace, are taking the reins away from the UN.
While the UN is honorable in its efforts, it is unnecessary. Bound by endless bureaucracy and politics, the UN is clumsy, unfocused, and over-stretched, providing little leadership or unity in global affairs. The organizational structure of the UN is hardly a shining example of democracy.
Photo Credit: Saturne