In 2023, The United Nations will complete its 78 years of existence. Last month, The United Nations General Assembly, the main policy-making organ of the UN where every 193 member countries have an equal vote conducted its 78th session of the Annual meeting and General Debate.The UNGA 78 with a focus on “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" was held in New York from September 19 to 26, 2023.
190 Heads of State and Government and ministers gathered to promote peace, security, and sustainable development amidst a backdrop of multiple global challenges: the conflict in Ukraine, the significant debt loads and economic vulnerability faced by developing nations due to the enduring impact of the pandemic, and the pressing climate emergency.
The United Nations emerged in the wake of the League of Nations' failure to prevent World War II. Over nearly 78 years since its establishment, the UN continues to struggle with a persistent challenge: a lack of complete trust from its member countries in its ability to effectively maintain international peace and security. Despite its efforts and various accomplishments, scepticism and reservations persist even in 2023.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has forced the 78th UN General Assembly to critically reassess the relevance and efficacy of itself as an international institution. The invasion has not only violated Ukraine's sovereignty but has also raised fundamental questions about the UN's ability to prevent such aggression and maintain international peace and security.
In his speech, Brazilian President Lula da Silva expressed concern that the UN was losing credibility, attributing this decline to actions by its permanent members who engage in unauthorised wars for territorial expansion or regime change.
Furthermore, Kim Jong-un's visit to Russia, aimed at deepening military ties, has raised concerns in the West regarding the potential for North Korean military support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This development again renews apprehensions about the effectiveness and pertinence of the United Nations in addressing such complex and evolving geopolitical situations.
However, Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN in his speech at UNGA, said that this war is a violation of the UN Charter and International Law and highlighted the need to fulfil obligations to the UN charter by every country to guarantee world peace.
Disagreements between Permanent Members
The Permanent Members of the UNSC are indulged in several disagreements and strained ties that hinder the effectiveness of the UN itself. For instance, In recent years, the United States' relations with both China and Russia have deteriorated significantly.
The Russian-Ukraine have majorly strained the diplomatic relations between Russia and the US. The US and its allies have imposed several sanctions on Russia in order to isolate it from the world. US President Biden in UNGA78 stressed that 'Russia was solely responsible for the War' and expressed his commitment to support Ukraine.
The ties between China and the US have also experienced a significant decline due to the South China Sea issue, US intervention in Asia, China's support to Russia, the Alleged Spy balloons issue and differences in Political ideologies.
However, Biden in his speech at UNGA 2023 assured that the US will resist aggression and intimidation to uphold established norms, ensuring stability and prosperity in the long run. And the US is open to collaborating with China on shared challenges that require common efforts.
Decline of 'Democracy'
The ongoing trend of rising authoritarianism and unconstitutional military coups in Africa and other parts of the world endangers the existence of Democracy. The United Nations has faced significant shortcomings in effectively protecting countries from coups and addressing the aftermath of such political disruptions.
China, a permanent member having an authoritarian regime emphasised that the present differences between regimes should be respected while addressing shared common challenges. Additionally, some countries criticised the double standards regarding democracy due to the undemocratic nature of the UN system.
However, Frequent mention of 'Democracy' in this year's UNGA showcased the concerns of member countries about the recent unconstitutional coups in Africa and their negative impact on the rule of law and protection of civil liberties, poverty reduction and the achievement of the 2030 agenda.
Various participants in the General Debate frequently expressed support for universal democratic values. Countries like the US and European nations along with several traditionally non-aligned members of the G77 group of developing countries repeatedly praised Democracy as the best form of government. The countries took pride in being vibrant democracies and expressed their dedication to continue strengthening their democratic structure.
Interestingly, the optimistic discussion about democracy didn't align with the conventional global North/South divide typically seen in recent UN discussions.
The perceived hypocrisy within the UN has led some to doub upt the organisation's ability to effectively address ongoing challenges. Some countries lack trust in the UN, alleging that it prioritises the interests of its permanent members over its role as an impartial international organisation. There has been no expansion in the member nations of UNSC even after 78 years which raises concerns about the relevance of the UN.
Russia still continues to play a powerful role in the UN with permanent membership even when it threatens international peace and security. The US still is able to use its powerful veto power to block resolutions on Palestine because of its bilateral relations, turn around and try to pass resolutions on territorial integrity in the case of Ukraine.
However, Heads of state from different UN member nations have called for substantial reforms within the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the entire UN framework. As an example, the Foreign Minister of Bhutan has advocated for expanding both permanent and non-permanent UNSC membership in his speech at UNGA. Bhutan expressed support for adding India and Japan as permanent members, along with representatives from the African Union, to better tackle the issues faced by developing or less developed nations.
Moreover, UN collaboration with regional organisations can also be effective in addressing challenging situations in the global south. These changes aim to enhance the relevance and efficacy of the UN system in the 21st century.
Agenda 2030 to be met as scheduled?
The inability to eradicate major global issues other than conflicts and wars has also created a lack of trust in the UN. UN's Agenda 2030, aimed at ending extreme poverty and protecting the environment by the year 2030, a commitment adopted in 2015 had minimal likelihood of being met as scheduled.
However, At UN Headquarters in New York on 18-19 September 2023, Heads of State and Government met to evaluate the progress of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The aim was to provide high-level political guidance to accelerate actions and achieve the SDGs by the target year of 2030.
On the opening day of the UN General Assembly, Western leaders addressed the concerns about their progress in meeting the organisation's sustainable development goals. Despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, they affirmed their unwavering commitment to ending global inequality and emphasised that this commitment remained undeterred.
Nevertheless, Antonio Guterres pointed out that the world is struggling to come together to tackle the ongoing geopolitical tensions in his opening speech at the UN General Assembly in New York. He said global governance was “stuck in time” at a point when strong, modern, multilateral institutions were in greater need than ever, like the UN.
In conclusion, The UN still holds the position of the only international organisation with the largest member countries coming together annually to address and discuss all possible solutions for the world’s challenges, thus validating its relevance and significance.
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