The Power of the United Nations





My scholarly article on the United Nations will analyze and critique the founding principles and controversial power distribution of the UN. It will begin with the history of the UN Charter created by the UN founders in 1945 and compare it to its “world government” predecessors. I will address the popular view of the UN as a “club dominated by world powers” by shedding light on the veto powers granted within the Security Council that upset the universal aspect of the United Nations; and I will support the utilization of the UN as a distributor of knowledge to nations around the world by looking at the influences of Non-governmental organizations. My argument will conclude with an evaluation of the effectiveness of the United Nations as a universal organization in regards to recent US actions that have not abided with UN approval. The United Nations continues to be an organization that can protect the collective security of the world, and I hope my paper can disclose the uneven balance of power within the United Nations that should be equalized before the United Nations can truly become a universal organization.

In an ideal world, a universal organization could exist that would establish laws for international relations, act as a mediator between disputing nations, and provide peace and security for the nations of the world. Many organizations have been established to serve these purposes, but an uneven power distribution among the nations and overwhelming national interests of the Five Core States (defined by Pointing as China, Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States; also commonly known as the P5) have not allowed many organizations to become a truly universal organization. The United Nations is a perfect example of this conflicting situation because although it has been idealized as an international organization providing peace and collective security for the nations of the world, the UN has emerged as an institution dominated by the national interests of the most powerful nations.

The founders of the United Nations didn’t purposefully create an organization that catered to the needs of the world powers, for their main goal was to reorganize the ideas of the League of Nations, which was a previous attempt at a universal organization. The League of Nations was created to preserve the international treaties ending World War One, though it didn’t succeed in creating a universal organization due to many fundamental flaws in its organization. One major limitation to the League of Nations was that the United States refused to be a member of the League, even though President Woodrow Wilson was the League’s primary initiator. Along with the United States, many other important nations didn’t join the League, except for Britain and France, which caused the League authority to be disregarded across the globe. There were also many problems with the organization of the League’s councils, such as their inconsistent decisions on when and where to use military force, their inefficient utilization of specialized organizations, and their choice to allow every member state a veto in the main council, which caused confusion with the widely varying national interests.

Both the League of Nations and the United Nations had charters which organized their goals and laws for their international institutions, but the UN Charter was much more effective because it reflected the UN’s philanthropic aims for creating a reformed universal organization, whereas the League of Nations’ Charter was solely based on a combination of the five separate peace treaties ending the First World War. Although the League did add details to its charter which “addressed the underlying social and economic issues spurring the First World War” , the League never fully followed through with its objectives due to the lack of support from many nations. Comparatively, UN Charter specifically outlined its intentions: to prevent future world wars and to establish laws for international relations by addressing human rights and promoting positive social progress. These aims were similar to those of the League of Nations, but the UN Charter went on to state that the United Nations was going to achieve these goals by setting down laws that would establish international relations, by organizing the UN’s finances, and by summarizing the procedures in which the UN was going to settle international disputes. Although not specifically mentioned in the UN Charter, peacekeeping was a predominant element of the United Nations and UN charter; and the United Nations still acts primarily as an organization whose intention is to bring together nations to promote peace and security for its UN members.

But even with these peacekeeping ideals, the issue of power distribution throughout the UN has been a concern since its establishment in 1945 due to the conflicting ideals between western and communist nations. One of the most prominent power disputes affecting the United Nations was the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union because it not only caused the nations to divide themselves into “East” and “West”, but it also affected the fundamental workings and organization of the UN councils by forcing the creation of the veto power in the Security Council. The Security Council was originally designed to maintain international peace and security, but the dispute between East and West forced the UN to grant veto rights to the Five Major Powers causing the most legally powerful council, the Security Council, to be controlled by the national interests of the Five Core States. (The Security Council is the most legally powerful council in the United Nations because it has the final decision regarding which UN General Assembly decisions should be acted upon and how they should be carried out.) Veto privileges were encouraged by the Soviet Union because they were the only circumstances under which the Soviet Union would join the UN as they guaranteed jurisdiction for the Soviet Union against its western counterparts. The United Nations realized the affects of granting veto powers to powerful nations, but the support of the major world powers was fundamental to the success of the UN, as lack of support was one of the main flaws with the League of Nations. The UN granted the veto powers to the P5 upon their agreement that they would not mis-use their veto, but regardless, the veto allowed the superpowers to use the UN to their personal advantage because the Five Core States’ were now able to veto any Security Council decision that went against their nat¬¬ional interests. The Soviet Union used its veto to prevent the admission of 43 newly independent sovereign states, including Portugal, Austria, Ireland, Italy, and Japan, because Soviet Union feared that they possibly could have supported western nations; The Soviet Union also used its veto power against Portugal’s request to implement a cease-fire of Indian troops in Goa, though the Soviet Union had no political interests in India and their veto did not help India, but only continued the battle between India and Portugal’s occupation in Goa. , Another superpower, the United States, has used its veto power 32 times to protect Israel from international criticism because criticism of Israel would interfere with US’s own political interests, and the US has condemned the resolutions for Palestine that grant Palestinian citizens “inalienable rights” – a veto that goes against the UN Charter’s resolution to promote human rights in all nations of the world. These veto powers have dramatically upset the universal aspect of the United Nations because with two thirds of the General Assembly already being controlled by the United States’ interests, the power of the veto simply enhanced the Five Core States power by creating an elite group of nations that could control the actions of the Security Council.

Though even with powerful veto privileges, the Soviet Union realized that the predominant western influence over the General Assembly would continue to hinder the Soviet Union’s national interests, so to neutralize western influences and offset the US’s control, the Soviet Union proposed inviting a group of small developing nations into the UN. The UN accepted this offer, and in 1955, the United Nations granted full UN privileges to 16 sovereign states: Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Laos, Libya, Nepal, Portugal, Romania, and Spain. By 1960, the United Nations had doubled its members since 1945 and was well on its way to eliminating its previously exclusive membership and extreme power division between “east” and “west” nations. The UN’s membership expansion didn’t solve the issue of power distribution in all of the councils because the Security Council was still dominated by the vetoes of the P5, but it did allow more nations to be included in the General Assembly and contributed to the universal aspect of the United Nations.

Along with its peacekeeping agenda, the United Nations has become a distributer of knowledge around the world due to the international influences of its Non-governmental Organizations (NGO’s). Non-governmental organizations are important to the internationalism of the UN because their specific agendas have allowed to UN to reach out and spread information to small developing countries. Some widely influential organizations within the UN are UNICEF and the Trusteeship Council. UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, works to protect children from poverty, violence, disease, discrimination, and HIV/AIDS as UNICEF believes that “nurturing and caring for children are the cornerstones of human progress.” UNICEF has contributed to the spread of knowledge by actively promoting its cause around the world in 190 UN countries around the globe through the establishment information centers and libraries for local communities. The United Nations had also established the Trusteeship Council, which was established as an organization that would help the “trust territories” of larger nations become independent states. (The Trusteeship Council has suspended it duties since 1994 after the majority of territories gained independence and successfully transitioned to independent states.) The part of this organization that contributed to the exchange of knowledge around the globe was the officials who were sent to the “trust territories” to study and review the conditions of the people living there. A positive side effect to this procedure was that the locals could speak up about their living conditions, so the officials could then return to the Trusteeship Council and express the concerns and opinions of the local people living in the territories. This back and forth communication between the local and the Council allowed the Trusteeship Council to become a significant component of the UN’s emerging universal influences. Regardless of the arguable success of the United Nations as a truly unbiased organization, the Non-governmental Organizations and the Trusteeship Council assuredly enhanced the position of the UN as a universal organization.

From its establishment in 1945, the United Nations has existed as an international organization whose aim is to provide peace and security for the nations of the world. Although power struggles and a “silent war” between the Soviet Union and the United States have limited the peacekeeping prospects of the United Nations and altered the distribution of power throughout the UN councils, the United Nations has used these setbacks to alter its councils in an attempt to shift the authority away from the Five Core states and to further establish itself as a truly global peacekeeping organization. Currently, the UN has been debating over whether more nations should be added to the 15-member Security Council to allow more nations to be incorporated into UN decision-making. There are many debaters that argue that the Security Council needs to expand to fulfill the UN’s “universalism”, but there are also other debaters who argue the fact that more nations means that decisions and debates would be even slower due to the increase in conflicting national interests. This expansion of the Security Council would not be in the interests of the Five Core States because it would jeopardize their elite veto powers; but within the last few years their veto powers haven’t meant much as have many nations not abided by the UN’s decisions; one example being the United States’ invasion of Iraq. The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 claiming that it had the right to invade because Iraq had violated numerous UN resolutions, but the US’s invasion itself was against the UN Charter because the US invaded another nations without the UN declaring that nations an “aggressor”. This blatant disregard for the UN’s approval shows how obsolete the United Nations has become in dealing with the Five Core States and international issues. But unlike the League of Nations, which collapsed under the pressure of the P5, the United Nations has endured the conflicting interests of the Five Core States in the past and will deal with them in the future and continue to be universally recognized as the world’s provider for collective peace and security.


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