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صحيفة الجماهير /  Aljamahiria.org ::: ASSESSMENT: THE UNITED NATIONS CHALLENGE



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By Dr. Ali Ghudban, 
College of Martyrs, Tripoli, Libya
Lecturer in International Politics

The United Nations (UN) of the 1990s no longer has much similarity to the institution which came into being in 1945/6. The growth of the international system by the addition of newly independent states has dramatically increased the complexity of international relations. The expansion of issues and problems, with new patterns of conflict and cooperation, has affected not only the international decision-making structures of global organisations and their modes of operation, but - still more importantly - the tasks to be pursued by them and their role as regulatory elements in the present-day world.

If one looks at the UN's institutions one is still faced with the well known bodies that, in the past, have attracted so such attention and shaped the image of the organisation: the Security Council (SC), the General Assembly (GA), and, though less well known, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). However, they are no longer the institutional cornerstones as originally provided by the Charter.

Until the end of the sixties, a series of spectacular conflicts and crises - e.g., the Palestinian question, Korea, Hungary, Suez, Cuba, The Congo and Cyprus dominated the agenda of the UN, and, hopes for maintaining or restoring peaceful relationships time and again were reliant on both the SC and the GA.

The overall results are well known. The UN's record in maintaining international peace and security has been seen as a catalogue of outstanding failures, and the few notable roles that the Organisation could play were indeed exceptions to the rule, rather than evidence that it functions as a reliable instrument to safeguard the elements of a rudimentary peace.

Today, there are no fewer international conflicts, but many of them show a combination of characteristics which pose additional problems for the Organisation in attempting to cope with them, e.g., Iraq, Libya, Bosnia, Somalia and so forth. The heterogeneous character of international relations has, in practice, invalidated the dichotomy of domestic and international affairs. One of the consequences is that both the SC and GA have to deal increasingly with situations where the domestic policies of government raise such international concern as to internationalise internal situations and conflicts, conflicts between 

or within newly independent states, (territorial integrity versus self-determination as a result of artificial boundaries) or the involvement of non-state actors as major parties in a conflict. Such cases constitute extremely intractable conflict constellations and mere consideration of, let alone intervention in, conflict situations of this type, invariably challenges the traditional, formal hierarchy of the Charter principles and their interpretation.

Although there is a developing consensus that values at stake should be related to social consequences rather than to outmoded formal criteria, this is less developed or even lacking when it comes to the interventionary competence of the Organisation, and even less so as to procedures and instruments both permissible and likely to be effective in accommodating conflicting values in these situations.

In fact, the 50th anniversary of the UN marked a bitter-sweet occasion for the world organisation. On the one hand, the UN system had become an increasing pervasive fixture of world politics, affecting policy formulation and political outcomes in a broad range of areas, central to member states interests. However, concomitantly, there had been growing dissatisfaction with the UN system's capacity to deal with pressing policy problems in the realm of international economic relations, which constitute the bulk of UN activities and expenditures, as well as in the realm of preventing or at least regulating international conflict.

Are these changes evolutions, or just a noisy demolition of an ailing dislocated system? Some people support the idea that it is an evolution, signalling the demise of Socialism. Others however, argue that in reality Socialism has not yet been established, and therefore, could not be defeated, what has actually been defeated is state capitalism and dictatorships.

Similarly, the Gulf War in the 90s led by the U.S. in the name of the UN, in which 443,000 U.S. and allied troops took part over a period of six weeks in the most precise bombing in the history of modern warfare, left 549 of these troops, together with 238,000 Iraqi nationals dead. Thousands were also made homeless and millions were deprived of their basic needs. Furthermore, the intervention in Somalia left a massive problem in the area. Also, the unjust measures applied against Libya are causing hardship to the population, and the continuing embargo against Cuba.

When one contemplates all these variables, a haunting question arises. What does all this mean in reality and what are the likely repercussions? What does the future hold for this scenario?

From a general perspective one sees the UN busily preparing for structural changes in order to cope with these massive alterations and provide a platform for the world to live in peace. However, the reality is different. After the Cold War, the world didn't become peaceful. On the contrary, regional conflicts were magnified more than before by armed interference led by the U.S. The peculiarity of these aggressive wars and regional conflicts is that they are carried out under the auspices of the UN or in the name of international peace and democracy.

The imperialist powers plan embargoes and aggression while hiding behind the authority of the UN SC, an oligarchic system claiming to have the right to decide peoples' destinies.

If equal and just relations are to be developed among nations, the UN intervention must not include embargoes, because these pose a collective punishment which is illegal and contravenes the spirit of the UN.

The UN must become a centre for mutual cooperation amongst nations and an ins

The UN must deal seriously with the question of disarmament. The failure of the UN system in this regard is as serious for the many living at peace as for those suffering war. The cost is more than $400 billion every year. Also, worldwide military programmes stimulate inflation, increase unemployment, raise the cost of consumer goods and public services, deplete scarce resources required for meeting basic human needs, slow economic improvement for the poor and increase environmental pollution.

The military priorities of the present international system leave more than half a billion people malnourished. Half of the world's population is without adequate shelter, for example, in the SC alone, 5 million are homeless. Ironically, the highest proportion is in Germany where there are 12.8 per thousand; in Britain there are 12.2 per thousand and in France there are 11.1 per thousand. Also, half of the world's school age children are without teachers or schools.

If we are serious in wishing to improve the lot of mankind, we should rid ourselves of the comforting, but false assumption, that when things get bad enough governments will automatically do the right thing. On the contrary, as things get worse, governments often adopt wrong policies.

Many historical examples demonstrate that leaders in existing systems seldom initiate steps towards new systems, for example, plantation owners were unlikely advocates for freeing slaves, the countries that benefited from imperialism did not lead the anti-colonial revolution, etc.

For centuries people asked 'who shall be king?' Then, eventually, people began to ask new questions. Should there be a king? Must there be a king? The new questions marked a historical turning point, similar to the one we face today.

We once again ask 'Who should govern us?' 'Should there be a Governor?' In other words, should someone act on our behalf? The real question is, 'Can we govern ourselves?' The answer depends on us, in fact, it depends upon the level of our awareness.

I believe that mankind is going through a historical transition. We, mankind, are embarking on a new era; the era of the masses, the era of the authority of the people, where everyone exercises power - direct control of his/her destiny. The time has come for the advocacy of participatory democracy.

The potential for mobilising a broadly based popular movement is increasing, because of the growth of planetary consciousness, instant global communication, and the formation of political coalitions among people impressed with the interlocking relationships between militarism, unemployment, poverty, resource shortages, denial of human rights and ecological decay.

Throughout the world, there are literally millions of people who now hold the values that are necessary for building a system based on the authority of the people, in which serving human needs takes the highest priority. There are probably millions more ready to join such a movement for change, when it seems to have a chance of succeeding.

For those who share the positive vision of a world without war, consisting of local communities seeking lives of dignity, participation, mutual cooperation and genuine freedom, now is the time to join the effort for a new peaceful system. Global peace is only possible if it is based on social, self-determined and self-reliant development.


Bergsten, C.F., Interdependence and International Institutions, 1976, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press

Muammar Al Qadhafi, The Green Book: The Third Universal Theory, Tripoli, Libya

Myrdal, Gunnar, The UN System: Analysis, 1973, London, Faber & Faber; North South: A Program for Survival, 1990, London, Pan Books

Rahman, A., Second Thoughts of UNCTAD, 1979

Robert, O & Nye, Joseph S., Power & Independence, World Politics in Transition, 1977, Little, Brown

The above article is extracted from Al Jamahiriya No. 7 (February 1996), a publication of the Libyan Arab Cultural Centre, Melbourne, Australia. Correspondence should be directed to: Al Jamahiriya, PO Box 455, Brunswick, VIC 3056, Australia.


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