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Critical evaluation of the UN’s management of global peace and security
The United Nations (UN) was established in 1945 by the five victory powers of World War II - China, France, the United Kingdom, The United States of America and the former Soviet Union to maintain the post-war peace. Its Charter was drawn up by representatives of fifty countries and ratified by the original and permanent members. According to Article 1 of the Charter, the UN’s primary purpose is “to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace”. Today, 191 states are members of the global organization and subscribe themselves to the UN Charter to share the responsibility for international peace and security.
The Charter established six principle organs, of which the Security Council is the most important with the primary responsibility to settle different kinds of conflicts to maintain the global peace and security. While other organs make recommendations to governments, the Council alone has the power to take decisions and initiate actions including the use of force, which Member States are obligated under the Charter to carry out.
The Security Councils consists of 15 Member States: the five permanent ones, which can veto any draft resolution on substantive matters reflecting the assumption that the major powers would act together to provide collective global security, and ten non-permanent members elected for two-year periods. When a complaint concerning a threat to peace is brought before it, the Council usually recommends the parties several peace-making methods like negotiation, investigation or mediation to reach agreement by peaceful means. When a dispute gets worse or leads to fighting it is empowered to call for cease-fires, order economic sanctions, and even authorize military action against an aggressor on behalf of the UN. One tool for maintaining international peace and security not embodied in the Charter is the use of peacekeeping forces to prevent existing dispute from reigniting “using force only in self-defence, and operating in a neutral and impartial way with the consent of the parties to disputes”.
Unfortunately, administrative and budgetary constraints limit the UN’s capacity to respond to every serious threat to peace. In addition, UN peacekeeping has in several cases failed to prevent war or armed conflicts. There are many tragic cases were the population had to suffer due to failed missions in conflict zones like in Afghanistan, former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda and Burundi, but the maybe longest involvement of Peacekeepers not being able to solve the conflict is Cyprus.
In this essay I will demonstrate that UN was and is not able to manage global peace and security at a satisfactory level, as the UN is only as strong as its member states. I argue that in many cases they are not able to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, as the members do not support the UN adequately. Furthermore, even wrong measures are taken. I will fortify my thesis by the example of Cyprus-conflict, where peacekeeping forces were established in 1964 to bring peace. The conflict is still boiling and the UN and Peacekeepers were not able to bring together Greek and Turkish Cypriots to produce a long-term settlement of the conflict. To make this problem understandable, I will first focus on the historical part of the conflict giving a view influenced by legal facts and then go on to latest negotiations between the two sides. I will further show that there are several underlying problems like religious, nationalistic and ethnic feelings used by the leaders which makes it even harder to get to a collective and peaceful solution.
Critical evaluation of the UN’s management of global peace and security
There is no doubt that the apparent inability of the UN to prevent the outbreak of devastating wars, conflicts and civil disturbances is frustrating. Since 1980, about thirty to forty conflicts arise each year and many of them seem to arise from known causes. Therefore, one could assume that they are preventable in their early stages but there is no strategy like an ‘early-warning system’ used by the UN. I think the reason for this is that the UN is a big organisation consisting of nations or states and therefore is only as strong as the mandates and power that the member states give to it. Due to the power given to the permanent Member States in the Security Council, it is mostly carrying out the decisions of the largest powers, which I think are in particular those of the United States at the moment. I see this fact as highly critical as national interests and the larger interests of the international society may not coincide with one another.
As the UN has no military or civilian police force of its own, effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace can only be taken by the members and therefore depends on how their force is educated and equipped. Further problems are still consisting administrative and budgetary limitations restricting the UN in responding to every serious threat to peace and to find the right way to get it settled down. Due to the budgetary limitations, it looks like one tries to concentrate on ‘dangerous’ conflicts to prevent them from escalating to the point where they might affect global stability, but I believe that those decisions are definitely always shaped by underlying motives.
In the past between 1945 and 1984, I think the UN definitely did not manage their responsibilities effectively: 329 international disputes occurred of which the UN only managed 137. Additionally the UN failed to control nearly half of them and failed to fully settle 75 percent of them. Reasons for so little involvements were great power rivalry, vetoes used by the permanent members to block proposed actions, and chronic financial problems. A further example is the Cold War, which itself was an obstacle to global peace and security what the UN did not manage as the members with the biggest power in the UN produced it. When the Cold War ended, the barriers to the UN’s performance decreased and security seemed to enlarge again. But since the structure of the organisation was not changed since its establishment, there are still obstacles existing which together with other new occurring problems slow down the overall effectiveness.
As said before, the Security Council has different possibilities to approach threats to peace including the use of peacekeeping forces. Peacekeeping forces generally consist of separate national contingents often also called ‘blue-helmets’ carrying out in the name of the UN a variety of tasks, which have changed over the time. Those include today the nine different functions “Truce Supervision & Ceasefire Monitoring, Demobilization and Reintegration, Disarmament, Humanitarian Assistance, Electoral Assistance, Human Rights, Civilian Police, Mine Clearance and Cooperation with Regional Organizations”. The success of peacekeeping actions is strongly dependent on the political will of parties involved to accept a peaceful alternative to violence. When this is not the fact, the body concerned with the mission can only “help manage the existing status quo rather than aid peace making”. Peacekeeping is not able to resolve underlying conflicts; it is an activity of secondary kind.
Since its first use in 1948 over 750,000 volunteering persons from more than 110 nations have served in UN peacekeeping missions. While in the first forty years, only thirteen missions were undertaken, between 1986 and 2000, thirty-eight major new missions were launched to deal with steady increasing ethnic and nationalist conflicts brought of governments to the UN. Problems occurring leading to failures were the necessary financial and logistical support of the troops from Member States for those operations, the slow process for setting up peacekeeping operations and lacking clarity about goals and timeframes. Observer Missions are usually financed from the UN’s regular budget, whereas fully peacekeeping missions are financed through special peacekeeping assessments. Unfortunately, Member States are often in arrears and demand for operations is increasing. Especially the U.S. as a big provider of funds in the past is cutting down their share recently and causes additional problems for the UN to function. Another problem occurs when multinational troops are used, as they are often unlikely to accept the command of a UN officer.
 “United Nations, Divided World – the UN’s Roles in International Relations”, 1996, p.500.
 Pugh, in White et.al. 1997, p.135, in Porter & Garbutt, Peace, War and International Politics – Study Guide, 2002.p.121.
 Bertrand, M., “The United Nations – Past, Present and Future”, 1997, p.140.
 Kegley & Wittkopf, “World Politics. Trend and Transformation”, 2001, p.624-625.
 Kegley & Wittkopf, “World Politics. Trend and Transformation”, 2001, p.176-179.
 www.un.org/Depts/DPKO/pk50_w.htm, p.4-5.
 Morphet, S., “UN Peacekeeping and Election-Monitoring”, in United Nations, Divided World – the UN’s Roles in International Relations”, 1996, p.201.
 Kegley & Wittkopf, “World Politics. Trend and Transformation”, 2001, p.622-623.
 Karns & Mingst, „The Evolution of United Nations Peacekeeping and Peacemaking: Lessons from the Past and Challenges for the Future”, 1998, p.220-222.