By Andebrhan Welde Giorgis
The United Nations was established in 1945 after the Second World War to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, promote social progress, enhance living standards and protect human rights. Recently, climate action has been added as one of the core goals of the UN.
However, structural constraints, aggravated by intensifying geopolitical rivalries, especially between the two major power blocs within the five permanent members (the P5) of the Security Council, have hampered the UN’s ability to pursue its mandate effectively.
The inability to operationalise its purposes has diminished its role and driven its declining global and African influence.
The UN and its agencies have undertaken action and achieved laudable results in conflict resolution, peacekeeping, security, human rights, gender equality, sustainable development, humanitarian aid, disease control, nuclear non-proliferation, mine clearance, disarmament, environmental protection, etc.
While its achievements fall far short of its foundational objectives, the UN remains relevant to the global pursuit of human security.
The founding of the UN granted the victors of the war permanent membership in the Security Council with veto powers. The P5 are China, France, Russia, the UK and the US.
The Cold War saw a bipolar world of a Soviet-dominated East and a US-dominated West. The two camps vied for influence in the nominally non-aligned Third World.
The US, supported by France, the United Kingdom and allies among the ten non-permanent members, dominated the Security Council and exerted a powerful influence over the other principal UN organs and agencies, including the General Assembly, the Secretariat, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Taiwan’s replacement by the People’s Republic of China in 1971 and France’s occasional exercise of autonomy did not fundamentally change the dynamic of the West’s dominance of the Security Council and the UN system.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact ushered in Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history”, the triumph of “Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government” in a unipolar world under the aegis of the US.
Meanwhile, China's steady rise and the US's decline signal the advent of a multipolar world with a new military balance characterised by dangerous nuclear proliferation.
Hence, the upkeep of world peace and security, amicable interstate relations, sustainable development, mitigation of climate change and meeting new global challenges require a truly rules-based international system under the auspices of a reformed and empowered UN.
This is essential for humanity's very survival and the human condition's enhancement.
Thus, it is imperative to reform the UN system - mainly the Security Council and the General Assembly - and make it fit for purpose as the core of a rules-based multilateral order.
This must consider certain rational criteria that ensure equitable representation and reflect the relative importance of states and regions. In terms of economic size, military power and population size, for instance, India ranks among the top five countries in the world, ahead of France and the UK. Africa deserves a seat in the Security Council.
UN’s Africa failure
The structure, composition and modus operandi of the Security Council, set up seventy-eight years ago to preserve the post-WW II order in the interest of the victors, must be amended to create a fairer multilateral order based on agreed, universally enforceable rules in the interest of humanity.
The General Assembly, representing 193 member states, must be strengthened to serve as an authentic voice of the international community and to make decisions and take concrete actions instead of mere declarations.
Otherwise, the UN risks losing influence and respect globally and in Africa. Reform must enable the UN to overcome the debilitating impact of divergent national interests and competing alliances of the ‘Big Powers’ that undermine the effective performance of its mandate.
The multiple wars that have wreaked havoc and brought misery to so many African countries and peoples during the last nearly eight decades of its existence attest to its failure to fulfil its central mission to maintain international peace and security.
Its paralysis and lack of effective action to prevent or resolve the longstanding and ongoing crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea-Ethiopia, Ethiopia, Libya, Mali, Niger, and the genocide in Rwanda represent among the glaring failures of the UN, causing its declining influence in Africa.
Ambassador Andebrhan Welde Giorgis is the author of “Eritrea at a Crossroads: A Narrative of Triumph, Betrayal and Hope.” He is the former Commissioner for Coordination with the UN Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia. He was Eritrea’s Ambassador to the EU, and the Special Envoy to the African Great Lakes Region.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT Afrika.