THE Charter of the United Nations was drafted and approved in 1945. Its stated objectives are to prevent war, forced occupation, and promote global justice. This vision is beautifully captured in a sculpture in the court of the UN building which consists of a pistol whose muzzle has been tied in a knot.
However, the UN has not been able to fulfil its mandate. Since its creation war, famine, illegal occupation, and inequity between nations and classes have increased. This failure of the UN is built into its structure.
Five members of the Security Council can, and have consistently, vetoed resolutions against injustice, occupation, and war. These five nations are the richest and/or most powerful nations on earth. All five of them are also major manufacturers of small and large arms and all of them are exporters in the global market. The purchasers of these arms are by and large countries that suppress their people, like Saudi Arabia, or seek to impose their will on the region in which they exist, like India. When not directly involved, they develop proxies to destabilise the region. The guns and ammunition manufactured by these powers have been used in Yemen, Syria, Libya, various regions in Africa, and, for the last 40 years, in Afghanistan. They have killed women and children indiscriminately and justified it as collateral damage. They have been used to take away Palestinian land and give it to Israel through massive military aid of $18 billion yearly that they provide to the Zionist state.
In addition, it has been well established that some of these countries smuggle arms to warring factions in their zones of influence through a network of contractors (60 per cent of this trade is from the US and 25pc from Europe). Global spending on the manufacture of arms is $3 trillion of which 39pc is America’s share. China’s share is 13pc and UK, France, and Russia, collectively, add up to 8.8pc. This also shows the imbalance in power within the Security Council.
The failure of the UN is built into its structure.
Thirty-seven per cent of all arms export is from the US, 20pc from Russia, and 16.7pc from the other members of the Security Council. Meanwhile, Israel is also becoming a major manufacturer of arms and its exports between 2016 and 2020 increased by 59pc. This has major implications for the Middle East. The big importers of arms, on the other hand, are Saudi Arabia (11pc), India (9.5pc), Egypt (5.8pc), UAE (3pc), and Pakistan (2.7pc).
These figures give us some idea of the interests the members of the Security Council have in promoting a state of war. Their economies are heavily dependent on arms production and sale and this has expanded phenomenally from $95bn in 2017 to $3tr in 2020.
The figures also point to the fact that the UN is all but dead and survives only because it has become a part of the larger global system to maintain the present status quo of which a proliferating arms economy is an integral part.
The UN employs 37,000 permanent staff and has an annual budget of $3.231bn (2021 figure). This does not include its special programmes like peacekeeping (last year’s budget for peacekeeping was $6.58bn) or projects related to famine relief. Much of this expense is provided by the five powers. For instance, the US contribution to UN expenses is 22pc of the UN’s total budget. To add insult to injury, these five powers and their allies are collectively known as the ‘international community’.
The UN has a close working relationship with international financial institutions (IFI) whose political and economic agendas, such as neoliberalism and global trade treaties, it promotes despite being discretely critical of them at times. Enough has been written about these organisations, in the case of Pakistan as well, to show that they are not interested in development but in creating dependence and pushing their loans. The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and DFID combined employ 23,857 full-time staff and have a combined budget of $5.4bn. In addition, both the UN and these agencies support thousands of NGOs and consultants in developing data, evaluating programmes, and implementing small and medium projects that serve the various programmes that they promote. This huge bank of human resources, the power it creates, and the interests it generates, collectively manage to prevent the UN from dying formally. They are happy to keep it on a ventilator so that they can also survive.
There is a need for a global network of organisations and individuals to be created, nurtured, and formalised to push for UN reform or/and to non-violently agitate collectively against injustice to prevent the consolidation of an anti-poor status quo. If this does not take place, there will be many more Palestines, leading to global anarchy, and we will watch helplessly.
The writer is an architect, urban planner, and social activist.
Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2021