A Place in This World: The Role of the United Nations Then and Now

Guest Post by Aurora Lobatos

As the United Nations celebrates its 70th anniversary, its role in international relations has proven to be more important than ever.

Seventy years ago, Europe was in shambles as the deadliest war in human history drew to a close and the world waited with bated breath for what would come next. The unprecedented horrors of World War II caused leaders from across the globe to recognize the need to promote unity and prevent future atrocities.They set about creating the United Nations.

On January 10, 1946, the UN General Assembly, with representatives from 51 nations, met for the first time in Westminster, England, where they began to address matters that affect nations across the world in one forum, forever changing how international issues are handled.

Since the end of World War II, the UN has evolved in many ways. It is now comprised of 193 member states and takes action on such topics as peace and security, climate change, human rights, terrorism, gender equality, food production and much more.

Unfortunately, the problems that brought this organization into being still exist today. There have been multiple atrocities since the first meeting of the UN in 1946.

The Rwandan Genocide, the Bosnian Wars, and recently, the human rights violations occurring in Syria and Afghanistan, as well as the terrorist attacks in Paris,  seem to prove that the UN has not lived up to its founding principles of worldwide governance and conflict prevention. But is that really true?

The UN is an extremely important and effective actor in the international community. Most people don’t realize the vital role the it plays in and global governance and protection .

Dr. Carrie Booth Walling, associate professor Political Science at  Albion College said,“The UN has significantly shaped international relations in the 70 years of its existence. The UN has helped to decrease the prevalence of inter-state war and also has helped to prevent the outbreak of a third World War.”

While it is easy to see all of the UN’s shortcomings in hindsight, it is much harder to see it’s accomplishments. For every war or genocide that has taken place since the UN’s founding, many others might have been prevented, and there is no way the general public would know.

Since its inception, the UN has played a pivotal role in protecting human rights and providing services to people all over the world, especially those from developing nations.

Besides minimizing and preventing conflicts through politics and diplomacy, the UN also provides many functions citizens of the world depend on. This is done through a host of specialized agencies such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

“The UNDP fights poverty and promotes development and UNICEF provides long-term humanitarian and development assistance to children,” said Walling. “Without UNHCR, more than 55 million refugees would suffer without the safeguards and protections to help them survive war and humanitarian crises and the 80 million people living in more than 70 countries that rely on the World Food Program for sustenance would go hungry.”

Examples of such humanitarian actions can be found within the scope of the Syrian Refugee Crisis, the largest crisis since World War II, currently affecting the Middle East and Europe. Over 3 million Syrians have fled their homes to escape the violence that has sparked as a result of a horrifically brutal civil war. Millions more remain in Syria, desperately in need of humanitarian aid in order to stay alive. The specialized agencies of the UN have helped to bring food, water, shelter and healthcare to those who need it most.

From a diplomatic standpoint, Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki Moon has also called on the international community to admit the men, women and children seeking asylum into their countries. However, because all the members of the UN are sovereign states, they can choose not to respond to this call to action. To some, the inability of the UN to enforce policies and practices on its member nations is a sign of its weakness and ineffectiveness, but this should not be the case.

“The UN is an organization whose mandate and policies are shaped by its members which are states.  If states are divided about the appropriate course of action or lack the political will to address the root causes, the blame belongs squarely on the UN members themselves and not the organization at large,” said Walling. The lack of global outreach and assistance in the Syrian Crisis speaks more to the selfishness of sovereign states than to the clout of the UN.

There have been numerous mass atrocities since the founding and first meeting of the UN General Assembly 70 years ago. The problems of terrorism and violence currently plaguing the world will probably not cease any time soon, but the citizens of the world are certainly better off now that they have the assistance of the UN at their disposal.

While the world with the UN is an imperfect place, a world without it would be far worse.

Photo Courtesy of: Wikicommons 

About Jennifer McDonell 23 Articles
Jennifer McDonell is a senior from Milford, Michigan. She enjoys film, photography, and literature. She recently interned at Troy-based DBusiness Magazine. Jennifer's journalism focuses on tech-start ups, restaurant openings, and cultural events.

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