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United Nations: Catalyst For World Peace And Global Security by Lt Gen VK Jetley

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Author: Lt Gen VK Jetley (Retd)
A High Level Panel constituted in September 2003 by the then Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan, identified six clusters of threats with which the world must be concerned now and in the decades ahead. These were economic and social threats, including poverty, infectious diseases and environmental degradation; interstate conflicts; internal conflicts including civil war, genocide and other large scale atrocities; nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons; terrorism and transnational organised crime.

The Second World War proved that the League of Nations, though based on sound principles, was largely ineffective in preventing war. The immediate causes of any war are always different and too numerous to list, however, the major causes remain more or less the same. These are economic disparity and distress, lack of fulfilment of aspirations of nations etc. War brings in its wake misery for winners and losers alike. Although the winners get large chunks of territory they are left heavily in debt. The losers not only lost their territory but have to pay reparations to the winners which they can ill afford. All this adversely affects recovery after the war leaving countless millions in abject poverty, joblessness and despair.

Keeping this in mind it was decided by the war time leaders of the Allied forces viz Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt, even before the war came to an end, to create an effective organisation for world peace. This decision was no doubt influenced by the devastation, destruction, death, the untold misery and sufferings of war, the poverty and economic distress and joblessness. The founding fathers also kept in mind the fact that de-colonisation had begun bringing in its wake problems like lack of governance in newly independent states, problems of refugees and internally displaced persons and so on. Thus, on 26 June 1945, the Charter of the United Nations was signed at San Francisco, USA and came into force on 24 October 1945. The preamble, reproduced below, clearly brings out the concern of the founding fathers for world peace.

Preamble’s Promise
a) To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind and
b) To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small and
c) To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

The UN Charter, laid out in 19 Chapters, more than adequately covers all aspects of problems that the world faced then and was likely to face in the future. Chapter III lays down the principle organs of the UN viz a General Assembly, a Security Council, an Economic and Social Council, a Trusteeship Council, an International Court of Justice and a Secretariat. Interestingly, the drafters of the UN Charter never felt the necessity of creating a peacekeeping force. The idea of keeping the peace was first conceived by the then Prime Minister of Canada Lester Pearson and accepted by Secretary General of the United Nations Mr Dag Hammarskjold in 1956 when UK and France invaded Egypt. The Force called UNEF comprised 6,000 men from 10 member states. This was the beginning of peacekeeping operations that in subsequent years have proved invaluable. The UN in its chequered existence has had its fair shares of successes. It has had criticisms as well which will be touched upon subsequently. Let us first see what its modus operandi is and
whether it is conducive to world peace.


The UN System

The UN has often been requested to prevent disputes from deteriorating into a war, to help restore peace when a situation goes out of control and to assist societies emerging from conflict situations to stabilise. Whenever the Security Council receives a complaint regarding a threat to peace it recommends to the parties in dispute to try and resolve the same peacefully. However, if a situation deteriorates further the Council issues ceasefire directives that have often been instrumental in preventing hostilities from deteriorating further. If the need is felt it deploys a peacekeeping mission to keep opposing forces apart and create conditions for sustainable peace. If the situation deteriorates further the Council may decide on imposing sanctions and even authorise the UN missions to work under Chapter VII, as enforcement missions. In short the UN takes the following actions:

Conflict Prevention: This involves peace envoys and the Department of Political Affairs of UN working together on poverty eradication and development; human rights and the rule of law; elections and the building of democratic institutions and the control of small arms etc.

Peace Keeping: Basically UN peacekeeping missions work under chapter VI with the aim of maintaining ceasefires and stabilising situations, so that efforts can be made at the political level to resolve conflicts by peaceful means. Presently there are 18 missions worldwide. A large number of conflicts have been resolved either through direct UN mediation or by the efforts of others acting with UN support. Peacekeepers undertake a wide variety of complex tasks, from helping to build sustainable institutions of governance, human rights monitoring, security sector reform, disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and demining.

Peace Enforcement: Though essentially peacekeeping missions work under Chapter VI, if active fighting breaks out or is likely to break out then such missions are ab initio empowered to use force whenever the situation demands. Such missions work under Chapter VII and fall under the category of peace enforcement missions.

Peace Building: This comprises efforts to reduce a country’s risk of relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities for conflict management and by laying the foundations for sustainable peace and development. It involves activities such as assisting the return of refugees and displaced persons; helping to organise and monitor elections of a new government; supporting justice and security sector reform; enhancing human rights protections and fostering reconciliation after past atrocities.


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