The Mighty and the UNO

Conclave of five great nations has ultimate power to decide the model, span, partners, and the benefactors of peace

Durdana Najam October 06, 2022
The writer is a public policy analyst based in Lahore. She tweets @durdananajam

World Wars should not be repeated. That was the resolve the five global powers made at the end of WWII after demonstrating their ability to create wars, walk into them, make them worse and end them with nuclear weapons. The cross-national division among European nations, spanning decades, had not only torn apart the western world, but its flames had also reached as far as the sub-continent, one of the precious colonies of Great Britain.

While the League of Nations enjoyed the mandate to bring order and peace among the warring nations, it had little clout in convincing the member states to see the world as a spectrum of human lives and not just a continuum of self-interest.

Like every war, WWII also ended, albeit with a new awakening about the future world order. Hence, from the wreck of nuclear-invaded Japan, the power wielding US and a ripped but undefeated USSR was born an inclusive and interdependent world community. With anarchism accepted as the ultimate reality of the international world, it was agreed that a multilateral platform underlining the principles to unite nations into a common thread of human dignity and peace was indispensable. The five victorious powers who had called themselves the United Nations since 1943 replaced their wartime alliance with a peacetime organization and named it the United Nations Organization. They were mandated to act like the world’s policemen to maintain peace globally.

The UNO derives its strength from the permanent members — China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the US — of the Security Council. This conclave of the five great nations has the ultimate power to decide the model, the span, the partners, and the benefactors of peace. Initially, the Council had six non-permanent members, but in 1963, the General Assembly amended the Charter to include four more members and expanded this strength to 15.

Though the member states of the General Assembly discuss conflicts and find a solution for them, their power to implement these solutions is far thinner and, on some occasions, almost absent. At the end of the day, the Security Council and its five permanent members’ discretion counts. Usually, a country’s national interest takes precedence over the collective benefits. The power to veto has made the UN hostage to the national interests of the permanent members of the SC. During the cold war, the UN simultaneously had its feet in three different camps: the US and its allies; the USSR and its supporters; and the non-aligned countries.

According to the UN Charter, war prevention is the organization’s central mission and chapter VIII of the UN Charter empowers the SC to use a wide variety of sanctions and, in worse cases, mobilize the international military to restore and maintain peace and security. Despite enjoying such an overarching power, the SC had been unable to stop some of the worst wars in recent history, such as the Iraq war and the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, Russia is one of the permanent members of SC, and a veto from Moscow itself would counter any decision to preclude Russian aggression.

Interestingly out of the five SC members, three are at war against one another. Ukraine-Russia war has the full support of the US and its allies. Similarly, the US has waged a trade war with China to contain its economic power. Despite a number of resolutions, the General Assembly has not been able to avert US’s decision to embargo Cuba. The war in Iraq was waged despite the UN’s disagreement with it. Israel’s persecution of the people of Gaza and the West Bank continues unabated. The recent inquiry report by the UN Human Rights Council on the humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian areas states: “Israel has failed to uphold international law and conventions relating to war and human rights and carry the UN’s previous recommendations. These include ending the occupation, ceasing settlement expansion, ending forced evictions, ceasing the policy of administrative detention, particularly of children, lifting the restriction of freedom of movement that fragments Palestinian society, including by lifting the blockade on Gaza, allowing Palestinians access to their natural resources, and eliminating laws and practices that discriminate against Palestinians, including road segregation for the exclusive use of the Israeli population.”

Israel and the US dismissed the report, calling it a ‘witch hunt’, and a ‘waste of money and effort’. The Trump administration blamed the Council for exercising ‘chronic bias’ against Israel and pulled out of the body in 2018. The Biden administration followed suit.

In a similar vein, the issue of Kashmir has been thrown into the deep freezer as the world’s leading powers are not interested in its resolution because of India’s strategic location and alliance with the US. Innumerable resolutions and Human Rights Inquiry Reports have been produced to reveal India’s atrocious handling of Kashmir. But to no avail.

The UN can only highlight issues, have them debated, and even create a framework to handle them, but its ability to seek compliance is stymied mainly through none other than the five great nations. The Covid-19 outbreak is the best example of how China, one of the P5 countries, first kept WHO in the dark and later refused to comply with its safety measures until the virus became a pandemic.

Before Covid-19, the UN and WHO had produced dozens of studies and research reports highlighting the possible outbreak of the pandemic and the preparations required to handle it. Not a single country in the SC paid heed to it, though ultimately, they were severely hit by the virus. However, like the effects of the climate change, the less developed and developing countries suffered the most financially and economically.

The reformation of the UNSC has been due for a long. Under question have been issues such as the veto power, regional representation, size of the Council, method of SC’s working, membership categories, and the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly.

The UN despite all odds does have its utility, though.

The organization has been able to alter the socioeconomic condition of less developed countries through initiatives such as the MDGs and SDGs. Other reformatory programs have been equally helpful to at least highlight the humanitarian crisis people face due to either climate change or migration from war-torn countries.

In an anarchic world, the rule of the business is driven by Might is Right. We may have, as many UNOs as we wish, but the reality of the superpowers getting rules amended and made in their favour will always remain a reality.

A just world is not possible. However, the minimum we can do is lower the tolerance threshold for the inhuman treatment of innocent people across the board.


Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2022.

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