The Role of the UN

Author and Page information

  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Sunday, June 04, 2000

The following quotes say it all. Not just in East Timor, but any conflict.

... on January 23 1976, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, sent a top-secret cable to Kissinger in which he boasted about the "considerable progress" he had made in blocking UN action on East Timor. Moynihan later wrote: "The department of state desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective [on East Timor]. This task was given to me, and I carried it through with no inconsiderable success." -- John Pilger, Guardian 21 September, 1999 in an article called Under the Influence

And regarding recent events.

"It is a little misleading to speak of the role of the UN. The UN is nearly powerless as an abstract entity or even as a representative of the world's nations. It can act, instead, only insofar as it is given authorization by the great powers, which means primarily the United States.

The UN has no standing peacekeeping force and thus is dependent on finding countries willing to contribute troops for any particular mission. The organization suffers as well from an extreme shortage of funds because of the continual U.S. refusal to pay its dues. Any peacekeepers sent to East Timor will probably not be a UN force because the U.S. Congress has required that there be a 15-day delay before the U.S. government can approve any UN peacekeeping operation and has forbidden Washington from paying its authorized share of the costs of any such operation.

U.S. influence is greatest in the Security Council, but some organs of the UN, such as the General Assembly or bodies dealing with economic and social issues have had a Third World majority ever since the era of decolonization. Accordingly, U.S. policy has been to undermine and marginalize the UN. The United Nations should have an important role in world affairs, but U.S. policy and the policies of other leading states, severely limit the international organization. From the point of view of U.S. policymakers, however, there is one crucial role played by the UN: it serves as a convenient scapegoat when something goes wrong. For example, the current catastrophe in East Timor is directly attributable to the refusal of the United States and other Western powers to deter the atrocities there over a period of a quarter century, yet the UN will probably take the blame." -- Stephen R. Shalom, Noam Chomsky, and Michael Albert from this link.

As also mentioned for quite a while on the UN and Development part of this web site, the UN is potentially very beneficial but power politics have undermined it -- even by the nations who helped form it.

This commentary from United Nations Association of UK suggests that had the Security Council been more decisive in this crisis, as well as Kosovo, both tradgedies could have been avoided.

Where next?

Other options

Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Monday, July 20, 1998
  • Last Updated: Sunday, June 04, 2000

Back to top