Principal's Lecture: Is the United Nations relevant in today's world?

London A58

On Thursday 19 January MPW students got a chance to listen to Dr Richard Leete – the former United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam – who conducted a lecture about the relevance of the United Nations in today’s world. The auditorium was completely packed with tutors and students. IFP students were particularly interested in Dr Leete’s talk as we are studying this global player directly in International Relations lessons.

As the survey at the beginning of the talk showed, half of the attendees were in favour of the UN’s activity while another half expressed a degree of criticism concerning the relevancy of this organisation.

In origin, the United Nations is the second attempt at creating a world government, and it was formed in 1945 after the failure of the League of Nations to prevent World War II. The structure of the UN can is represented by: the General Assembly – the main body consisting of representatives of all member states; the Security Council – where decisions are made; the International Court of Justice – meant to resolve conflicts between nations; the UN secretariat; Economic and Social Council.

Dr Leete announced that the main criteria of assessment of the UN’s effectiveness is its implementation of the main purpose – maintaining peace and safety. Criticism of the UN has been generated by the many conflicts around the globe nowadays. Moreover, the modern world could be seen to be even less peaceful than it used to be just after the end of the War. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace’s (IEP’s) latest study, just 11 countries were not involved in a conflict  in 2016.

Apart from peace and security, the lecturer pointed at other global focus areas of the UN, actual actions it launched and positive outcomes. Those goals are supporting economic growth, promoting gender equality and human rights, adapting to climate change and resolving humanitarian crises.

It was pointed out that the UN needs reforming, but it is not clear whether such reform can be brought about. Only five members of the Security Council have a veto power, which are the UK, the USA, Russia, China, France. Their power makes it very difficult to implement any reforms. Consequently, the Security Council, so the UN, can be paralysed by the difficulty of passing resolutions and agreements on passing actions, especially in cases where one of the permanent members has an interest (e.g. Ukrainian intervention, Syrian conflict).

Even though Dr Leete was a UN representative, his speech was not biased, as both positive and negative statistics were displayed, allowing students to deliberate the question.

Nevertheless, although there are a lot of disadvantages in the UN activity, for almost six decades the states that comprise the UN have come to value and need the organisation, which in fact, in my opinion, makes the world better but not in the rhythm it was supposed to.

Yuliya Guban