By Mohammad Mazhari

Though UN has failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has secured peace among great powers: CIS-EMO director

June 28, 2020 - 13:59

TEHRAN - The United Nations is expected to play a constructive role in the problematic and complex West-Asian context.

It seems that the principle of state sovereignty, which is a central concept in the post-world wars era, is now being redefined by the behavior of superpowers and new international coalitions.

While West Asia has become an arena of paradoxes, and more conflicts within and between countries, many external powers now have a fundamental role in this chaotic situation, which indicates the collapse of sovereignty.

In this regard, Stanislav Byshok, who is executive director at the CIS-Europe Monitoring Organization (CIS-EMO) in Russia, believes that "although the UN has failed in settling the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has notable achievements in securing peace among great powers.” 

The text of Tehran Times’ interview with Stanislav Byshok is as follows:

Q: There are some reports indicating corruption at the UN. They confirm a strong connection between the distribution of foreign aid payments and UN decisions and resolutions. What is your comment?

Like any other institution, especially having big budgets, the UN is not immune to corruption. However, even having a certain amount of corruption on a higher level, the world in general, as we see, has been doing pretty well since the UN's inception in 1945. Actually, better than in any other period in history. It doesn't mean there are no conflicts needed to be resolved or cases of inhumanity to be stopped or people to be fed and provided with fresh water. There's a lot to be done, by sovereign nations on their own and by the concerted effort of the international community—including climate change. Yet as of today, we're heading in the right direction as humanity.

There's a silver lining to these dark clouds of pessimism—nowadays, states go to war more rarely than in was the case previously.

Q: Do you believe that the UN is unbiased when it deals with powerful countries?

The United Nations, as an organization, is a direct successor to the failed League of Nations, its very name is reminiscent of that of its predecessor. On paper, both organizations should have been a community of equals. However, in practice, it's clear that great powers have more say in important issues than minor ones. At the same time, these very great powers also carry more responsibility to global well-being than small countries—and this fact shouldn't be overlooked. For example, the financial contribution of great powers to the UN, with its many projects relating to humanitarian issues, far exceeds that of the rest of the international community.

Some would say that it's just natural and by no means a virtue worth mentioning, that the wealthier nations should pay more. Perhaps it's so, but why, then, get appalled at the fact that those contributing more have also more say in meaningful decisions? In democracies or those countries maintaining a democratic facade, when you have an election or a referendum on a national level, one person has one voice, no matter their wealth, education, or origins. As it comes to an international or even global level, represented by the UN, the story's getting more complicated indeed.

Q: Can we conclude that the UN has been unsuccessful in its mission to maintain international peace and security over the last decades, especially in regard to the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts?

The UN has failed in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan, giving way to the almost unilateral military activities of the U.S. in these areas. That said, it would be unfair if we ignored the fact that the UN has succeeded in its chief goal: to secure peace among great powers. As we know, there has been no direct clashes between great powers since 1945. Whether this achievement should be attributed to the UN or other factors, like nuclear weapons or general rejection of war in the populations of great powers, is an issue of debates and speculations.

“If we look at general numbers and global trends from 1945, when the UN was launched, to the present day, the world is doing pretty well. The average life expectancy is up, infant mortality is down,… global conflicts down, etc.”Q: Do you agree with this view that a structural change in the UN will make it more competent?

Speaking of the UN, we'd better always keep in mind that this organization consists, not of some states, but of all the countries that exist today. Unlike in the cases of NATO or the EU, which comprise a smaller portion of world states and may pursue their separate policies vis-a-vis other countries or organizations, the UN is global. What follows is a paradox: the quality of being a UN member-state gives a country virtually nothing, but it is generally obligatory. It's like having a passport—you can't live a normal life without it, but it gives you no privileges about your fellow nationals.

Speaking of any fundamental structural change to the UN, it's challenging to come up with some non-nonsensical ideas to be accepted by all the great powers and the majority of minors. It's somewhat fashionable to question the UN's efficiency and claim the organization itself is obsolete or irrelevant. However, if we look at general numbers and global trends from 1945, when the UN was launched, to the present day, the world's doing pretty well. The average life expectancy is up—infant mortality is down, the average household income is up—the crime rate is down, general literacy is up—global conflicts down, the world population is up—poverty's down, etc. Skeptics would say that all that happened "naturally" or "by itself" with no connection to the UN's activities. It's impossible to test this argument since we've all been living in "a UN world" since 1945—and we haven't had "a non-UN world" during the same period.

Q: To democratize the world body, don’t you think that it would be more reasonable to increase the permanent members of the UN Security Council to include non-nuclear countries?

It's an ages-long issue between what's known in International Relations as status-quo states and revisionist states. Wealthy and powerful states want to expand their wealth and power or at least to preserve a current status-quo—a state of the global international order in which the states in question are at the top. At the same time, those less wealthy and powerful, once they have grown enough—economically, militarily or politically, begin to challenge the current state of global affairs—seeking what they usually call a more just global order, thus becoming revisionist states.

The question of democracy is a tricky one, indeed. For example, there are non-democratic states, with no trace of observing human rights and fundamental freedoms at home, who claim they're entitled to democratic treatment abroad—for example, as members of the UN. Would that be fair to treat a non-democracy democratically? On the other hand, some countries are definitely democratic and respect human rights at home but act unitarily and at times aggressively abroad. Is it fair to call these countries fully democratic, given their foreign-policy track record? Debates of that sort seem to be rather important in case one wants to reform the UN fundamentally.

Q: An objection by a veto-wielding power may cripple a possible armed or diplomatic response to a crisis by the UN. In view of this fact, what's your opinion about veto power?

Veto power is a legacy of WWII, on which legacy the world order of today primarily rests—or so they say. From the current point of view, Germany, Japan, or India seem to be no less worthy of being permanent members of the UN Security Council, and thus having a veto right, than France. However, I see no reason why extending the number of the UN Security Council permanent members or substituting veto power with some qualified majority, would make the work of the institution more productive. Moreover, the latter would encourage factionalism, which doesn't seem to be a normal situation.

The issue of joint international action, diplomatic or military, is problematic indeed. That's the chief reason certain countries opt for acting unilaterally when they don't want to wait or disagree with some other UN member states on a given subject. Given that the UN is neither a nation nor a world government, it doesn't have an army of its own. All the UN troops are military personnel provided by this or that member state. If a state doesn't want to participate in certain operations, it can withdraw its troops with no meaningful repercussions. Powerful states can afford more disobedience than weak ones—as it has always been. If a group of minor states can't defy a powerful state "outside" the U.S., how could they succeed "inside"?

There's a silver lining to these dark clouds of pessimism—nowadays, states go to war more rarely than in was the case previously.

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