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  • Matthew C. Mai

The UN Experiment Has Failed

Updated: Mar 15


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One of the most seemingly noble projects undertaken by world leaders of the 20th century was the creation of an international body that would keep the world at peace and uphold basic human rights for people of all nations. It was President Woodrow Wilson who unsuccessfully first concocted the idea of a “League of Nations” in the aftermath of one of the worst conflicts in human history, World War I. Thirty seven million people lost their lives in a war that saw poison gas, trench warfare, and machine guns dominate the battlefield. World leaders swore they could not allow such carnage again and humiliated the main belligerent, Germany, with a stern treaty that was never enforced. The consequential appeasement by European leaders to the aggression of a newly invigorated and monstrous Nazi Germany would lead to an even greater conflict that saw 65 million people lose their lives from naval battles in the South Pacific to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

The second time around, world leaders were serious and in October of 1945 in San Francisco, California, 51 countries signed the United Nations Charter which aimed to bring the entirety of the world under the banner of human rights and equality for all.


It would be an understatement to say the United Nations has failed to live up to its own charter. They have done nothing to keep the world from falling into disarray in the seven decades since it was created. The notion that the whole world, despite all of the contradicting cultures and values within it, could bring about global peace was foolish to begin with. Even granting the leaders at the time the context of history and the best of intentions, it does not take seven decades of observation to realize that a massive international, centralized bureaucracy comprised of individuals from every country in the world is ineffective at best and detrimental at worst.


The Rwandan Genocide is perhaps the biggest failure in the bleak history of the United Nations. Despite having a presence in Rwanda, despite reports of massacres in villages around the country, the blue helmet “peacekeeping” forces on the ground did nothing to stop the slaughter of an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 people in a 100 day period. The rules of engagement proved to be useless as it prohibited military force from being used during the peacekeeping mission which sought to broker a peace agreement between the government and rebel forces as well as provide humanitarian aid for civilians. It is possible that if the UN adapted to the changing circumstances on the ground and authorized military force to be used against the Hutu aggressors, the scale of death may have been reduced. Unfortunately, the inaction during the Rwandan Genocide was not an isolated incident. The UN failed to act while thousands of Yazidi women were sold into sexual slavery and thousands of Yazidi men were slaughtered by ISIS. The UN failed to act while 1.5-2 million were killed in Cambodian rice paddies between 1975-1979. Finally and most recently, the UN has failed to act while millions of people have fled a civil war in Syria that has seen poison gas used against civilians and mass migration towards the European continent.


If the UN was created to prevent all of these humanitarian disasters and broker peace between nations, then why doesn’t it act? Any decent country recognizes that these injustices run contra to a basic understanding of human rights. The reality is that the organization has no political will power. Guatemala doesn’t care about the Syrian refugee crisis any more than Finland cares about the persecution of Uighurs in China. Countries care more about what goes on inside of their borders than what is happening outside of them. Furthermore, the inclusion and recognition of authoritarian governments such as Syria, Iran, and Venezuela ensure that even a basic understanding of human rights by all of the member states cannot possibly be agreed upon. If the UN can’t even agree on what human rights look like, then how could it possibly be effective?


The diplomatic immunity of the United Nations has bred a system of corruption that is comically hypocritical. Take for example the Oil-for-Food Program which allowed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to put oil on the global market in exchange for food in order to feed his starving people. In the rampant corruption that ensued involving various state actors, oligarchs, and private companies, a UN investigation revealed that the director of the program, Benon Sevan, took kickbacks from an oil company in order to help them win contracts in Iraq. Failure to properly oversee the program and a complete lack of accountability among the leadership at the UN manifested itself in this instance of corruption at the highest level. However, this lack of accountability has also had more serious, more horrifying ramifications. The UN has a sex abuse problem among “peacekeepers” sent to third world countries like Haiti, Bosnia, and the Congo. They exploit women and young girls for sex in exchange for food and medical supplies. Often these women and young girls become apart of a larger network of forced prostitution facilitated by “peacekeepers”. The very people that the UN is tasked with protecting in dire places around the world are being exploited by soldiers-for-hire in baby blue helmets with nothing better to do than take advantage of their fellow man all while being exempt from legal prosecution because of their diplomatic immunity status. The UN is supposed to be holding human rights abusers responsible but instead, they can’t even keep them out of their own ranks. Does this sound like a responsible, moral institution to you?


The failure of this international project has been well documented over the years and this is only just scratching the surface of the ineptitude and corruption that has been going on for seven decades. This seemingly noble idea conceived by post-World War II leaders has repeatedly dropped the ball on the very problems it proclaims it wants to solve. From Rwanda to Oil-for-Food, this international cooperation experiment has been and continues to be, a failure. So it's high time we take a hard look at the United Nations and decide if it is an institution worth preserving.


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