IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

More thoughts after marking

I finished up another set of papers and essay exams recently, and, as usual, this got me thinking about the views of my reasonably well informed students of international relations.  Here a couple of things again about the United Nations, that were, at least for me, particularly interesting.

Most of my students are American and many are active duty military officers (some in Iraq and Afghanistan).  With time, I’m beginning to think that their attitudes towards the U.N. are really quite complex.  First, there is a general tendency to have quite strong views on the U.N. without having read its Charter.  Isn’t that odd?  In other words people seem to think they know what is up with the U.N. just from the media.  This is very problematic.  For instance, the U.N. is an “actor” in the sense that it does things as an entity in international relations. But it is primarily an international organization:  a context and venue for the world’s countries to act–hopefully acting collectively, at least from time to time.   This is important because most of my students see the U.N. as “weak”, and often contrast it with the strength of the U.S. to deal with conflict (and other) issues.

For instance, if the U.N. “failed” in Rwanda then this means the U.N. is not up to the task of resolving conflicts and making peace.  However, if one sees the U.N. as a policy forum–particularly in regard to peace and security which are the exclusive brief of the Security Council–then the analysis has to be different.  It becomes clear that if a U.N. mission failed it is because the SC members (and particularly the permanent members) did not make adequate provisions for the mission to succeed.  They could have done, but they didn’t.  There may be many reasons why they didn’t including ignorance, lack of commitment or even “hidden agendas.”  Whatever the cause, seen from this angle, it is the policy decision of the SC members that was weak, and not the United Nations itself.  The Charter has provisions for strong collective “peacemaking” measure including the use of force (which you will of course learn when you read the Charter–apologies if you have already).  To date, however, they have been used sparsely, if at all.  Again, this has been the decision of the state members of the Security Council.  So, the U.N. itself could, according to its Charter, act in much stronger ways if/when the states responsible for making decisions related to peace and security decide to do so.  To use a very crude analogy from golf.  I may have a driver that would, under the right conditions, enable me to hit the ball 250 yards, but I choose to swing very softly and end up hitting the ball about 120 yards.  That does not mean my driver is weak, only my swing:  ie how I decided to use the club.

It is intriguing how people, who really should know much better, are inclined to accuse the U.N. of all sorts of things.

IGbarb says:  “Read the Charter!”

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May 29, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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