July 10, 2020debates with my daughtersgeopoliticseducation

Is the United Nations of any use?

I got mildly worried a couple of weeks ago when Airy became extremely knowledgeable about the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Deccan Herald This is from my Debates with My Daughters column that appeared in the Deccan Herald in 2019-20

I got mildly worried a couple of weeks ago when Airy became extremely knowledgeable about the Republic of Kazakhstan. When she informed me that the land-locked Central Asian country had transferred all the nuclear weapons it had to Russia back in the early 1990s and is a firm supporter of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), I was jolted into attention. When I started to explain why Astana adopted this position, she told me that my knowledge might be outdated because the capital itself has been renamed to Nur-Sultan, after the long-serving president who stepped down last year.

Airy, it turned out, had gotten into the Model United Nations (MUN) circle. She had been assigned the role of the delegate from the Republic of Kazakhstan (she insisted that I refer to the state by its official name) and was involved in discussions that included nuclear non-proliferation. We spent the next couple of days discussing what actually happened in the online MUN and many subsequent days talking about the United Nations.

I have long been a UN-sceptic. The Cold War ended when I was in high school and since then, its effectiveness has been far short of its presumed importance. The General Assembly is a propaganda pulpit for domestic audiences and the Security Council is a cover for permanent members to pursue their national interests. It couldn’t stop genocides in the Balkans, Rwanda and Darfur; and despite proclaiming a Responsibility to Protect (R2P) did nothing to save lives in the Middle East, and now in Myanmar. It didn’t prevent the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France from invading other countries, nor indeed do much about brazen state-supported international terrorism over in the 1990s and 2000s. The Human Rights Council is a travesty, with countries like China and Saudi Arabia getting to assess liberal democracies. Its specialist organisations from the ICAO, ITU and even the WHO have now caved in to Beijing.

The general point, I told Airy, is that it’s an outdated outfit created by the victors of the Second World War and neither reflects the global power distribution today nor is equipped to handle global (as opposed to inter-national) issues. Therefore, she should focus on promoting the national interests of the Republic of Kazakhstan and not get carried away by highfalutin talk and principle. She assured me that she was doing just that, but could I offer good arguments in support of the United Nations?

So I asked my friend Richard Gowan, one of the best scholars of the UN. His main point was that we overlook a lot of very solid unglamourous work it does in offering food, shelter and medicine to lots of people around the world, in challenging circumstances. A lot of multilateral diplomacy, he argued, is dull and technocratic but matters, although moments of UNSC brilliance are nowadays rare, they have averted wars that might have otherwise occurred.

There are many more Debates with my Daughters here

He also advised me not to destroy Airy’s illusions about the UN. These arguments got her more interested in MUN, which I think is a good thing.

Curious to find out Fairy stood on the subject, I asked her last night what she thought of the United Nations. I don’t think about the United Nations” she replied.



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