AS the United Nations observed its 78th Foundation Day on October 24, it had little cause for celebration. Confronted with yet another global crisis of gigantic dimensions, it was found groping in the dark. Though the 193-member body ended up voting for an immediate humanitarian truce between Israel and the hydra-headed global terror group with a margin of 120 to 14, and 45 countries abstaining, it was a cry in wilderness. The resolution moved by Arab countries, did get a twothirds majority required for the passage as abstentions do not court but is not binding, with Israel and the US saying a firm no.
India was one of the 44 countries that did not vote, but called for immediate and unconditional release of Israeli hostages as the escalation of hostilities would will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. It had already dispatched humanitarian aid to hapless civilians. At the same time, India supported the Israel’s right to wage war against the most brutal face of global terror.
Earlier, the UN Security Council had failed to take action over two weeks, with the US and Russia using their veto powers to block proposals supported by the other.
This is not the first global crisis in its long history when the UN has been found utterly powerless to prevent a war and the resultant fallout on suffering of civilians; incapable to intervene with any effect. But this time, its authority has been directly challenged. The US has publicly denounced remarks of UN Secretary General António Guterres on the IsraelHamas war and Israel has demanded his resignation, accusing him of “blood libel”. Israel had expressed reservations against the UN earlier also. This time it is waging war against a non-State terror group which totally ignores humanitarian rules of a war between two-nation states.
The fact is that the UN Secretary General has limited powers and his role is to mobilise resources, via UN agencies, and to use his platform as a pulpit. In his second term, Guterres has become blunter, issuing clarion calls on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the climate emergency. But the challenges that he and the institution face are mounting – and are both underscored and exacerbated by the current crisis.
Beyond the institutional issues of bloat, inefficiency, and lack of accountability lies the problem of the UN structure that was set up after the Second World War having to navigate current geopolitics. The Security Council is characterised by deadlock. Its five permanent members are increasingly cleft into US-Britain-France and China-Russia camps. India and others demand a better seat at the table. The UN’s challenges are exemplified by the failure of its resolutions on the Middle East.
As Guterres himself admitted, multilateral mechanisms are weakening. Yet the need for them is growing. A multitude of conflicts and humanitarian crises grind on around the world. Expectations were already low for this year’s COP28 climate talks, hosted by Dubai and headed by the boss of the UAE’s national oil firm. The war is underlining divisions between the West and the Global South. The UN’s dysfunction reflects the failure of the existing world order. It has failed to resolve one of the biggest challenges the world faces – winning the war against global terror.