x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Not even in our dreams can the UN live up to its rhetoric

As its track record in Syria shows, the UN is today a sad Cold War relic, devoid of real authority and utterly incapable of affecting change.

The theory of parallel universes says that at any point in time an infinite number of alternative worlds exist. Everything that can possibly happen has happened, will happen, or more precisely, just happens.

Everything, except for one thing: a universe in which the United Nations has effectively carried out its mission "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war".

Unnecessary obfuscation this may seem, but then how else to explain the absurdity of the United Nations Security Council?

Note the utopian language in the first chapter of the UN's charter: "To maintain international peace and security, to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace."

Since its inception in the aftermath of the Second World War, not only has the UN spectacularly failed to meet most of these objectives, the Security Council has often succeeded in achieving exact opposite outcomes to those desired.

Earlier this week, hopes were raised briefly that the Kofi Annan-brokered UN-Arab League ceasefire between Bashar Al Assad's forces and Syrian rebels might, against extreme odds, hold. But such optimism ignores 14 months of broken promises by the Syrian government. Shelling of civilian areas by regime forces continued even as the six-person team of military observers arrived in Damascus on Sunday. And on Monday, at least 30 people were reportedly killed across Idlib, Hama and Homs, according to opposition sources.

"The shelling hasn't stopped for one minute since this morning. There are buildings on fire right now," said Tarek Badrakhan, an activist from Homs, told reporters. "We hope that the observers would come to Homs as soon as possible because if things go on like this, there won't be anything left called Homs."

Perhaps the UN's greatest failing is its inability to act in time: in Lebanon in 2006, Gaza in 2008 and Syria today.

The farcical nature of the UN's bureaucracy was highlighted recently when its Commission of Inquiry on Syria decreed that the fighting in Syria could not be officially termed an "armed conflict" - the legal term for war - because opposition forces are not adequately organised. It was time wasted over what is ultimately nothing more than semantics, as civilian casualties rise.

Some might contend that the UN is powerless to stop the actions of this regime, indeed any violent regime intent on attacking its people under the banner of sovereignty. That they are right only confirms the UN's impotence. Today, it stands as a sad Cold War relic, devoid of real authority, utterly incapable of affecting change. A council of old tired regimes indulging in old tired practices.

Nothing typifies the Security Council's enduring inertia more than the archaic veto system. It has already had catastrophic consequences on the Syrian crisis; Russia and China exercising the right to protect their interests in Syria just as the US for its part has for decades used its veto to help Israel, which in turn has violated dozens of UN resolutions.

Perhaps in the new world order, individual nations and regional blocs, including the likes of the GGC, will bypass the UN to take decisive action. One thing is for sure: in the age of citizen journalism and social network activism, the UN's snail-paced progress is unacceptable.

On Monday the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, said that the UN-Arab League peace plan for Syria has no more than a 3 per cent chance of succeeding. It would be the most pyrrhic of victories. At a cost of over 10,000 casualties, not even the UN can claim this is a success. Not in this, or any other, universe.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @AliKhaled_