Does the UN stand for freedom?

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Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of American States and the African Union among treaties and organisations that he felt the US should jettison. He lauded NATO as an “indispensable institution”. Pompeo also had harsh words for the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization.

What is ironic in this is the reason for which Pompeo faulted the UN. He declared, “International bodies must help facilitate cooperation that bolsters the security and values of the free world, or they must be reformed or eliminated.” This is ill-informed criticism. The UN was set up to provide security to the world, not to promote freedom and democracy. There were very few democracies among the 51 founders of the UN in 1945. The word democracy does not figure in the UN Charter and the permanent five went on a merry empire-building spree soon after the UN was set up.

NATO was formed by the Western countries four years after the UN, ostensibly to defend the ‘free world’ against communism. But neither side in the cold war could claim to represent freedom. It was not until 1960 that the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on decolonisation. Like all such resolutions it was non-binding. The very next year, the Soviet Union had to use its veto to rescue India from censure by the Security Council for liberating Goa from Portuguese colonial rule.

The position of permanent five in the Security Council is based on their military power, not their commitment to democracy, human rights or the rule of law. Most international organisations do not meet the basic requirements of democracy and accountability. Pompeo’s diatribe should revive the dormant debate on Security Council reform – this time to press for greater respect for democracy in both the Security Council and its permanent members.

(The author, Dilip Sinha, is a former diplomat whose book, Legitimacy of Power – The Permanence of Five in the Security Council, has recently been released on Amazon)


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