Peacekeeping in the New Ism – should we keep the United Nations?

Mel Young: The war in Ukraine has been top of the agenda across the world’s media. All war is horrendous and there have been other wars in the recent past in Syria and Afghanistan. In this modern connected world where people want to share genuine values about how we live together, it seems incredible that humans are still resorting to war. But how do we create peace when a war breaks out. The United Nations was created after the Second World War in order to stop world wars from happening again but I have been very disappointed by the lack of apparent action by the United Nations to intervene to stop this conflict in Ukraine. I feel they could have done so much more. In a New Ism, we wouldn’t have wars but maybe this is a naive dream. We will need to have an international organisation like the United Nations which governs world peace but what should it look like?

Alex Matthews: If I’m honest I’m not even sure what the point of the UN is – it seems totally ineffectual. But that’s probably not the point of today’s conversation! It seems odd that the UN Secretary-General chose to speak alongside Sergei Lavrov this week, with Russia being the aggressor in the war in Ukraine. I think that is the UN’s fundamental problem – that even aggressor states have a veto in making key decisions that require unanimous agreement. We need an institution that is more nimble and has more power. I feel that such an institution needs to be truly international, rather than dependent on the whims of individual nations. But I have no idea how that would happen, given that everyone in the world belongs to and identifies with a nation. Perhaps it goes back to conversations we have had before about people identifying with smaller entities such as cities rather than countries, and then a supra-national entity with which we all identify. I think I’m dangerously close to straying into philosophical territory… What do you think a peacekeeping organisation should look like?

MY: I think the first problem with the current United Nations is that it has become far too bureaucratic and so the notion of being nimble just isn’t attainable. The second problem is that it suffers from the good side of democracy where all countries have a say and then try to get everyone to sign off on something – that’s impossible. Then you have this veto which is very out of date but trumps even the best agreement. So, the whole body is like a giant administrative sloth which wasn’t what the founders envisioned! I think the international agencies like the United Nations, IMF and World Bank need to be totally reformed. The United Nations should be a place of exemplary diplomacy where the best diplomats in the world work together to solve potential problems. The challenges in Ukraine have been apparent for many years, so there should have been a much earlier diplomatic intervention and I can see how that might work in a reformed United Nations for example. The challenge with this is that the people who control the current United Nations will have to vote to shut it down before starting a new model and I can’t see that happening in the near future. But we need to begin the debate.

AM: Your point about having the best diplomats is an interesting one. I feel that at the moment, because the UN feels so bureaucratic and powerless, skilled diplomats are likely to want to work for their individual countries rather than for the UN, as there is more power and more to be gained at that level rather than in the UN. If we could create a reformed UN which had more power to create good in the world, I’m sure they’d have the most skilled and talented people in the world clamouring to work there. 

MY: Yes, I think that’s the challenge. Many people I know say they would never go into government because of the way it is structured and go into the private sector. So, talent shies away from government and I think that is a big problem. Right now we need talented people running countries and the same applies to the UN. It should be a place where people from all walks of life should aspire to get to. It should be a job across the agency which people respect and listen to the wisdom which it holds.

AM: Yes you’re right – it needs to be an appealing place to work with lots of opportunities to create change – until that happens, people will look elsewhere – it’s like any organisation.

What about institutions like the EU? Are they more effective than the UN in peacekeeping? Do we even need the UN if we’ve got the EU, for example? European officials seem to have acted with far more unity, agility and speed than the UN in the Ukraine situation.

MY: That’s exactly the way we should be thinking. I am not sure the EU is right but it might well be. Currently, it’s as if, we have all been asleep and just woken to find people are throwing bombs at each other. Where were the institutions that are supposed to protect us? I think they thought it was someone else’s responsibility and so no one was on the case. We really do need to think about a new way of operating and The New ism will continue to explore potential solutions.

Photo by Mathias P.R. Reding on Unsplash

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