The United Nations is an international organisation whose major objectives are maintaining world peace and security, promoting human rights, protecting environment and ensuring socio-economic justice. In the aftermath of World War II, United Nations was conceived as a mechanism to prevent further conflicts. As the existing organisation, i.e., League of Nations was unable to prevent such pandemic war, the then President of USA initiated efforts to replace the hitherto structure with the new organisation and thus UN came into being. Through its major bodies, United Nations Security Council (UNSC), International Court of Justice (ICJ), United Nations Peacekeeping etc, world peace and security is maintained.
The contribution of UN to the world peace started since its inception in 1945. UNSC plays a pivotal role in the maintenance of world peace and security. It has the mandate to carry out peacekeeping operations, imposing international sanctions and authorising military action under its aegis. The UNSC comprises of 15 members with 5 permanent members and 10 temporary members for a two year term. The body works on consensus basis wherein the members enjoy veto power However, UNSC’s functioning has been largely criticised, as one of its five permanent members has always put its foot down on issues concerning world peace and security. The five permanent members of UNSC are USA, UK, France, Russia and China. UNSC with its various bodies at different times have intervened but have had chequered success in its endeavour to establish peace.
After the establishment of UN in 1945 the first impediment that it came across was the Cold War which prolonged for almost four decades. Cold war was the proxy war wherein the entire world was divided into two ideological camps namely the Capitalist Camp (headed by US) and the Communist Camp (headed by USSR). This period witnessed the emergence of several incidents like Cuban Missile Crisis, Korean War, Suez Canal War, induction of China in UNSC etc were indirect effects of Cold War.
The efforts of UN were partially successful because the two powers never went face to face on the battlefield. But, the acrimony left many other countries bleeding profusely viz Korea, Vietnam, Cuba etc. In the Indian subcontinent, UN has intervened at different times. On the issue of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, United Nations Military Observer Group of India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was established to oversee ceasefire violations and border control. After 1972 Shimla Agreement, India expressed its opinion that the mandate of UNMOGIP was over and hence it should be terminated. But UN and Pakistan have maintained that as no resolution was passed to terminate it, therefore its mandate to oversee ceasefire violations still continues.
Similarly, in the Sri Lankan civil war which went on for over two decades, UN interventions met only through partial success. The war crimes which were committed had wide ranging human rights violations. UN was partially able to exert pressure for honouring accountability of the parties involved in the conflict. Similarly, during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971, mass scale genocide and rape took place. In order to achieve immediate ceasefire between Indian and East Pakistan forces, UNSC passed a resolution. However, USSR vetoed, against the resolution to achieve ceasefire as human rights violations took place on a large scale and accountability for the same was required to ensure justice to the aggrieved.
In the ongoing Syrian Civil War, Organisation for Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 2013. OPCW is an arm of United Nations to oversee implementation of chemical weapons convention. The Syrian Civil War precipitated due to Arab Spring. The authoritarian regime of the incumbent President Bashar al-Assad was challenged by rebel forces. The war got stretched due to backing of NATO and Russia to rebel forces and President Assad respectively. UN played major roles in 2013, by preventing use of chemical weapons and in 2015, by mediating ceasefire between warring parties. Similarly, in 1954 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee was awarded Nobel Peace Prize for their continuous efforts in rehabilitating refugees displaced by war. In 1988, United Nations Peace Keeping Forces (UNPKF) was given Nobel Peace Prize for volunteering to service in war torn countries.
Another major area where UN has been a catalyst for change is in disarmament. Through its United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) office, they aim to achieve elimination of weapons of mass destruction, illicit arms trafficking and burgeoning weapons stockpile for advancement of peace and development goals. Nobel Peace Prize Committee in 2005 selected international Atomic Energy Agency and arm of UN for its effort to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way. But UN in its effort to restore peace has also failed in two missions miserably. War broke out in Yugoslavia in 1992. The war was a result of multi-ethnic strife in the region. The area was inhabited by Muslim Bosnians, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. The secession movement was premised on carving out ethnic based states of Yugoslavia. The war continued upto 1995 when normalcy was restored. But in 1995 ‘Srebrenica genocide’ led to killing of over 800 Bosnian Muslims as a part of ethnic cleansing. UN failed to prevent the massacre which UN described as the worst crime since World War II. UN and countries like US, UK, Belgium, France were criticised for their inaction in 1994 Rawandan genocide.
Recently through UN mediation conflict were brought to an end in Liberia, Burundi, Sudan and Nepal. UN preventive policy and other forms of preventive actions have diffused many potential conflicts around the world since 1990’s. UN Peace Building Fund supports 222 projects in 22 countries by delivering fast and flexible funding. India is the third highest contributor to the UN peacekeeping missions, with around 7000 of its security personnel deployed on various missions across the world. India has sought to enhance the role for troops-contributing countries in the decision-making process of UN peacekeeping missions.
In the present times world is grappling with Islamic fundamentalism and violence due to multi-ethnicity. Unilateral interventions in other countries by US and other Western powers will make the situation even worse. Only a UN backed intervention should be carried out when the world is making a transition from unipolar power centre to a multi-polar world Today’s peacekeeping requires a political consensus among Security Council members, troop contributors and secretariat on the cost, limits and dangers of operations in high risk environment. In these tough times India can play a lead role in ensuring world peace through its philosophy of “बसुधैव कुटुम्बकम।”