Bailey83221 (bailey83221) wrote,


The United Nations: Engineered and Doomed to Fail

The United Nations is doomed to the same fate as its predecessor the League of Nations. The reforms needed for an effective organization are available but because of realist tendencies of all its member states, these reforms will never be instituted by the Security Council. The UN has had limited successes when its member states, particularly the Security Council, want the UN to be successful, but it has had more failures because of the same Security Council almost always engineered these failures. Often the Security Council, particularly when certain members have conflicting interests, wants the UN to fail. In this paper I will briefly discuss the successes of the UN and the failures of the UN, focusing on the Haiti, Rwanda, and East Timor failures. I will argue first that the differences between the Cold War world and the Post Cold War world are not as significantly different as the overwhelming orthodox view held by International Relations scholars. I will then argue that the failures of the UN are often engineered by its own security council. To paraphrase Sutterlin: "with brutal clarity…(it is clearly seen that)…the Security council derives…(much of its)...power…from the…Permanent Members.[1]

Successes of the UN

The UN has had several successes, including ending the Iran-Iraq War,[2] the peace plan with Cambodia,[3] and Peace Talks in Central America.[4] UN successes with military force in internal conflict include Cyprus[5] and Cambodia.[6] UN accomplishments in strengthening infrastructure include The Congo[7] and Mozambique.[8] Other UN successes include Southern Lebanon[9] and Kosovo (Yugoslavia)[10] (Improving local security); Nicaragua,[11] El Salvador, [12] Namibia's transition to independence,[13] East Timor[14] (Electoral Process); Korea[15] and the repelling of the Iraq invasion of Kuwait[16] (Aggressive actions).

Failures of the UN leading to conflict

In the case of Bosnia (Yugoslavia)[17] and Rwanda[18], Sutterlin correctly suggests that the failure of peace enforcement was too little and too late.[19] Unfortunately, Sutterlin's book ignores[20] the ineptness and powerlessness of the UN engineered by the permanent members of the Security Council.[21]

Other failures of the UN include: Argentina and the United Kingdom,[22] Iraq invasion of Kuwait[23] (Regarding early warning); Ethiopia/Eritrea,[24] Sierra Leone,[25] (General failures); Haiti [26], Somalia[27] (Electoral Process), Nicaragua vs. The United States[28] (Legal failures)

By focusing on so many world conflicts, and the entire history of the UN in only 181 pages, Sutterlin is unable to give any of the conflicts historical context. By giving a broad overview of all major conflicts the UN has faced, the reader comes away from Sutterlin's book understanding none of these conflicts. This lack of context by Sutterlin is also shown in the failure in Haiti, the poorest country in the Hemisphere. Sutterlin does not mention that Haiti has been invaded more times by the US than any other Latin American country. There is a direct correlation between Haiti being the most US invaded country in the hemisphere and also the poorest country in the hemisphere. Since Haiti's foundation as the first freed slave state, rich first world countries, particularly the United States, have continually intervened in this small Caribbean country. Haiti overthrew its colonial masters at the height of slavery in America. American Southern's saw Haiti's independence as a threat to their own slave holdings, so America isolated Haiti, colonial powers followed suit. America invaded Haiti during World War I and occupied the country well into the thirties. During the Cold War America actively supported brutal dictators Papa Doc and his son Jean-Claude Duvalier. America also actively underminded the democratically elected socialist leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This shows that Haiti was engineered to fail. Based on America's history in Haiti, how can the most powerful country on the Security Council have Haiti's best interests in mind? This question is ignored in Sutterlins book.[29]

Structural failures of the UN: Old problems in a "New World Order"

Sutterlin and the United Nations, failing to see the similarities between the Cold War and post-Cold War period, adopt an overwhelming orthodox view held by International Relations scholars which author Doug Stokes calls the "discontinuity thesis." Sutterlin suggests that the "world has gradually evolved and the UN has not evolved with it."[30] The UN, Sutterlin explains wanted to develop "new approaches…to take full advantage for peace of the opportunities that a new era in international relations offered."[31] The "discontinuity thesis" states that the international post-Cold War policy is different from the earlier Cold War period. Stokes argues forcefully that the "discontinuity thesis" is flawed. Stokes contends that post-US Cold War policy, a highly realist, zero sum view of the world, is no different from earlier Cold War policy. The same can be said of all other nations in the post-cold war period. Despite delusions about "peace opportunities that a new era in international relations offered," contemporary history since the fall of the Cold War has shown incontrovertibly that the same realist, zero-sum view held by world nation states during the Cold War is still universal in a post-Cold war world.[32]

The misleading notion of the "discontinuity thesis" can be shown in the similarities between the UN and the League of Nations. A similar problem that proved fatal to the UN predecessor, the League of Nations, continued to plague the UN in the "new" post-Cold War world. After the end of the Cold War, the members of the Security Council were still unwilling to subordinate their national interests to the wider interests of the UN and world peace. Instead the members continued to have a hard-line realist perspective. Sutterlin gives several examples to support this idea, including the US declaring that it wouldn't participate in peace enforcement or peace keeping unless the action could be clearly shown to be in the US's own narrow national interest. Several other examples are given by Sutterlin showing clearly that the "discontinuity thesis" is flawed.[33]

The author optimistically cites Ended the Iran-Iraq War,[34] Namibia's transition to independence,[35] the peace plan with Cambodia,[36] Iraq's repealed invasion of Kuwait,[37] and peace talks in Central America involving the UN [38] as signs of a "New World Order." As the conflicts of late 1990's and early part of this millennium showed, this small time period of Security Council agreement was a historic anomaly only. Indeed, even during this small window of naïve international optimism, nation states were still playing traditional hard-ball realist politics. The Soviet Union was collapsing from within and no longer had the resources to continue to sponsor client states. It was in the USSR's and later Russia's national interest to withdraw resources from these countries and wage peace to focus it limited resources internally instead of externally. The other members of the Security Council were more than happy to step into this power vacuum created by the collapse of the Soviet Union. This power vacuum created an opportunity for the victor of the Cold War, the US, to expand its influence and empire.[39] Some examples include, first, NATO bombing the former Yugoslavia despite Russian and Chinese protests.[40] Second America has continued to place bases on former Soviet territory, and America has helped engineer popular revolutions to establish Western friendly regimes.[41] A third example of the US exploiting this "New World order" is the invasion of Iraq despite a clear UN mandate and despite three of the five members of the Security Council ardently opposed.

This is not to say that the Cold War and Post-Cold War period are exactly the same. Although conflicts still arise, these conflicts, as Sutterlin correctly points out, are more commonly internal, instead of external conflicts.[42] But the mechanism for dealing with these conflicts, nation states with realist views of the world, is the same as during the Cold War.

Relationship of the UN regional organizations and NATO/ How the relationship with the UN regional organizations and NATO impact peacekeeping and peacemaking

Sutterlin discusses the potential of regional organizations, because the idea of UN army has been rebuffed by the world's member states as not a realistic option.[43] Sutterlin argues that instead of a UN army, regional organizations can be called on by the UN instead.[44] But Sutterlin admits that today, NATO is the only regional organization which exists with enforcement capabilities.[45] This means that it is unrealistic for organizations such as the ASEAN, OAU, and OAS to stop regional conflicts.

In the Yugoslavia conflict that involved NATO, initially the idea of peace enforcement suggested by UN president Boutros-Ghali was resisted by the Security Council,[46] but because of the conflict in Yugoslavia Security Council members reluctantly embraced the idea and used NATO to stop the Yugoslavian crisis. Sutterlin's suggestion that regional organizations can take up were the UN had failed appears to simply shift the structural problems that the UN has to a regional organization. The same problems of realist countries protecting their own self-serving "interests" will be present in nation states as it is in regional organizations. NATO, like the UN, has no real military; instead nation states contribute soldiers and supplies at will. If a conflict is not in the national interest of a country, this conflict will be ignored by the regional organization, whether under the auspices of the UN, NATO, or other regional powers.

This failure of regional organizations can be shown in the invasion of East Timor, which Sutterlin ignores. In 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor. The US Nixon administration gave Indonesia the green light to invade. Australia approved of the invasion because of potential lucrative oil in East Timor. The Australian governments protested loudly in public after the invasion but had already provided private assurances that no substantive action would be taken. Indonesia also invaded East Timor with US weapons. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the US ambassador to the UN during the invasion, later wrote in his biography that "the United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook [with regards to the invasion of East Timor]. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with not inconsiderable success."[47] The East Timor conflict was ignored by the UN and would also have been ignored by regional states because those regional states, especially the two most powerful, Australia and Indonesia, had a national interest in supporting the conflict.

The UN is under fire from American realists just as government programs are under attack by the same realists in America. In America, first conservatives starve government programs for funding, then conservatives site government ineptitude (caused by a lack of funding), and encourage the closing of these organizations.[48] Many America realists want the UN to fail, and strangle funding to make the UN inept, these same realists then turn around and show the ineptness caused by under-funding as a reason to close the UN. As was clearly the case in Rwanda, if the conflict does not involve the permanent members of the Security Council's interests, the UN is engineered to fail.

An independent UN army would be a positive step toward true world peace. But this idea, as Sutterlin acknowledges, is unrealistic. Even 7,500 "donated" troops asked for by the Security Council for Bosnia was meant with reluctance.[49] Using regional forces with the same problems as the UN is not a solution; it is only transferring existing problems to another organization. The acceptance of major resource outlays and the acceptance of serious risks for the UN, as Sutterlin encourages,[50] will not become realistic in the near future. Unless countries begin to forgo their national interests for the better good of the world as a whole (which as history illustrates is a delusional fantasy) the UN, as the US policy toward the UN in the Iraq War showed, will continue to simply be a tool to be used when convenient, doomed to failure when the UN member-states best interests conflict with the UN.


[1] Sutterlin, J. (2003).The United Nation and the Maintenance of International Security. p. 162-163

[2] Ibid. 6

[3] Ibid. 6

[4] Ibid. 7

[5] Ibid. 33-37, 47

[6] Ibid. 47

[7] Ibid. 30-33

[8] Ibid. 47

[9] Ibid 37-41, 47

[10] Ibid. 47, 63

[11] Ibid. 43-45, 47

[12] Ibid. 47

[13] Ibid 6, 41-43, 47

[14] Ibid. 25

[15] Ibid. 54-56, 59

[16] Ibid. 6, 56-59

[17] Ibid. 25, 26-27, 76, 63-65

[18] Ibid. 25, 73-76

[19] Ibid. 76

[20] This is similar to issues such as world poverty as portrayed in the US media, many of the central underlying reasons behind world poverty, such as First world exploitation of resources often backed by military force are completely ignored. Thus the average American is left with an incomplete and naïve understanding of why world poverty exists.

[21] For Rwanda see Frontline: The Triumph of Evil.

[22] Sutterlin, p. 15-16

[23] Ibid. 16-17

[24] Ibid. 25

[25] Ibid. 25

[26] Ibid. 45-47, 47

[27] Ibid. 47, 66-73

[28] The International Court of Justice ruled in Nicaragua's favor against the US, stating that the US actions were an "unlawful use of force". The definition of terrorism is "The unlawful use or threat of violence esp. against the state or the public as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion". (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law, 1996) The US refused to abide by its findings. The Reagan administration actually heightened its war against Nicaragua as a result. See (Retrieved March 18, 2006), which I have contributed extensively too. Sutterlin ignores this case.

[29] For the history of Haiti from independence to 1934, see Schmidt, Hans (1995). United States occupation of Haiti (1915-1934), Rutgers University Press.For Papa Doc, see (Retrieved March 18, 2006)

[30] Our class lecture, February 28, 2006

[31] Sutterlin, p. 9

[32] Ibid, 9; Stokes, D. Why the End of the Cold War Doesn't Matter: the US War of Terror in Colombia. Bristol University Politics Department. Retrieved March 18, 2006, from .

[33] Sutterlin, p. 9

[34] Ibid. 6

[35] Ibid. 6

[36] Ibid. 6

[37] Ibid. 6

[38] Ibid. 7

[39] For the three schools of thought about America as an empire, see Wikipedia (Retrieved March 18, 2006) , which I have contributed extensively too.

[40] Sutterlin, p. 58

[41] Traynor, I. (2004, November 26) US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev, The Guardian.

[42] Sutterlin, p.14

[43] Ibid. 60

[44] Ibid. 60

[45] Ibid. 61

[46] Ibid. 62

[47] Moynihan, D. Dangerous Place, Little Brown, 1980, p. 247; Wikipedia Retrieved March 18, 2006, from

[48] Sexton, Patricia Cayo (1992). The War on Labor and the Left: Understanding America's Unique Conservatism, Westview Press.

[49] Sutterlin, p. 163; Sutterlin also mentions throughout the book how the Security Council routinely ignores suggestions by the Secretary General, See p. 155, 144-145 for examples.

[50] ibid. 164
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