You are here: UNA Twickenham & Richmond :The UN – What it can do – What it can’t – and Why?

On 9 September 2017, Alison Williams of Merton UNA outlined the background in 1945: the UN was created to end war, poverty and oppression. The states, originally 51, now 193, retained their sovereignty but were pledged to voluntary cooperation with each other. The five most powerful states at that time formed the Security Council, and each had the power of veto over resolutions. The number of UN entities has proliferated.
Alison’s list of ten items the UN can do included:
1) providing food and assistance to 80 million people in 80 countries;
2) supplying vaccines to 45% of the world’s children, helping save 3 million lives a year;
3) deploying 117,000 peacekeepers in 15 operations on four continents
4) Coordinating a US$23.5 billion appeal for the humanitarian needs of over 101 million people; and
5) Using diplomacy to prevent conflict: assisting some 67 countries a year with their elections.
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Her list of what the UN can’t do was shorter:
1) Enforce its resolutions, pledges and commitments;
2) Oblige states to pay their dues; and
3) “intervene in matters essentially within domestic jurisdiction” (Article 2:7)
Alison asked how easy it would be to run a company with a Board membership of 193 directors, each with an equal vote but with significantly different interests, power and resources. While the retention of national sovereignty has previously prevented the UN from “naming and shaming” member states, increasingly, UN entities such as the Human Rights Council, as well as the Secretary General and their staffs are doing so, but in the end the only UN sanction is expulsion from the General Assembly.
The constraints on “matters essentially within domestic jurisdiction” have been reduced, not just by the obligation of signatory states to observe behaviour consistent with the UN’s aims and purposes, but also by the World Summit at the General Assembly, which approved a resolution to protect people from: “genocide, war crimes ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”
Another element has been the involvement from the start of civil organisations, beginning inter alia with the American Association for the United Nations
Alison concluded that Jeffery Segall was right to insist that the UN needed impetus from more than governments and their Realpolitik. Especially since the Rio Conference in 1992, civil society has been involved with the UN. In the UK, this included UNA-UK and the UNGA-Link UK.
In the ensuing discussion, even TRUNA’s oldest hands acknowledged that they had learned from the talk.