Syria, Ebola Failures Highlight UN Shortcomings
By The Associated Press – September 24, 2015
The New York Times
UNITED NATIONS — The worsening war in Syria, allegations of child sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers and the mishandling of the Ebola epidemic cast a spotlight on the inadequacies of the United Nations in a globalized world, operating with a power structure that hasn’t changed since 1945.
With age, the organization has grown bloated, say many who know it well. It is also underfunded and overwhelmed by the tasks it faces.
The world body is trying to deal with almost 60 million global refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers — the greatest number since World War II. It is seeking to provide emergency supplies to keep alive 100 million people but has received less than 30 percent of the $20 billion it needs this year.
Beyond Syria, where more than 250,000 people have been killed since 2011, conflicts escalate from Yemen and Iraq to South Sudan and Mali, forcing tens of thousands to flee hoping for a better life in Europe.
Since the U.N. was born after World War II, it has grown from 51 members to 193.
As it celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, the U.N. is hobbled by bureaucracy, politics and an inability among its five most powerful members to agree on much, including how to end Syria’s conflict.
Its problems were spotlighted in a series of reports on the U.N. health agency’s performance in last year’s Ebola epidemic that blamed incompetent leadership, political considerations and economic concerns for the delay in declaring the outbreak an international health emergency — the equivalent of an SOS signal.
Documents and conference call recordings recently obtained by The Associated Press show that even after the alarm was raised, the World Health Organization and others struggled to respond decisively.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a news conference last week that he is conscious of criticism about the U.N.’s effectiveness, accountability, transparency and even its relevance.
Were there no United Nations, however, where countries could sit down to discuss the major issues of the day, “I’m afraid to tell you that the world might have been much bloodier, much more tragic,” Ban said.
The paralysis shows in the debate over what the U.N. should be. Nearly every nation agrees that the 15-member Security Council — the U.N.’s most powerful body — must better address threats to international peace and security. Yet every reform proposal over several decades has been rejected. National interests and regional rivalries trumped the common good.
“Those who wield the power don’t want to lose the power, and they don’t want to share it,” said Patricia Lewis, a nuclear physicist who led the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research and criticized the U.N.’s failure to modernize.
“If you can imagine any big multinational corporation keeping its structures the same as in 1945, it would have been destroyed by now in the marketplace,” said Lewis, who is now research director on international security at Chatham House, a London think tank.
The council’s five permanent members who can cast vetoes — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — ultimately call the shots. The U.S. and Russia use their vetoes most often, blocking each other especially on Mideast conflicts.
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