Real Power’ of the UN

1.0 Introduction

The United Nations a body of nations comprising of one hundred and ninety three countries. It was founded in the year 1945 with the main objective being to uphold world peace. However, there are socio-economic objectives that the UN aims at achieving. Among the organs that form the pillar of the UN include the General assembly, the UN Security Council, the Secretariat, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Trusteeship Council and the Economic and Social council. The is no questioning the noble reasons behind the creation of the UN, especially after the World War II and colonization in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The world is a better place with the UN in existence. However, many expected more from the United Nations. A lot of things are happening around the globe today that one would be left questioning whether a body such as the UN has real power. This paper seeks to explore the UN in a bid to bring out loop holes in the functioning of the UN and its inability or unwillingness on acting on certain matters of global concern that lies within its mandate.

2.0 Administration

A lot of questions can be drawn from the way the UN is administered, and especially through its administrative organs. To bring out this, the paper will focus majorly on the UN Security Council as it is through this organ that the most fundamental objective of the UN is achieved.

2.1 UN Security council

The UN Security Council is among the most fundamental organs in the operation of the UN as a body of Nations. It comprises of five permanent members who have veto powers in the UN Security Council. Ten other nations fill in who are elected on a two year term and have no veto powers. The functioning of the Security Council has led to criticism from nations, political scientists, historians and generally a pool of people who find it as a contribution to among the failures of the UN. This the paper discuses in relation to the five permanent members, the veto powers and the remaining ten members.

2.1.1 The five permanent members

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council include the United States of America, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China. These nations share a few things in common in that have all developed nuclear weapons and also export the largest percentage of firearm to the rest of the world. The UN is created by a treaty of nations which is the UN Charter. It is like the five permanent members are using the UN to protect their selfish interests as to military and armament at the expense of other members of the world; as can be seen in Russia’s involvement in the war in Syria.

The UN as a body of nations represent over one hundred and ninety nations and having five permanent in its most crucial organ shows a lack of representation and thus lack of ‘real’ power to deal with issues that concern the globe.

Looking at examples in the past; in the year 1991; the UN made interventions of humanitarian nature in the war in Kuwait whereas its intervention in Rwanda barely six years after was pathetic due to the interests of the permanent members to the Security Council as Kuwait was rich in Oil while Rwanda had little to offer. This bias fails the UN in executing its mandate.

2.1.2 Their veto power

The real power that the UN could be said to have had is somehow taken away by the veto power vested in the five members who are permanent to the UN Security Council. Decisions as to war and peace, military intervention and all that concerns world peace; including the current delicate issue that terrorism are only arrived at when all the five states vote for or against a decision. It is immaterial whether all but one member with a veto power votes for or against a decision. This greatly affects the operations of the UN and also other states.

The use of the veto power at times derails the response to urgent matters including those that require either diplomatic or military measures. A good example of a nation that has used its veto powers to halt important decisions in the Security Council is the US. The US as a world super power has over the past had fragile relations with some of the nations of the world such as Russia and Israel. The former stands almost the same position as the US whereas the latter forms the ‘rest’ of the nations that the UN is supposed to protect. To date, the US has vetoed over thirty resolutions of the UN Security Council that touch on Israel or its relations with countries in the Middle East.

The Veto power is used to defeat the purpose of the UN. Discrimination is enhanced right from the Security Council permanent members. Good examples include the vetoing of a second term for Egyptian Boutros Boutros-Ghali as the UN secretary general and the constant exclusion of Israel from among the members of the UN Security Council all through the second half of the twentieth century as vetoed by mainly the United States of America.

World politics can lead to war and the UN Security Council is supposed to ensure that disputes are solved. War in the Middle East especially in the twenty first century has rapidly increased and the Security Council’s permanent members are taking sides which do not help solve the conflicts but fuel the same. The US in these times has vetoed as number of UN legislation that appears to be against Israel’s aggression towards Palestine. The war goes on people are left homeless and there is humanitarian crisis from time to time. The veto power serves to defeat the mandate of the UN as a body of organizations.

The club of world superpowers have turned the UN to be their party. Russia on the other hand has been a constant impediment to the peace talks for the civil war going on in Syria. The UN passed a rule seeking to impose sanctions on the Syrian government for its role in the civil war that is taking the nation to its knees. Russia however vetoed the decision and thus the same was not passed. Civilians continue to suffer in a civil war that they play no role in when the Security Council is held back by a single vote that possess veto power.

Crimes of concern to the international community include acts of aggression. The international military tribunal (IMT) was established in Nuremberg Germany to try the perpetrators of World War I. This was long and the international community recognized the need to bring to an end such. In the year 1983 long after the UN was formed and was functional, Russia shot down a Korean plane with civilians on board. A decision was made to sanction it and it voted against the decision, a single vote against thirteen and the decision was thrown out.

Any historian, political scientist or any civilian who keeps abreast with the news of the world would probably buy into the argument that the veto power enjoyed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council is self-defeating to the purpose of the UN. Every member state to the UN should be represented but the case at hand is five nations imposing their wishes to other nations of the world. Majority of populations are among the nations outside the five permanent members of the UN, the five cannot cope without them yet they are subjugated and treated as dispensable persons discarded after economic or political gains.

The UN has no real power because even the Security Council finds it difficult to operate effectively in its current composition and the enjoyment of veto power. Russia’s case with Korea is a perfect example. In the present times, Russia has supported civil war in Ukraine with the aim of annexing part of the territory as supported by the separatists. There is nothing much the UN can do because of the veto power Russia possess because it will veto any decision that is against it.

The Veto power accorded to the five member states of the UN Security Council is the biggest self-defeating factor. This renders the UN ineffective in many occasions as the five states struggle to protect their interests while majority of nations and civilians have their rights violated.  Even if there have to be permanent members to the Security Council, the veto power enjoyed by them should be scrapped off to allow for smoother and civilian centred operations.

2.1.3 Other Members of the Security Council

The other ten members of the UN Security Council serve on a temporary two year term upon election. This however is overshadowed by over thirty percent of nations in the Security Council siting their ever since its inception and having powers to veto its decisions. This appears to be taking the other members for a ride as their powers combined is much lesser than one of the five permanent members.

In order to have democracy in the most important organ of the organization; three approaches can be adopted. First, more nations can be included among the permanent with veto powers and this should be a more neutral state; that has no nuclear power or importation business for firearms. Secondly, the veto powers enjoyed by the permanent members can be scrapped off to allow for easier decision making in the UN. Third, it will be the best option to scrap away the permanency with which some states stay as members of the Security Council with the privileges that veto power that comes with it. This way, the UN will be more effective and the criticisms levelled against it that portray it as ineffective will cease as almost the interest of all will be reflected within its structure.


2.2 Charter of the United Nations

Faults are pointed out from the Charter of the United Nations and the International Court of Justice. One fault that is clear is the distribution of functions between the various organs of the UN. The Security Council is the heavily criticized among these organs as the charter allocates to it functions supposed to be performed by other organs such as the General Assembly and the ICJ. Further, the UN charter compels all other member states to comply with the resolutions of the Security Council through Article 25 of the UN Charter. Failure of which attracts punitive actions such as sanctions.

Having pointed out the effect of the five permanent members of the UN to the Security Council and their veto powers; it implies that failure to comply with their resolutions under as required under Article 25 of the Charter of the UN and the ICJ implies sanctions for nations that may be having the best interest of their citizens at heart. This amounts to the failures of the UN which leaves others questioning whether the UN has ‘real’ power as insinuated by the preamble of the Charter of the UN.

3.0 Politics of the UN

Politics play an immense role in the functioning of the United Nations; with most nations acting in their political interests first before considering what other nations want. These politics are placed around major events happening around the world such as militarism and wars. These have exposed greatly the ineffectiveness and lack of ‘real’ power by the United Nations.

3.1 Middle East Conflict

The conflict in the Middle East is as old as the establishment of Israel as an independent nation and home of the Jews in the Middle East. This has also in a way exposed the misgivings of the UN and the various bodies created under the UN to deal with various issues that amounts to success of the UN.

The war in the Middle East pits Israel against Palestine and other Arab nations including Arab militia groups in the region such as the Hezbollah. The United Nations has not only devoted time but resources in covering the events of this conflict. In any situation where there is conflict, civilians are the ones who suffer the most as many get displaced, injured and some die. However, the politics of the UN has been on the apportionment of blame, as to which party is responsible.

Further there is failure in establishing the root cause of conflict as resolutions are made owing to which side of the political divide one wants to identify with. A good example is looking at the various resolutions passed on the conflict in the Middle East, Israel has shoulders more than a third as per the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC). There are militia involved in the conflict as well as other nations. There acts of aggression also affect civilians in their own nations. In case of the UN focusing on short term ways on how humanitarian issues can be addressed and long term ways on how the conflict can eventually come to an end.

The conflict in the Middle East is a blessing to other nations within the ranks of the UN as it has been used to overshadow human rights violations happening right within their territories by their governments. China and Russia are permanent members to the UN Security Council and yet there are massive human rights abuses committed by the two nations within their borders and in territories annexed from other sovereign states, such as the territory of Crimea by Russia. This are not however talked about or if raised then the veto powers serve to block any resolution of the Security Council on the same. This way politics has overshadowed the mandate of the UN as a body of nations and the politicizing of the Middle East conflict renders the UN redundant.

  1. 2 Conflicts under the Watch of the UN

The UN was established to accomplish a number of issues among which include bringing lasting peace to the world. The UN has however has failed terribly in this as many wars have been fought since its inception and little or nothing has been done to stop the war or even provide adequate humanitarian aid to the victims.

If acts of genocide prevail under the watch of the UN, then the relevance and the effectiveness of the body is questionable. Genocides have occurred under the watch of the UN and the most notable ones include the liberation war in Bangladesh, Rwandan genocide and the massacre of Bengali Hindus by the army of Pakistan. This are instances whereby resolutions of the Security Council were violated yet little action was taken as against the perpetrators to deter the wars apart from the formation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to try perpetrators of the genocide in Rwanda under the instruction of the UN.

Acts of aggression, war and genocide can be prevented and the UN is mandated to do just that before this can take its toll on innocent civilians. Even in cases where UN peacekeepers are stationed at an area, little is done to prevent acts of aggression, genocide or war that affects civilians. Looking back at the Serbia-Bosnian war, Bosnians were massacred by Serbian army men, who were charged with protection of the Serbian state and the attack on Bosnia mandated by the Serbian government and among the reasons for carrying out such attacks was religion.

In the Serbia-Bosnian war, there were UN peacekeeping mission troops on site where Muslims of Bosnian descent were massacred and little was done to prevent the same. This is was perhaps for political reasons where even UN peacekeeping missions take sides in war. The UN therefore has showed partiality in handling wars as UN peacekeeping missions perform according to political interest of key members of the body of nations.

Africa has been largely neglected by the UN as many civil wars are fought some of which are spearheaded by siting governments as against civilians. The drama in which the UN handled the conflict in Darfur Sudan leaves many questioning the effectiveness and the ability to address issues concerning its member states.  The Sudanese government ratified the UN charter and thus is subject to all the provisions of the charter of the UN. In this conflict, it supported a militia group in execution of genocide on certain ethnicities in the region. Hundreds of thousand lost their lives in the conflict. UN acted slowly to this situation and did little to prevent the genocide and even though the suspects have been referred to the International Criminal Court for prosecution, their prosecution has not yet began because all this depends on state cooperation. Sudan is unwilling to cooperate with the court and the UN is also held back in imposing any sanctions because establishing what cooperation really is in Sudan’s situation is complicated as the UN is governed by the UN charter while the ICC by the Rome Statute. Sudan is not a member of the Rome Statute and thus cannot be compelled to cooperate with the court as per the provisions of part IX of the Rome statute.

The UN has no real power in such cases as various treaties govern handling of criminal matters and resolution of disputes between nations. Some nations who are members of the UN have not ratified both treaties and thus it is difficult to hold them accountable for criminal matters committed in the watch of the UN, such as the US and Sudan.

3.3 Militarism

The UN at various points in its existence has appeared to support militarism among certain pacts of people across the world and these appear to be more like terrorists. The nations that support these sit in the Security Council and more so as permanent members with veto powers. Some of the reasons cited for the support of militarism is sovereignty; support of sovereignty of various factions involved. The conflict in the Middle East provides a perfect example. Palestine for a long time has been pushing for an independent Palestine state from Israel and this is accorded representation in the UN. The tactics that Palestine use to agitate for their independence however resulted in harm to civilians as terrorist tactics have been employed.

Israel was condemned for breaching Uganda’s sovereignty when it flew its servicemen into Uganda for to rescue its citizens who had been captured by Palestinian and German terrorist and accorded the protection of Uganda’s government and it’s military. However, a few decades onwards the US invaded Pakistan and killed terror suspect Osama Bin Laden without seeking the authority of Pakistan as a sovereign nation. This shows double standards and even support for activities that translate into terror acts on civilians even if the cause is good.

A huge debate today among the ranks of the UN is the question of Nuclear weapons. Countries such as Iran and North Korea have been on the offensive. North Korea has gone forward with carrying out tests which have been condemned by the UN. Iran faced sanctions which were lifted upon agreeing a deal to stop. Permanent members to the UN Security Council are nuclear powers while they are supressing other nations not to develop nuclear weapons. This creates tensions which could possible create another cold war not good for world peace. There is need for even representation in the UN Security Council to bring to an end the building of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear powers foe everlasting peace to the world. The ‘real’ power to stop this can only be attained through involving non-nuclear powers in the UN Security Council so that decisions affecting their armament and militarisation can also be decided by them.

4.0 UN Scandals

A number of scandals have been reported within the Ranks of the UN that raises questions as to whether as it is currently constituted and operating; the UN has real powers to execute its mandate. Most of these scandals revolve around corruption, accountability and human rights abuses in peace keeping missions.

On corruption and accountability, reported of corruption from within the structure of the UN have been reported and it is frustrating that some people who raise the lid over these scandals are made are punished all the same. An example of a whistle blower to be dismissed unfairly and untimely is James Wasserstrom. This shows us the inability of the UN being in itself incapable of handling internal issue and thus little trust in handling issue of the hundred plus nations that are under it.

UN peacekeeping troops have also been involved in sexual misconduct in various areas they have been sent to and this is documented in reports and probes on the same. Majority of those affected include children who have special commissions under the UN to protect them. This shows us the in adequacies within the UN that makes its existence hugely unfulfilling.

5.0 Conclusion

To conclude, the UN as a body of nations gives member states a sense of security in that there are those who have a common interest and thus would always watch their back. However, this has not always been the case through the history of the UN. As pointed out requisite adjustments need to be made especially to the administration of the UN, the politics that influences its operation and the various scandals that have since affected the UN be addressed. This way, the real power of the UN to execute its mandate will be realised.



Feldmann, J.D., 2016. A Social Contract and Rules of Practice for the Fed. Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 99(1), pp.1-28.

NEČAS, P., TEREM, P. and KELEMEN, M., 2015. Defence & Strategy. Crisis.

Zakopalová, D., 2011. Effect of regionalization on the allocation of third-party peace operations. Obrana a strategie, (1), pp.32-52.

Rasmussen, I.W., 2014. Neighborly Grudges.

Gehrig, T., Güth, W., Levati, V., Levinsky, R., Ockenfels, A., Uske, T. and Weiland, T., 2007. Buying a pig in a poke: An experimental study of unconditional veto power. Journal of Economic Psychology, 28(6), pp.692-703.

Wuthnow, J., 2009. China and the processes of cooperation in UN Security Council deliberations. The Chinese Journal of International Politics, p.pop015.

Brancati, Dawn, and Jack L. Snyder. “Time to Kill the Impact of Election Timing on Postconflict Stability.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 57, no. 5 (2013): 822-853.

Wilson, G., 2007. The legal, military and political consequences of the ‘coalition of the willing’approach to UN military enforcement action. Journal of Conflict and Security Law, 12(2), pp.295-330.

Ecker-Ehrhardt, M., 2016. Why do citizens want the UN to decide? Cosmopolitan ideas, particularism and global authority. International Political Science Review, 37(1), pp.99-114.

Ramsden, M., 2016. “Uniting for Peace” and Humanitarian Intervention: The Authorising Function of the UN General Assembly. Washington International Law Journal (2016 forthcoming).

Kegley, C. and Blanton, S., 2016. World Politics: Trend and Transformation, 2016-2017. Nelson Education.

Rosenau, J.N., 2000. Thinking theory thoroughly: coherent approaches to an incoherent world.

Moran, M.H., 2010. Gender, militarism, and peace-building: projects of the postconflict moment. Annual review of anthropology, 39, pp.261-274.

Giroux, H.A., 2016. Beyond the spectacle of terrorism: Global uncertainty and the challenge of the new media. Routledge.

Cheng, Z. and Smyth, R., 2016. Why give it away when you need it yourself? Understanding public support for foreign aid in China. The Journal of Development Studies, 52(1), pp.53-71.

Puchala, D., Laatikainen, K.V. and Coate, R., 2015. United Nations politics: International organization in a divided world. Routledge.

Alston, P., Morgan-Foster, J. and Abresch, W., 2008. The competence of the UN Human Rights Council and its special procedures in relation to armed conflicts: extrajudicial executions in the ‘War on Terror’. European Journal of International Law, 19(1), pp.183-209.

Biermann, F. and Gupta, A., 2011. Accountability and legitimacy in earth system governance: A research framework. Ecological economics, 70(11), pp.1856-1864.

Schabas, W.A., 2006. The UN international criminal tribunals: the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Cambridge University Press.

Un, K. and So, S., 2011. Land rights in Cambodia: how neopatrimonial politics restricts land policy reform. Pacific Affairs, pp.289-308.

Simic, O., 2009, August. Rethinking ‘sexual exploitation’in UN peacekeeping operations. In Women’s Studies International Forum (Vol. 32, No. 4, pp. 288-295). Pergamon.

Watts, C. and Zimmerman, C., 2002. Violence against women: global scope and magnitude. The lancet, 359(9313), pp.1232-1237.






All Rights Reserved,