The most immediate and the most ostensible aim for the setting up of the United Nations was prevention of war and the maintenance of peace. The loss of millions of lives during the 2nd World War and the demonstration of the destructive capacity of the nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had convinced the mankind that the 3rd World War, if not prevented, would lead to wholescale destruction of human life on the planet earth. During the 53 years of U.N.’s existence, world peace was disturbed on numerous occasions.
Wars broke out between Israel and Arab Nations, India and Pakistan, India and China, U.S. and Vietnam, England and Argentina, North and South Korea. Security Council of the United Nations immediately took up the matter and initiated discussions and talks among various nations to resolve the crisis. But mostly its efforts bore no fruit as one or the other permanent members of the Security Council exercised its veto and no unanimous resolution could be passed for ending the hostilities. Disputant nations and their supporters used U.N. forums like the General Assembly and Security Council to air their views and to attract world’s attention.
These debates and discussions helped crystallise the international opinion about the matter under dispute and many a time exerted moral pressure on the warring nations to enter into bilateral negotiations to end the war and arrive at peace settlement. U.N. also sent its observers to ensure the maintenance of cessation of hostilities after the negotiated ceasefire between the countries. In case of civil wars, however, U.N. played a significant role in damage control and in saving human lives. It despatched peace keeping forces to several countries ravaged by civil wars which acted impartially and stayed on till the restoration of comparative tranquility. Particularly the role of peace keeping forces in Congo and Bosnia has been really commendable.
Although U.N. could not do much to prevent wars among nations, it had tried to prevent the causes of wars such as hunger, starvation, disease, repression and racial discrimination. Through its agencies such as Economic and Social Council, UNICEF and UNESCO, U.N. has taken sustained initiative to raise the standard of living in many developing and under-developed countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia. UNICEF’s contributions have financed many projects in poor countries for providing health care and immunisation to children and pregnant mothers.
Infant mortality rates have substantially declined in these countries. UNICEF has motivated and convinced many nations including India and Bangladesh to take up projects for elimination of illiteracy and for universal elementary education. United Nations Development Programme has formulated projects for agriculture development and water supply in a large number of countries. Besides extending direct help, these agencies have brought about an awakening among the member nations and have motivated them to upgrade their development administration programme to bring about efficiency and transparency in their functioning and delivery system.
United Nations Population Programme has initiated many schemes all over the world to stem unrestrained population growth and to develop strategies for sustained development and economic growth. U.N. has become a clearing house of ideas and experiences. It has helped in replicating the successes achieved in one country and avoiding failures and thus learning by the experience of others. This has obviated waste and ensured optimum utilisation of scarce resources.
It is in the sphere of elimination of apartheid and in promoting racial harmony that U.N. has done pioneering work.
It successfully applied international sanctions against racialist Rhodesia and forced her to reverse her discriminative policies. Besides enhancing racial integration, U.N. has significantly contributed to the grant of human rights in various parts of the world by helping the victims of violation of rights to life, freedom of worship and freedom of expression and speech. On December 10, 1948, U.N. adopted at Paris the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the purpose of the realisation of Human Rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. U.N. and its various agencies have entered into partnerships with other non governmental organisations such as Amnesty International to protect human rights violation on the part of autocratic regimes.
Recent initiatives of U.N. agencies in the field of Environmental protection are highly commendable. Both rich and the poor nations came together in Rio-de Janerio for the Earth Summit in 1992 to discuss strategies for saving the earth from Greenhouse effects, ozone and growing pollution of water and atmosphere throughout the globe. The recommendations of the Summit will greatly help the nations to contain environmental degradation and to take up long term programmes for sustainable development of their agriculture, horticulture, forestry and land and water use.
World Bank and International Monetary Fund, under the aegis of United Nations, have disbursed substantial sums of loan to various nation states for developing different sectors of their economy. I.M.F. has also helped many nations in recovering from economic depression and for strengthening their currencies. But for the timely help of I.M.F., Indonesia, Thailand and Korea would have suffered from a near total economic collapse due to withdrawal of foreign investment by many overseas investors and also due to huge debt burden of these countries.
Failures of United Nations are no different from the failures of its member nations. If we view these failures in the context of lack of any coercive powers with the U.N. to enforce its will on the warring nations and also the lack of sufficient budgetary resources to take up developmental work, we can appreciate that our expectations from this international forum have been too high and unrealistic. The hopes that the mankind will move towards internationalism by abandoning the national and narrower loyalties have been totally belied. The recent years of the world history has seen a hardening of ethnic and national sentiments. No nation is willing to part with even a small portion of its sovereignty in the favour of a world agency, peace making, therefore, has to remain an area of bilateral efforts. In the field of knowledge, environmental protection, human rights, business and industry, U.N. and its agencies can make substantial contribution.