Eyes wide shut: United Nations larger than life
Updated on 07 August 2022
The world is looking at the United Nations through distorting lenses. People are used to seeing just a part of it at first sight. In most cases they will stop at the first glance and will not explore deeper.
In terms of areas of responsibility, there is very little left outside the mandate of the United Nations system as such, in everything that matters in international affairs. The mandate covers outer space and the bottom of the sea, development and disarmament, refugees and development, human rights and accounting, law and culture, labour and climate, health and communications, security and accounting, and the list can go on.
Unfortunately, public opinion does not see this. Even those interested will never know how much anonymous, highly technical, and apparently boring international norms influence their life. They will never know how much they owe to the United Nations as a whole. They will never understand how much evil the United Nations prevents.
The media is not interested in good news. Children immunised, refugees protected, starving people fed, conflicts prevented, lives saved, rights respected, all these daily activities are outside their sphere of interest. If there is a disagreement in the Security Council, this will certainly be breaking news. If a peace-keeping operation in the field fails or does not achieve expected results because of a lack of means made available by the member states, oh, yes, that will trigger an immediate impulse to inflate and generalise disappointment.
Eventually, we may understand the narrow-mindedness and the interests of the media, as well as the inherent subjective choice of politicians when they play to the gallery. But experts and diplomats should indeed try hard to see the whole forest, not just the falling trees.
Diplo’s courses on multilateral diplomacy are just this: they open our eyes to see the United Nations and its work in its complexity, not only what can be seen through the keyhole.
Am in full agreement that
Am in full agreement that ‘some will never know how much anonymous, highly technical, and apparently boring international norms influence their life. They will never know how much they owe to the United Nations as a whole. They will never understand how much evil the United Nations prevents’. And yet so many look to the UN to get more involved. I recently saw the movie ‘Shooting Dogs’, released in the United States as ‘Beyond the Gates’, and was horrified at how the UN soldiers (are they called that?) had to stand by and do nothing in the face of genocide in Rwanda because their mandate was to ‘observe’. It was so difficult to understand but it made it clear to me that this is a large part of why the UN is so misunderstood – we usually only see what it doesn’t do… and we identify with this ‘not doing’.
There is a fundamental word
There is a fundamental word in your comment, Mary: « prevention ».
We are all ready to count failures, casualties, catastrophes etc. The evil is measurable. Measuring prevention is not that easy. But it would be possible if we worked harder.
At the 50th anniversary of UNICEF, Romania was member of the Executive Board and proposed a congratulatory resolution. I was there. When the resolution was adopted, a delegation of three people who came from Seoul stated: without the assistance of UNICEF during the Korean War, when we were kids, we would have died.
If I were an academic or a PhD candidate I would try to find how to measure prevention in what the United Nations system has done so far.