Is the United Nations Inherently Good or Bad?

Whether or not the U.N. as an organization is “good” or “bad,” is a question far too simple to address all of the complex issues at play. A more accurate one would be to ask whether or not the work that the U.N. is able to accomplish is worth the damage the organization sometimes inadvertently causes.

The U.N. is, for the most part, a group of well-intentioned people who often find that their good deeds are unable to outweigh the fallout caused by their superiors’ frustrating approach of remaining inactive in situations that need intervention the most. This inaction, coupled with a reputation that is quickly being diminished by a handful of aid workers who take advantage of their positions of power to exploit the vulnerable populous that they are supposed to be protecting and serving, have made the U.N. fall short of its full potential, and in some cases even exacerbated the problems in the disaster areas in which it operates.

In 2008 it was revealed to the media that children as young as 6 had been forced to have sex with aid workers in exchange for food and money. Jasmine Whitbread of Save the Children UK has said of the incidents, “It is hard to imagine a more grotesque abuse of authority or flagrant violation of children’s rights.” (Busari)

The title of the study produced by the U.N. which showed widespread accounts of abuse, particularly towards children, at the hands of U.N. aid workers.

The title of the study produced by the U.N. which showed widespread accounts of abuse, particularly towards children, at the hands of U.N. aid workers.

Incidents like these lose the U.N. all credibility as a group whose intentions are supposed to be to help victims not to create more of them, and it also shows the massive lack of accountability both on the part of the workers themselves, and on the organization as a whole.

U.N. peacekeepers do not have a much better reputation than their aid worker counterparts. The U.N. peacekeeper force is comprised of soldiers from over 116 countries and, as the United Nations website states, since the U.N. “does not have its own military force; it depends on contributions from its member states.” (U.N.)

The U.N. peacekeepers must follow strict rules of engagement, and are rarely if ever allowed to return fire even in cases where lives are actively being threatened, for fear of creating an international incident, or doing anything that could be seen as an act of war.

These limitations prevent the peacekeepers from doing much of anything to prevent murder even in their so-called “safe zones.” The U.N. therefore merely is able to provide the illusion of security, but when it comes down to it, “they do not have a military force,” and therefore they do not have the capability to adequately defend the people of the country they are operating in.

At best U.N. peacekeepers seem ineffective at intervening in massacres and genocides, and at worse, they are seen as contributing factors to them.  In Srebrenica, Bosnia, U.N. peacekeepers assured Muslims that their established safe-zone would keep them out of harms way, and yet 8,000 men were slaughtered after being drawn to the alleged safe haven. The U.N. contingent of just 400 soldiers found themselves quickly overrun by the Army of Republika Srpska, and the U.N. could do nothing to significantly impede what would later be ruled by The Hague, genocide. (Cain)

In a press release distributed on the tenth anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote, “The ‘responsibility to protect’ must be given tangible meaning, not just rhetorical support.” (Annan)

As it stands today, the U.N. is just that – a symbol of rhetorical support, not a force that can truly intervene in a conflict and fulfill their responsibility to protect.

Dr. Andrew Thomson puts it quite simply, “If blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers show up in your town or village and offer to protect you, run. Or else get weapons. Your lives are worth so much less than theirs.” (Thomson)

Despite all of the problems associated with the U.N., just by virtue of their effort, they do not deserve to be condemned entirely. The United Nations as a concept is something extremely powerful, beautiful even – nations coming together, putting aside cultural and political differences to stand up for basic human rights, and most importantly to take care of one another.

In practice however, the U.N. struggles to realize its potential, and if it hopes to become a more viable means of aid distribution and peacekeeping in the world, it must somehow perform the very difficult task of extending its protective reach further, while at the same time increasing internal scrutiny to ensure that none of its workers contribute to the issues in their countries of operation.

This task will be difficult, and like all things worth pursuing, it will not come without its own set of obstacles to overcome and challenges to confront. Nowhere else however, is there an achievement more worthy of pursuit, than the goal of being able to effectively come to another’s aid in their greatest moment of crisis.


Works Cited:

Annan, Kofi. November, 7, 2007. June 18, 2013.  “May We All Learn and Act on the Lessons of Srebrenica.”


Cain, Kenneth. April 3, 2005. June 18, 2013. “How Many More Must Die Before Kofi Quits?”


Busari, Stephanie. May 27, 2008. June 18, 2013. “Charity: Aid Workers Raping, Abusing Children”


Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures. London. 2004. Print.


The United Nations Peacekeepers. 2013. June 18, 2013.

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