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Criticism of the United Nations has been politically and ideologically diverse, although much of it is focused on the UN's presumed inability to handle international conflicts, even on a small scale. Other criticisms tend to focus on the UN's alleged elitism or its presumed support of globalist philosophies.


Administrative criticisms

Role of elite nations

There has been criticism that the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (Russia, the United States, China, the United Kingdom, France), who are all nuclear powers, have created an exclusive nuclear club whose powers are unchecked. Unlike the General Assembly, the United Nations Security Council does not have true international representation. This has led to accusations that the UNSC only addresses the strategic interests and political motives of the permanent members, especially in humanitarian interventions: for example, protecting the oil-rich Kuwaitis in 1991 but poorly protecting resource-poor Rwandans in 1994.[1]

Membership in the UN Security Council

Any nation may be elected to serve a temporary term on the Security Council, but critics have suggested that this is inadequate. Rather, they argue, the number of permanent members should be expanded to include non-nuclear powers, which would democratize the organization.[2] Still other nations have advocated abolishing the concept of permanency altogether; under the government of Paul Martin, Canada advocated this approach.[3]

Veto power

Another criticism of the Security Council involves the veto power of the five permanent nations. As it stands, a veto from any of the permanent members can halt any possible action the Council may take. One nation's objection, rather than the opinions of a majority of nations, may cripple any possible UN armed or diplomatic response to a crisis. For instance, John J. Mearsheimer claimed that "since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members."[4] Since candidates for the Security Council are proposed by regional blocs, the Arab League and its allies are usually included but Israel, which joined the UN in 1949, has never been elected to the Security Council. The Council has repeatedly condemned the Jewish State but not once has it adopted a resolution critical of the PLO or of Arab attacks on Israel[citation needed]. Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Jeane Kirkpatrick declared that what takes place in the Security Council "more closely resembles a mugging than either a political debate or an effort at problem-solving."[5]

Fait accompli

The practice of the permanent members meeting privately and then presenting their resolutions to the full council as a fait accompli has also drawn fire; according to Erskine Childers, "the vast majority of members -- North as well as South -- have made very clear...their distaste for the way three Western powers behave in the Council, like a private club of hereditary elite-members who secretly come to decisions and then emerge to tell the grubby elected members that they may now rubber-stamp those decisions."[6]

Democratic character of the UN

Other critics object to the idea that the UN is a democratic organization, saying that it represents the interests of the governments of the nations who form it and not necessarily the individuals within those nations. World federalist Dieter Heinrich points out that the powerful Security Council system does not have distinctions between the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches: the UN Charter gives all three powers to the Security Council.[7]

Another concern is that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are five of the top twelve largest arms dealing countries in the world.[8]

Philosophical and moral criticisms

Moral relativism

In 2004, former ambassador to the UN Dore Gold published a book called Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos. The book criticized what it called the organization's moral relativism in the face of (and occasional support of)[9] genocide and terrorism that occurred between the moral clarity of its founding period and the present day. While the UN during its founding period was limited to those nations that declared war on at least one of the Axis powers of World War II, and thus were capable of taking a stand against evil, the modern United Nations has, according to Gold, become diluted to the point where only 75 of the 184 member states during the time of the book's publication "were free democracies, according to Freedom House."[10] He further claimed that this had the effect of tipping the scales of the UN so that the organization as a whole was more amenable to the requirements of dictatorships.[10]

Act of Free Choice

According to a Dutch report, the violence against the West Papua people is an established pattern since the handing over of the territory by the Dutch and the UN Act of Free Choice referendum.

The government of the Netherlands commissioned Professor Pieter J. Drooglever to review the issues of the hand-over by the Dutch, led by the then foreign minister Joseph Luns with assistance by the United Nations. The report became public in December 2005.[11] In 2003, the indigenous rights organization, Friends of Peoples Close to Nature, released a documentary called Papua Merdeka, which criticizes the UN vote – Act of Free Choice. According to the movie, the UN was responsible for the continuing colonization and exploration of the West Papuan's natural resources. This film shows the history of violence the native population of West Papua have endured for many decades under the Indonesian military, and shows how to this day, the West Papuans continue their struggle for independence from Indonesia.[12]

Allegations of globalism

There has been controversy and criticism of the UN organization and its activities since at least the 1950s. In the United States, an early opponent of the UN was the John Birch Society, which began a "get US out of the UN" campaign in 1959, charging that the UN's aim was to establish a "One World Government."

Charles de Gaulle of France criticized the UN, famously calling it le machin ("the whatchamacallit"), and was not convinced that a global security alliance would help in maintaining world peace, preferring that the UN direct defence treaties between countries.[13]

Debates surrounding population control and abortion

The United Nations Population Fund has been accused by different groups of providing support for government programs which have promoted forced-abortions and coercive sterilizations. Controversies regarding these allegations have resulted in a sometimes shaky relationship between the organization and the United States government, with three presidential administrations, that of Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush and George W. Bush withholding funding from the UNFPA.[14]

The UNFPA provided aid to Peru's population control program in the mid-to-late '90s, when it was discovered the Peruvian program had been engaged in carrying out coercive sterilizations. The UNFPA was not found directly involved in the scandal, but continued to fund and work with the population control program after the abuses had become public.[15] The issue played a role in the Bush administration's controversial decision in 2002 to cut off funding for the organization.[16]

Diplomatic and political criticisms

Effectiveness in preventing conflicts

Other critics and even proponents of the United Nations question its effectiveness and relevance because in most high-profile cases, there are essentially no consequences for violating a Security Council resolution. The most prominent and dramatic example of this is the Darfur crisis, in which Arab Janjaweed militias, supported by the Sudanese government, committed repeated acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the indigenous population. Thus far, an estimated 300,000 civilians have been killed in what is the largest case of mass murder in the history of the region, yet the UN has continuously failed to act against this severe and ongoing human rights issue. Another such case occurred in the Srebrenica massacre where Serbian troops committed genocide against Bosnian Muslims in the largest case of mass murder on the European continent since World War II. Srebrenica had been declared a UN "safe area" and was even protected by 400 armed Dutch peacekeepers, but the UN forces did nothing to prevent the massacre.

Handling of the Cold War

In 1967, Richard Nixon, while running for President of the United States, criticized the UN as "obsolete and inadequate" for dealing with then-present crises like the Cold War.[17] Jeane Kirkpatrick, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan to be United States Ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in a 1983 opinion piece in The New York Times that the process of discussions at the Security Council "more closely resembles a mugging" of the United States "than either a political debate or an effort at problem solving."[18]

Attention given to the Arab-Israeli conflict

Issues relating to the state of Israel, the Palestinian people and other aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict occupy a large amount of debate time, resolutions and resources at the United Nations. Critics such as Dore Gold, Alan Dershowitz, Mark Dreyfus, and the Anti-Defamation League consider UN attention on Israel's treatment of Palestinians to be excessive.[19][20][21][22]

The adoption of UNSCOP's recommendation to partition Palestine by the United Nations General Assembly in 1947[23] was one of the earliest decisions of the UN. According to political commentator Alan Dershowitz, after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the UN defined the term "refugee" as applied to Palestinian Arabs fleeing Israel in significantly broader terms than it did for other refugees of other conflicts.[24]

Professor Don Habibi of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington lamented the limited reports on Sudan and Darfur, in contrast to reports on Israel. He criticized the United Nations, among other organizations, for their “obsession” with Israel, to the exclusion of other human rights violators. Habibi wrote:[25]

This obsession would make sense if Israel was among the worst human rights offenders in the world. But by any objective measure this is not the case. Even with the harshest interpretation of Israeli’s policies, which takes no account of cause and effect, and Israel’s predicament of facing existential war, there can be no comparison to the civil wars in Sudan, Algeria, or Congo.

Don Habibi

In 2007, UN Human Rights Council president Doru Romulus Costea said that the UNHRC had "failed" in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[26]

The UN has sponsored several peace negotiations between the Israel and its neighbors, the latest being the 2002 Road map for peace. The controversial Resolution 3379 (1975), which equated Zionism with racism, was rescinded in 1991.

Allegations of anti-Zionism and antisemitism

The UN has been accused by Dershowitz and human rights activists Elie Wiesel and Anne Bayefsky of tolerating antisemitic remarks within its walls.[20][27][28]

A UN sponsored conference was held in 2001 in Durban, South Africa. The conference was meant to combat racism, but ended up being a forum for world leaders to make various anti-Semitic statements.[29][30] Cartoons were handed out at the conference equating the Nazi swastika with the Jewish Star of David.[31] Tom Lantos, Colin Powell, Charles Schumer, Elie Wiesel, Irwin Cotler, and Alan Dershowitz condemned the entire conference, calling it hateful, racist, and anti-Semitic.[20]

Alleged support for Palestinians

According to Dore Gold and Alan Dershowitz, the United Nations has a long history of elevating what it calls "national liberation movements," armed groups who commit violence against civilians to achieve political goals, virtually to the status of civilians.[20][32] In 1988, the UN invited Yasser Arafat to address the General Assembly.[33][34][35] Alan Dershowitz accused the UN of allowing states that sponsor terrorism to sit on the Security Council.[36]

In July 1976, Palestinian and German terrorists hijacked an Air France plane headed from France to Israel, landed it in Uganda, and threatened to kill the civilian hostages. Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada provided sanctuary for the terrorists in the Entebbe airport. After Israel raided the Ugandan airport and saved most of the hostages, United Nations Secretary General "Kurt Waldheim condemned Israel" for the violation of "Ugandan sovereignty."[37]

Alan Dershowitz stated that while Tibetans, Kurds, and Turkish Armenians all desire "national liberation," the United Nations has only officially recognized Palestinian claims to "national liberation" and allows representatives of the Palestinian cause to speak at the UN. The difference between the three groups and the Palestinians is that the Palestinians use terrorism as a tactic for getting their voice heard while the other three do not.[citation needed] The UN, according to Dershowitz, favors "national liberation" groups who practice terrorism above those who do not; including those people who have been under more brutal occupation for a longer time (such as Tibetans). Dershowitz has accused the UN of allowing its refugee camps in the Palestinian territories to be used as terrorist bases.[20]

Criticisms of scandals

Oil-for-Food Programme scandal

In addition to criticism of the basic approach, the Oil-for-Food Programme suffered from widespread corruption and abuse. Throughout its existence, the programme was dogged by accusations that some of its profits were unlawfully diverted to the government of Iraq and to UN officials.[38]

Peacekeeping child sexual abuse scandal

Reporters witnessed a rapid increase in prostitution in Cambodia, Mozambique, Bosnia, and Kosovo after UN and, in the case of the latter two, NATO peacekeeping forces moved in. In the 1996 U.N. study The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, former first lady of Mozambique Graça Machel documented: "In 6 out of 12 country studies on sexual exploitation of children in situations of armed conflict prepared for the present report, the arrival of peacekeeping troops has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution." [39]


  1. ^ Rajan, Chella (2006). "Global Politics and InstitutionsPDF (449 KB)". Frontiers of a Great Transition. Vol. 3. Tellus Institute.
  2. ^ "India makes strong case for UNSC expansion". 13 November 2005. Archived from the original on 2007-09-08.,001600320005.htm. 
  3. ^ "Statement by Canadian Ambassador Allan Rock on Security Council Reform". Global Policy Forum. 12 July 2005. Retrieved 2007-09-08. 
  4. ^ John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy". KSG Faculty Research Working Paper Series. Harvard University. Retrieved 2007-09-08. 
  5. ^ The United Nations and Israel by Mitchell Bard
  6. ^ Empowering the Peoples in their United Nations - UN Reform - Global Policy Forum
  7. ^ Creery, Janet (1994). Read the fine print first: Some questions raised at the Science for Peace conference on UN reform. Peace Magazine. Jan-Feb 1994. p. 20. Retrieved on 2007-12-07.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Gold, 216–217
  10. ^ a b Gold, 31
  11. ^ "West Papuan killings a 4-decade Indonesian pattern". Scoop. 2006-01-23. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  12. ^ Engage Media fPcN videos - Papua Merdeka
  13. ^ Gerbet, Pierre (1995). "Naissance des Nations Unies" (in French). Espoir (102). 
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ [2]
  16. ^ [3]
  17. ^ "The Nixon Administration and the United Nations: 'It's a Damned Debating Society'", Dr. Edward C. Keefer (PDF).
  18. ^ "UN Mugging Fails", Legitimacy and Force, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, p. 229.
  19. ^ Gold, 20
  20. ^ a b c d e Dershowitz, Alan. The Case for Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can Be Resolved. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005.
  21. ^ "Don’t be lynch mob, lawyers urge U.N.." JTA. 8 July 2009. 8 July 2009.
  22. ^ "ADL: UN Human Rights Council Resolution Reveals 'Cancerous Bias' Against Israel." ADL. 7 July 2009.
  23. ^ Dynamics of Self-determination in Palestine, P. J. I. M. de Waart, BRILL, 1994, p. 121.
  24. ^ Dershowitz, Alan. The Case for Israel. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003. pp. 86–87.
  25. ^ Human Rights NGOs and the Neglect of Sudan
  26. ^ Shamir, Shlomo. "UN human rights chief: We failed in handling Israel-PA conflict." Haaretz. 30 September 2007. 7 July 2009.
  27. ^ "Transcripts." International. 6 August 2004. 7 July 2009.
  28. ^ Bayefsky, Anne. "Extra." 21 June 2004. 7 July 2009.
  29. ^ Jordan, Michael J. "Jewish Activists Stunned by Hostility, Anti-Semitism at Durban Conference." United Jewish Communities. 5 September. 1 September 2009.
  30. ^ Spitzer, Maya. "Swiss Jews worried by pre-Durban II anti-Semitism spike." Jerusalem Post. 12 May 2009. 1 September 2009.
  31. ^ Amiel, Barbara. "Fighting racism? This will have the opposite effect." 3 September 2001. 25 July 2009.
  32. ^ "The UN's new position could only be understood by those who regarded themselves as members of 'national liberation movements' as a license to commit murder in the name of the cause of self-determination. The UN ... had taken the first step toward legitimizing global terror" (Gold, 37).
  33. ^ Gold, 38
  34. ^ Israel Rejects UN Resolution on Yasser Arafat
  35. ^ Yasser Arafat, Speech at UN General Assembly
  36. ^ Dershowitz, Alan M. (2005). The case for peace: how the Arab-Israeli conflict can be resolved. John Wiley. p. 148. ISBN 978-1419357978. "The U.N. has allowed states that sponsor terrorism to sit on the Security Council and chair various important committees, while denying Israel these same rights." 
  37. ^ Dershowitz, Preemption, 91
  38. ^ Oil-for-food chief 'took bribes'
  39. ^ The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children

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