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Underestimating UN

What would the world be without the UN? David Malone offers a perspective that could help reshape it.

india Updated: Dec 18, 2006 19:24 IST

As Iraq implodes, or, perhaps, explodes, we have a stream of books about what happened and why. Many of the authors have been privileged by access to key decision-makers and players in the still unfolding drama. Malone’s book stands out because it is unpretentious, yet remarkably thorough and even pedagogic.

In analysing the manner in which the United Nations dealt with Iraq and its various problems, it provides us with a veritable portrait of the world as it labours from the Cold War era to some future world order whose shape is not yet clear.

Despite all its failings, the UN represents one of the more positive impulses of the world order. Its aim — to prevent war, safeguard human rights, provide a mechanism for international law, promote social and economic progress and fight diseases — may not have met the kind of success that idealists had hoped for. But we only have to think as to what the world would have been had the UN not existed at all.

Malone is no marginal player or ivory tower scholar. He is currently Canada’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, has served as his country’s permanent representative to the UN and, between 1998 and 2004, occupied a ring-side seat as the president of the prestigious International Peace Academy in New York. He has been a keen student of the UN and is the author of several books and articles, including a larger study of the UN Security Council.

 
An oil canvas mural by Norwegian artist Per Krogh in the Security Council Chamber. The phoenix rising from the ashes symbolises the world being rebuilt after WWII


However we look at world issues, it is clear today, much more so than in 2003 when the United States so wantonly invaded Iraq, that the UN has a vital role to play in world affairs, if only because there are no real alternatives. Malone’s study brings out the fault-lines in inter-State relations, the UN system as such and, above all, the UN Security Council, which is supposed to be the custodian of the UN Charter. In pointing to the strengths and weaknesses of the UN system, Malone has done great service to officials, scholars and, indeed, the world community.

Everyone and anyone who wants to study international relations in the future will have to factor in the manner in which the global community dealt with Iraq. While there will be a number of books giving us different perspective, Malone offers a true international perspective. His description and analysis of the manner in which the world community dealt with Iraq have a text-book objectivity, as well as a forward-looking perspective. This can serve as a guide to reshaping the UN system to meet the demands of our times.