The UN Charter (Ch. I-Art. 1) specifically states that its mission includes measures to preserve and foster collective security, harmonizing relations between nations. Thus, helping to prevent war through a multilateral process - collective security - is at the top of the list, followed by promoting international economic cooperation, human rights, equality between men and women, labor rights, and promoting equality between nations small and large.
In addition, the UN mission includes fostering conditions from which treaties and international law can be maintained, and social progress promoted. There is nothing in the charter about 'democracy', but Article 2 does state that the UN is based on the principle of sovereign equality of its members, a principle that the Great Powers (permanent members of the UN Security Council) have repeatedly violated, especially the US that was the world's strongest country - militarily and economically - from 1945 to the present and had an interventionist foreign policy that sharply conflicted with the UN's multilateral principles, procedures and goals.
Let us begin by accepting the premise that organizations, secular or religious, are above all interested in self preservation, like Darwin's species struggling to survive the process of 'selection', not natural but institutional. The UN has survived the divisive Cold War, but how is the UN record of the past six decades or so measured against its own charter? My reading of UN history is that it has a very mixed record, at best.
The UN has actually hindered social justice, something that is claims it supports, it has not alleviated poverty regardless of its numerous programs and promises to end poverty, and its has actually contributed to inequality between nations small and large, instead of closing the gap as its charter claims. In large measure, this is because the UN has always been a captive organization to powerful nations, especially the US, and to a political economy that it supports and promotes, although the political economy is the root cause of the problems that the UN claims it wishes to fix.
Although it claims that its mission is to contribute to freedom, the record shows that with some exceptions the UN yields to the Security Council members, especially the US, which has been involved in more than 70 political, covert, and military interventions from Truman to Obama. Given the nature of the organization, its size, scope and diversity, it is inevitable that would not have a spotless record by any definition, just as it is inevitable that the US would manipulate the UN to serve its own interests.
On the plus side, there has been no global war since WWII, but from the end of the Second World War until 2000, it is estimated around 27 million have died as a result of war. This is a number roughly half those who died in WWII (50-70 million casualties, depending on the source). That we have had no global war since the 1940s is a great achievement for which the UN must take credit is a great achievement according to some, while others point to the number killed in small wars as indicative of the UN failure to keep the peace.
The degree to which the UN has promoted market-oriented Western-style democracy and the degree to which its policies are a reflection, while hindering national sovereignty and social justice are pertinent issues in judging how far the organization has deviated from its own charter. The UN has spent millions of dollars promoting multi-party systems around the world, but remains silent in countries where the US has a dominant influence.
For example, Saudi Arabia is hardly a democracy, but very much heavily invested in the US economy and integrated with it. The US is not anxious to have the UN interfere in Saudi Arabia because it will upset the status quo that favors US economic, political and military interests. Even worse, the UN has a longstanding record of resolutions that have gone unenforced and are mere moral condemnations of Israel for PR purposes. That a double-standard regarding Israel's nuclear arsenal that it does not examine versus Iran's nuclear energy program that it deems menacing to the West. Should the world expect more of an organization that succeeded the League of Nations as a necessary tool of multilateral diplomacy?
The United Nations was founded as the successor organization to the League of Nations. Originally an American proposal under President Woodrow Wilson, the League of Nations as an instrument of global peace earned the respect of many including Albert Einstein. That the League lacked the fervent support of its members - the US never joined and retreated to isolationism during the interwar era - was a tragedy that contributed to the second World War. Another tragedy of the League of Nations was the reality that it was essentially a Western club that turned a blind eye to colonialism and spheres of influence. With only France as its strongest supporter, and the rest of the members suspecting that the League of Nations was simply incapable of serving their interests, they ignored it.
From Eisenhower to Johnson the non-aligned bloc, headed by Egypt, Yugoslavia, and Indonesia tried to influence the UN, but it was only at the National Assembly level, for the Security Council reflected the Great Powers leverage in the world. During the late 1950s and 1960s, the UN again failed to prevent major attempt at interventions by both superpowers in their reflective spheres of influence where freedom, national sovereignty, human rights, and social justice were systematically violated. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Czech uprising of 1968 represented the blatant cases of Moscow's intervention to deny national sovereignty and freedom to the two East European nations. The UN was only useful as a Cold War arena for the two superpowers to air their respective propaganda, rather than prevent interventions and protect national sovereignty.
The UN was equally unable to do anything about US interventions in Vietnam, Indonesia, Congo, Dominican Republic to name a few of the more blatant cases where the US was trying to install puppet regimes. Nor was the UN effective trying to end apartheid conditions in pro-US South Africa and Israel where the minority populations were systematically repressed by a white majority. The UN has a record of resolutions reflecting opposition to apartheid in South Africa and apartheid conditions of Palestinians, but the US imposed veto on such resolutions, until June 1990 when Nelson Mandela addressed the issue before the UN.
The UN was equally unable to do anything about the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s, or the US interventions in Nicaragua, Granada, and Panama. The end of the Cold War (Soviet-American power struggle) until the present meant that the UN would have to reorient its political agenda to reflect US foreign policy, namely the war on terror aimed at Muslims. Toward that end, the UN became the instrument of US policy to intervene in Iraq, declare war on Afghanistan, isolate countries with regimes unfriendly to the US like Libya under Gadhafi, Syria under Assad and of course Iran under Islamic law.
The US war on terror became the policy around which all UN programs operated, including cultural and educational programs. Everything in the UN was filtered through the war on terror campaign, but only as the US defined it, given that this is a highly political issue. Naturally, Iran was at the center of the new Cold War and one of the UN agencies, the IAEA would be at the center of the controversy involving Middle East regimes that the US was interested in undermining or overthrowing. That the UN permitted itself to be used in this manner reflects the type of highly political organization it is, and not at all committed to its own charter and principles therein, least of all the principle of freedom and democracy.
Invariably with a pro-market, pro-Western agenda behind it, the UN contributes to the promotion of human rights, refugee rights, women and minority rights, child rights, and prisoners'/POW rights. Moreover the UN advocates cultural diffusion, literacy, water, food and health programs, disaster relief, sustainable development assistance, but all within the context of a pro-market-oriented, pro-West model.
The UN Democracy Fund makes a genuine effort to promote democracy, but upon a closer examination of the projects that it funds, one can clearly discern the assumptions of 'democracy' that the UN has. Although there is some funding for human rights and promoting women in society, such funding is directed in countries where the West actively supports regime change, or there is an effort to foster political, economic and strategic integration with Western nations.
While providing funding for human rights ought to be considered an integral part of promoting democracy, doing so selectively based on political criteria is indicative that the Western Powers are promoting their interests, especially given that national sovereignty of the same countries where human rights may be promoted are not respected by the US and EU, because they are in essence interested in economic integration under the market economy.
Providing UN funding for elections in Latin America, central Asia, or Africa is fine, but do elections entail democracy? There is nothing wrong with clean water, food, and medicine programs, as long as behind them do not rest multinational corporations interested in the natural resources and cheap labor of Africa. One may argue that the market-oriented solution is better than nothing, and that it is a pragmatic approach, given that the UN has no choice but to link with corporations, IMF, World Bank, and former politicians like Bill Clinton interested in providing a 'corporate-sponsored' solution to poverty - currently at roughly 1.3 billion people. Fine. But what are the results so far, given that more than a decade has passed since this program was introduced as the Millennium Development Goals (see my posting Foreign Aid, Global Poverty and the UN).
The reader may argue that it is easy for outsiders, especially academics, to criticize a mammoth organization like the UN, given that everyone from far right wing to far left political elements have come out against the UN. However, top UN officials have also criticized the UN for some of the exact reasons as I have outlined above. Consider for example, former UN secretary-general Boutros-Ghali (1992-1996) who is on record castigating the UN as having no moral authority to preach democracy, for it does not practice it and that the UN violates its mission because of the 185 members only one, the US, dominates the organization.
The history of US-UN relations shows that the US has used the international organization to promote its own economic, political and military interests to the detriment of other nations, often violating the national sovereignty of UN members. Pointing to the Kosovo crisis of the 1990s in which the UN became a mere instrument of the US and NATO, Boutros-Ghali merely confirmed the strong interventionist role of the US in UN affairs that Mohammad ElBaradei, former IAEA has stated. This is extremely significant because the UN has failed to maintain collective security, succumbing to the hegemonic US unilateral influences, only tamed by the veto power of Russia and China.
Given that in 2012, the US is searching for all kinds of excuses to destroy Iran's nuclear energy program, which has the potential of becoming a nuclear weapons program; given that the US, perhaps with the aid of British and Israeli intelligence has been assassinating Iranian scientists; given that the UN is supposed to be helping prevent war but it is an instrument of precipitating it, I can understand why many people wonder if the UN never existed would the global balance of power be any different and would not the same number of wars have taken place? In its six-decade history we see that UN has tried to realize the principles in its own charter, but it has failed because it is dependent on national powers, especially on the US that has always exerted dominant influence over the organization's operations to suit its foreign policy and its market-oriented democracy.