The UN is a shambles

The UN is a shambles

Op-Ed: How to find freedom from ‘worst-case scenario’ thinking

When, at Christmas 2007, a senior adviser to the UN General Assembly wrote a scathing letter to the Secretary-General, accusing him of “playing into the hands of the terrorists”, it sparked a storm of controversy.

The letter, written by the aide to a member of the United Nations’ executive committee who, in an earlier capacity, worked for the UN’s humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, criticised UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“You do not realise how badly you are hurting the feelings of the terrorists,” wrote the unnamed staffer, a US-trained lawyer.

For most of the world the letter was a non-story, apart from the fact that it represented a rare attack on the international community that, for better or worse, it has been used to help sell the importance of the UN.

The UN was once seen as a beacon of hope in a world facing chaos, disorder and turmoil. But the secretary general is now often described as the most powerful UN official in history and the UN is now regularly vilified, both in the media and by international leaders.

In the letter to Ban, however, one thing was abundantly clear. It is often that the UN does not operate according to democratic principles, as opposed to rules laid out in the charter of the UN and which are based on the idea that humans are created equal. In fact, the “democratic” ideal is often found only in an obscure paragraph in the UN Charter and has never been put into practice on a global scale.

This makes it easy to accuse UN officials of acting in “bad faith”, or of engaging in “worst-case scenario” thinking, at least when that thinking is employed in the name of securing the “good of the world”.

When this thinking was first identified and applied to the work of the UN, it came to be described as a

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