Is The United Nations Effective In The Twentieth Century?

The most urgent goal for U.S. officials is restoring military-to-military channels with Beijing following multiple dangerous close calls in recent months, including a near-collision of warships near Taiwan and an aggressive fighter jet flyby over the South China Sea.

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The Palais des Nations UN Headquarters in Geneva [Photo credit: Jonathan Ansel Moy de Vitry/Unsplash]


Due to the tensions that have arisen in the US, China, and Russia in particular threatening peace and tranquility in the rest of the world question has arisen about the effectiveness of the United Nations. Going back to the defeat of Germany in the Second World War and then the immediate task of the victorious powers of the division of Germany one cannot but refer to the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals of October 1944 to be known as the United Nations which would consist of 1) a General Assembly composed of all the members, 2) a Security Council of eleven members, of which five would be permanent and the other six would be chosen by the General Assembly for two-year terms, 3) an International Court of Justice, and 4) a Secretariat. An Economic and Social Council, working under the authority of the General Assembly, was also provided for.

The essence of the plan was that responsibility for preventing future war should be conferred upon the Security Council. The actual method of voting in the Security Council — an all-important question — was left open at Dumbarton Oaks for future discussion. Another important feature of the Dumbarton Oaks plan was that member states were to place armed forces at the disposal of the Security Council, if needed, to prevent war or suppress acts of aggression. The absence of such a force, it was generally agreed, had been a fatal weakness in the older League of Nations.

The Dumbarton Oaks proposals were fully discussed throughout the Allied countries. The British Government issued a detailed commentary, and in the United States, the Department of State distributed 1,900,000 copies of the text and arranged for speakers, radio programs, and motion picture films to explain the proposals. Comments and constructive criticisms came from several governments, e.g., Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, the Union of South Africa, the USSR, the United Kingdom, and the United States. ( History of the United Nations). At the time of the Dumberton Oaks China was Ching Kai Shek’s Taiwan and not Mao Tse Tung’s China which remains today as a rich and powerful country presided over by Xi-Jinping’s authoritarian regime.


 Jessica Chen Weiss of Cornell University and an expert on China in a recent article in Foreign Affairs magazine ( China Trap- U.S. Foreign Policy and the Perilous Logic of Zero-Sum Competition) has pointed out the difficulty faced by both the US and China stemming from the inability of Western powers to read the mind of Xi-Jinping who holds absolute power in China in all spheres of the life of Chinese people. In his present term, Xi-Jinping has surpassed Mao Tse Tung whose understanding of the strategy of US President Richard Nixon was more pragmatic than one would have expected from a revolutionary. In April this year in a long conversation with the prestigious British magazine The Economist Henry Kissinger spoke of how to prevent a US and China war. Kissinger expressed his alarm about China’s and America’s intensifying competition for technological and economic pre-eminence.


 “We’re in the classic pre-world War I situation,” he says, “where neither side has much margin of political concession and in which any disturbance of the equilibrium can lead to catastrophic consequences.” Mr. Kissinger believes that AI will become a key factor in security within five years. He compares its disruptive potential to the invention of printing, which spread ideas that played a part in causing the devastating wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. “[We live] in a world of unprecedented destructiveness,” Mr Kissinger warns. Despite the doctrine that a human should be in the loop, automatic and unstoppable weapons may be created. “If you look at military history, you can say, it has never been possible to destroy all your opponents, because of limitations of geography and of accuracy. Now, he says, there are no limitations. Every adversary is 100% vulnerable.”

He also cautioned against misinterpreting China’s ambitions. In Washington, “They say China wants world domination…The answer is that they in China want to be powerful,” he says. “They’re not heading for world domination in a Hitlerian sense,” he says. “That is not how they think or have ever thought of world order.” In Nazi Germany war was inevitable because Adolf Hitler needed it. but China is different. He has met many Chinese leaders, starting with Mao Zedong. He did not doubt their ideological commitment, but this has always been welded onto a keen sense of their country’s interests and capabilities.

Kissinger sees the Chinese system as more Confucian than Marxist. That teaches Chinese leaders to attain the maximum strength of which their country is capable and to seek to be respected for their accomplishments. Chinese leaders want to be recognized as the international system’s final judges of their own interests.


In China Trap Jessica Chen Wiess gives credit to President Joe Biden’s administration for acknowledging that the United States and its partners must provide an attractive alternative to what China is offering, and it has taken some steps in the right direction, such as multilateral initiatives on climate and hunger. Yet the instinct to counter every Chinese initiative, project, and provocation remains predominant, crowding out efforts to revitalize an inclusive international system that would protect U.S. interests and values even as global power shifts and evolves. Even with the war in Ukraine claiming considerable U.S. attention and resources, the conflict’s broader effect has been to intensify focus on geopolitical competition, reinforced by Chinese-Russian convergence.

Leaders in both Washington and Beijing claim to want to avoid a new Cold War. The fact is that their countries are already engaged in a global struggle. The United States seeks to perpetuate its preeminence and an international system that privileges its interests and values; China sees U.S. leadership as weakened by hypocrisy and neglect, providing an opening to force others to accept its influence and legitimacy. On both sides, there is growing fatalism that a crisis is unavoidable and perhaps even necessary: that mutually accepted rules of fair play and coexistence will come only after the kind of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation that characterized the early years of the Cold War—survival of which was not guaranteed then and would be even less assured now. In Washington and Beijing, there is growing fatalism that a crisis is perhaps necessary.


 In the aftermath of the Shangrila Dialogue in Singapore held this year President Joe Biden held firm that Antony Blinken, Biden’s Secretary of State should go to China ahead of Janet Yellen, Biden’s Treasury Secretary and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. The Chinese were more interested in getting concrete results for both economic growth and domestic consumption. Chinese unease remains as does its belief that the US despite its policy of “ Strategic Ambiguity” relating to Taiwan is determined to contain its rise as a superpower.

In March last year, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned China that helping the Russian invasion of Ukraine would cost China despite Sino-Russian “ limitless” friendship. It is believed that China was caught off guard by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is also incompatible with Chinese policy because they are incompatible with the way China views war. Beijing prefers extracting concessions through coercion over the use of force and with Ukraine menaced by tens of thousands of Russian troops along its borders, China didn’t expect Putin to invade “because they didn’t think he needed to.”


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where it has recognized two breakaway republics, has challenged fundamental principles of Chinese foreign policy particularly noninterference in other countries’ affairs, and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. “If the concept of sovereignty means anything in practice to a country like China she would be expected to stand up and to speak out. In formulating its response, China has had to consider the implications for Taiwan. If China explicitly endorsed the separatists’ plans, against Ukrainian sovereignty, then logically the Japanese, Americans, and others can make similar claims in Taiwan. That’s the kind of logic that the Chinese government would like to avoid. As mentioned earlier Jessica Chen Weiss in her article China Trap appears to be pessimistic. She thinks that Beijing is beginning to believe that coercion may be necessary to halt Taiwan’s permanent separation.

Although Beijing continues to prefer peaceful unification, it is coming to believe that coercive measures may be necessary to halt moves toward Taiwan’s permanent separation and compel steps toward unification, particularly given the Chinese perception that Washington’s support for Taiwan is a means to contain China. Even if confidence in China’s military and economic trajectory leads Beijing to believe that “time and momentum” remain on its side, political trends in Taiwan and in the United States make officials increasingly pessimistic about prospects for peaceful unification. Beijing has not set a timetable for seizing Taiwan and does not appear to be looking for an excuse to do so.


 Besides given the $700 billion in trade between the United States and China, the U.S. business community “remains focused on the importance of the relationship,” said the senior State Department official. “U.S. businesspeople are likely to ask for a reduction in tensions so there is lower risk and lower acrimony for their businesses in China,” said Daniel Russel, a China expert at the Asia Society.

The most urgent goal for U.S. officials is restoring military-to-military channels with Beijing following multiple dangerous close calls in recent months, including a near-collision of warships near Taiwan and an aggressive fighter jet flyby over the South China Sea. Beijing recently rejected a U.S. offer for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to meet his Chinese counterpart doubting the “sincerity” of the invitation. Chinese officials are still upset about the punishments the United States imposed on the Chinese Defense Minister in 2018 for buying arms from Russia. They also view Washington’s deployment of air and naval assets to the South China Sea as an affront to China’s-sovereignty and believe that improving communications with Washington will simply make the Pentagon more comfortable operating in East Asia.


Yet one has to take into consideration that the world today is neither unipolar nor bipolar. Multipolarity has taken center stage and the US has to take the help of other countries of NATO and the European Union as China has to take into account help from Russia and others who either voted in favor of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the UN Resolution or those who had abstained. In any case, the world would not accept the extinction of humanity just because a few countries possess nuclear weapons.

Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a retired Bangladeshi diplomat. During his tenure, he worked in several countries as the ambassador of Bangladesh including Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Germany

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