The United Nations In The International System Of The 1990s

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One of the most important developments of the last decade, was the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988, to the United Nations Organisation. The move represented a profound understanding of the peace-making role of the international organisation. It was also a culminating move, in the transition from the more bellicose, to the more peaceful, approaches, to the solution of world-wide problems. This peace trend characterised the last few years of the decade of the nineteen eighties. A decade which also strengthened the international position of the UN system.


Critics of the United Nations often describe the body dismissively, as a talk shop, where not much gets done and where the hegemony of the big powers is revealed in its naked nastiness, through their use of the veto power. Another group of critics, especially during the 1970s, described the UN as a crypto-communist institution, which offered a platform to attack the Western powers, by the Third World countries, aided by the socialist countries of Eastern Europe.


These two groups of critics often seem to forget that the historical roots and Charter of the United Nations, were such that the body must be an institution catering to the interests of the different countries of the world, with their diverse interests, world views, and political praxes. It is testimony to its efficacy, that the United Nations was able to survive the stormy decades of the Cold War years, could be the platform of support for the aspirations of the underdeveloped nations, and as the 1980s dawned, could even get to win greater prestige in the settling of regional conflicts, from Indochina, Afghanistan, and to Namibia.


The present climate of international relations, characterised by what is now termed as New Thinking, has further enhanced the position of the United Nations Organisation. The moral basis of the politics of international relations is shifting in a more positive direction. The different powers are re-discovering the importance of fidelity to international systems of collective security and are becoming much broadly internationalist, in their outlook, partly in response to the greater interdependence of economies, societies and the whole fabric of the planet itself. Related to this, is the yearning of the world’s people for the removal of tensions and the institution of lasting peace, to enhance development.


In the new decade of the 1990s, it is hoped that the United Nations system would occupy an even more central role in the new internationalism which became the main trend at the end of the last decade. From the perspective of the developing countries, the United Nations has always been a forum for the actualisation of our dearest hopes. During the 1980s, the living conditions of our peoples plummeted to an all-time low, in the context of a very severe economic crisis and the attempts by our rulers to implement very difficult economic regimes, to move out of the impasse. Unfortunately, such UN institutions as the IMF and the IBRD, were accused at being at the base of some of these difficulties.


It is hoped that the new decade opens up even broader vistas for the UN to exercise its relevance in a world which is moving out of the shadows of a threatened outbreak of thermonuclear warfare, but which, nevertheless, must confront such serious problems of underdevelopment, ecological degradation, and a host of other, equally life-threatening problems. For the United Nations Organisation has indeed come a long way, as an institution of the peoples of the world.

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