WHO Is Going to Be In Charge? The World Health Organization’s Lack of Guidance In The 21st Century – Blessing Ikpa

When the first cases of Ebola was first documented in Yambuku, Zaire (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1976, the lack of technology and knowledge led the World Health Organization (WHO) to not take necessary actions as needed. As information was made readily available as to how to combat Ebola, the fight to end the epidemic became more strategic. 300 people died due to Ebola in this time, but with the help of  the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Ebola had been eradicated for the time being.

With the second outbreak of Ebola to hit present-day DRC, many people became frustrated as to the lack of resources being readily available. Knowing what the disease entails, why wouldn’t a vaccine be prepared for when the next outbreak was surely going to hit the area? Many other outbreaks were noted by Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council of Foreign Relations, and others couldn’t understand why WHO still has not taken the initiative to step in and find preventable ways to treat this disease. When Ebola was first discovered in the United States, many people were quick to find a solution and prevent the disease from causing an outbreak. This has left people to wonder whether consideration is only given to developed countries who have the economic and sustainable means to combat such a disease.

The World Health Organization centers itself around being the globally known institution in which people can lean on in terms of national disasters, epidemics and other prominent health crises. Time and energy has been spent into reconfiguring WHO, but not as much resources have been poured into building up local and national health systems, primarily in developing countries. In Garrett’s article, “How the WHO Mishandled the Crisis,” detailed examples are given as to how the WHO failed with other grave outbreaks such as HIV and Swine Flu. WHO has portrayed themselves in an unfortunate light, with being too fixated on governance and politics and not giving much consideration to actual situations that need to be addressed.

With WHO having the governing power and authority that they possess, more efforts should be placed in elevating local and national health systems. When outbreaks are first beginning in an area, it is imperative that local physicians have the knowledge of what is going on and how to combat the outbreak before it becomes an epidemic. There is a level of frustration when consultation with WHO goes nowhere. By the time WHO effectively steps in (concerning developing countries), hundreds of people have died and there is still no solution to the actual disease itself. Coming from a place of understanding, WHO has been gridlocked into deciding between action or inaction. There has been a discussion surrounding when WHO should intervene and if it is too early to intervene within a country. Yet, WHO would not have to spend so much time deciding whether or not to intervene medically if local and national health systems were able to decipher for themselves what needs to be done.

When the WHO confirmed an Ebola outbreak in March 2014, it was not until five months later that WHO declared the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). This goes back to the inefficiency in the WHO being able to detect outbreaks and effectively work alongside local health systems in order to contain the outbreak. It’s not possible to keep every person alive who comes into contact with the disease, but the high numbers of people dying because of ineffectiveness on the ends of local health systems and WHO is unacceptable.

The World Health Organization, along with other prominent institutions in the United Nations, are focused on their status among powerful countries. Especially with powerful countries who are often high-dollar donors to international institutions, keeping the donors happy is something many organizations face on a daily basis. Yet, as powerful as WHO and the UN are, there needs to be effective pushback towards these countries.

Yes, WHO was able to respond in a more timely manner to the outbreak of Zika (even though the outbreak was not nearly as large as Ebola), but this does not deter from their inefficiency as an international organization. This does not correlate to the WHO learning their lesson from the Ebola epidemic. Rather, they have overcompensated in terms of trying to stay ahead of outbreaks, which is admirable. But can we confidently believe that WHO has learned from the past? Does WHO only learn when outbreaks reach the Western world and/or donor countries? Hopefully, WHO will learn to work alongside local and national health systems in order to advance the health and protection of all people.


Can UN Peace Operations Evolve With the World Around Them? – Blessing Ikpa

The United Nations Peace Operations is comprised of individuals who are experienced in the areas of conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peacebuilding with attempts to highlight places in need of change. With its creation in 1948, the conversation around military force being deployed in peace operations has been evolving. Yet, has it evolved to the standards of the 21st century?  There needs to be a strict boundary in which the usage of UN Peace Operations is properly enforced when need be, with regard being given to the autonomy of sovereignty of its member-states.

The concept of sovereignty is important to any member-state of the United Nations, which makes using military force in peace operations more difficult to navigate. Thomas Weiss et al. (2014) arguably note how the Security Council was largely missing in humanitarian matters during the Cold War. Now, the Security Council has found them in the complicated relationship of employing military force too soon. It is important that UN Peacekeepers fulfill mandates to protect citizens of member-states but the use of force has become more robust with “war-fighting mandates” that could be alleviated.

The United Nations has always stood behind the notion that no member-state will be forced to follow or participate in a specified mandate. Even though the peace operations have been deployed into Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Syria, there is nothing holding countries to uphold peace mandates. With the situation in the Balkans, all eyes were on the great powers for the political environment in the background. China and Russia were debating on even labeling the situation as a “humanitarian bombing”, which leads to how powerful countries can have a stronger say over the UN. Even if the answer to war crimes is through the international courts, this does not mean that a proper answer to positive peace can happen.

In another internal report on the UN Peace Operations, a few bullet points were laid out such as:

  • Engaging with host countries and local communities to ensure mission success
  • Improving speed, capability, and performance of unified personnel
  • The full spectrum of peace operations must be used more flexibly to respond to changing needs on the ground
  • The UN Secretariat must become more field-focused and UN peace operations must be more people-centered.

Though many of these points are valid and should be fully implemented, the possibility of coming to fruition is daunting. Though the UN Peace Operations have evolved since the 1990s in terms of strategy and challenges to the growth of operations, but has not reached the level of being “people-centered” and “field-focused”. Cases of sexual violence from peacekeepers and confusion around the responsibility to protect does not gain traction of being able to keep up with the changing world around us.

The guiding principles of UN Peace Operations are Impartiality, Consent, and Limited Use of Force. None of these principles have been adequately met since the idea of peacekeeping is still relatively new to the United Nations. The lines between peace mandates and the responsibility to protect have been blurred significantly. When fulfilling a peace mandate, the idea of state sovereignty is only “contingent on responsible governmental behavior” as stated from Weiss. How can peace be positively accomplished if sovereignty can only be respected when a country is acting according to vague terms? Nothing can be executed sufficiently if there is not a clear, consistent value in achieving positive peace?

With an internal review conducted of UN Peace Operations, a recommendation was given on creating effective strategies for conflict prevention but does not accurately touch on the topic of military intervention and the use of force. When the United Nations is found with the challenge of intervening, military force should not always be at use. The Secretariat is given the power to apply “best-case planning assumptions” when needed, but if this continues to only use the voices of great powers, peace cannot be achieved. The United Nations as an international organization must work to gain credibility over countries such as Russia, China, and the United States.

The efficiency and credibility of the United Nations, along with various other international institutions, is beginning to reach a turning point. Even if NATO was to become more involved, what would this mean for the fulfillment of peace mandates? Powerful countries and their political adversaries have cluttered the usefulness of the UN Peace Operations. If peace is going to be achieved, the use of military force and the decline of state sovereignty must be fully addressed. Even though the UN Peace Operations have made strides, this could all become futile if credibility and sustainability is lost.


The need of coordination with regional organizations to end sexual violence in peace operations – María Camila Alarcón

Allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) within the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations affect not only its credibility but also its ability to carry out its mandate. Numerous reports and recommendations have been issued and implemented in the past decade to address the problem. Despite this, the allegations continue to increase, which means that more needs to be done. Efforts to prevent new cases from occurring must be supported by a strong framework to ensure and increase criminal accountability of perpetrators. The gap between international law and domestic legislations of troop-contributing countries (TCC) needs to be addressed so the UN can play a more determinant role in investigating and prosecuting SEA allegations. Naming and shaming of TCCs that refuse to investigate and prosecute should be part of the UN strategy. The Security Council Resolution 2272, with its limitations, is an important step to review the relationship between the UN and the TCCs, and a key tool to put pressure on states that refuse to investigate. However, in order to be effective, the UN needs to coordinate its measures and mechanisms with other regional organizations that provide peacekeeping missions such as the African Union (AU) or NATO.  Continue reading

Reform the Veto Power, not the Members

The world’s major superpowers often try to work through the United Nations as a way to add a layer of legitimacy and offer a chance for international cooperation. However, inefficiencies of the Security Council has not only made passing a pressing international security issue extremely difficult, but it has also proven that the aforementioned layer of legitimacy that a resolution can provide may often be superfluous.

It’s important to discuss the inefficiencies of international organizations in order to make systematic changes as a means to make them, in general, more efficient; acknowledging its deficiencies does not discount the incredible work the United Nations does as a body, but rather, helps us figure out the next step. The UN Security Council has proven itself to be an invaluable avenue of providing humanitarian aid, international promotion of democracy (such as election monitoring), and peacekeeping operations to the most needing people and has certainly created for itself a place in the world for that role.

However, the Security Council has proven ineffective in setting security issues of controversy – both because of the makeup of the Security Council and because of the general nature of the United Nations.

The United Nations, in its most idilic sense, is a driving force of international cooperation and – as mentioned before – works well around non-controversial issues. But when international dilemmas of peace and security arise, states are often asked to give into some of their core national interests for the sake of cooperation. The United Nations, by nature, seeks to give representation to states from all regions of the world. Given that advocacy of national interests is paramount to state survival, cooperation involving an erosion of power over national interests is not only a difficult thing to achieve, but it’s also not rational policy from a superpower’s standpoint.

By further diversifying the permanent Security Council membership, more diverse national interests are being pitted against each other. Under the current set of rules – where any one permanent member can stifle the passing of a quality resolution through a veto – the clash of interests on controversial security issues almost inevitably will yield a failed resolution proposal.

The dilemma in Syria, for example, provides a theater where four permanent members of the Security Council are forced to defend their national interests and thus the United States, the United Kingdom, and France are pitted against Russia. Bashar al-Assad’s consolidation of power and expansion of autocratic tendencies has created an security problem with Turkey, a NATO member, and is responsible for constant violations of human rights. Russia’s allegiance to the al-Assad regime in Syria complicates problem, as any UN Security Council resolution, whether it seeks to approve a military intervention to protect Syrian civilians or economic and political sanctions alleviate al-Assad’s consolidation of power, would be vetoed by Russia.

The Security Council resolutions that have passed in regards to Syria focus on the cessation of hostility and creating a road map to peace between al-Assad’s regime and opposition forces. In reality, however, the likelihood that peace will be achieved as a result of these resolutions are virtually nonexistent and can be perceived as largely ceremonial resolutions that endorses an idilic yet unattainable resolution. It has become increasingly clear that any true resolution to the Syria dilemma involves a military campaign, something that the Security Council by nature cannot legitimize. As Somini Sengupta poignantly expressed in regards to a similar theme in regards to the Russian aggressions towards Ukraine, “The Ukraine resolution to send investigators did not contain any threat of enforcement, though — nor, crucially, any path to peace. On Wednesday, two days after the measure passed, two Ukrainian jets were shot down.”

In the end, al-Assad needs to relinquish political power, if not removed from power entirely, and a full military intervention is needed to mitigate the Daesh dilemma with marginalizing secondary sociopolitical consequences. Any military intervention in Syria would have to occur by bypassing to the Security Council entirely. Allied forces – the United States, the United Kingdom, and France – joined other Western allies on airstrike campaigns against Daesh and Daesh-sympathizing forces. With the campaign proving ineffective to fundamentally mitigate the situation, an escalation of force will be necessary and the removal of Russian-backed al-Assad would need to be an option on the table.

Reforms that seek to make the Security Council more efficient should revolve around a revolution of the voting mechanisms and the veto power, not about the diversification of the permanent members. Giving the non-permanent members of the council an ability to override a Russian veto, for example, could create a much stronger signal of legitimacy, burden-sharing of resources, and intent for international cooperation – all things David Bosco in Five To Rule Them All expresses as strong points of the Security Council. That ought to be the objective of reforming the Security Council, creating a majority consensus and allow the international community to respond to the most pressing issues of our time and not allowing a minority to hijack an inherently good thing.

A 21st Century Breakdown of the UN Security Council? – Josh Nezam

The major powers choose to pursue political goals through the UN Security Council because it facilitates cooperation and consensus in many domains where interests converge. In enforcing agreeable norms or tackling transnational problems, the council gives the powers the mandate of legitimacy to assume its “global governor” role and intervene in the affairs of sovereign states for the sake of preserving international peace and security. It is also a defensive measure insofar as it checks actions that violate core interests of other council members, which have the potential to hinder cooperation and lead to interstate conflict between the powers. However, where core national interests conflict, the utility of the UNSC breaks down. This is why the US has on several occasions bypassed the council as well as the reason that there are some issues that the council cannot effectively address. UNSC unity and legitimacy are becoming increasingly impeded in an incipient multipolar world where other powers have the capabilities to defend their expanding interests and normative visions. Continue reading

A divided UNSC and its relevance today – María Camila Alarcón

Many argue that the United Nations Security Council has lost relevance because it has not been able to prevent member states from taking action on their own when there is not a mandate authorizing force. Doubts about the Council’s effectiveness resurface every time the institution fails to reach a consensus or deal successfully with a crisis (Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia). However, major powers still choose to work through the Council before they attempt any other strategy. Why is that? Bosco argues that they seek the legitimacy provided by the Security Council’s resolutions. Malone adds to that the fact that the council provides a mechanism for burden-sharing of expenses and risks.  Continue reading