UN has had more successes than failures

The executive orders by the Trump administration which would drastically cut funding to the United Nations will be applauded by many sceptics who view the inter-government organisation as toothless and ineffective ("US may cut UN funding, leave global treaties"; Jan 27).

They point to the destruction of Aleppo in Syria, the ongoing bombings and civil war in Yemen and the less-than-ideal response to refugees and asylum-seekers, and consequently fault the UN for not doing more.

No doubt the UN bears some responsibility for these failures. It has also, to some extent, revealed the limits of multilateral cooperation.

But it has had more successes.

The UN's four main objectives are to maintain peace and security, to maintain friendly relations between countries, to promote socio-economic progress, and to be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

Arguably, while achieving the first objective has been problematic because of the structural limitations of the Security Council, the organisation has had more success with the other three objectives.

For instance, the UN offers its 193 members a democratic platform, especially through the General Assembly and a "one state, one vote" structure, to pass resolutions.

It has achieved much by allowing nations to realise collective interests through agenda-setting.

The Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals not only involved all members, but also galvanised them to bring about progressive changes.

In developing regions, the extreme poverty rate has decreased from 47 per cent in 1990 to 14 per cent in 2015, and primary school enrolment rate has increased from 83 per cent in 2000 to 91 per cent in 2015.

Globally, the number of deaths of children under the age of five decreased from 12.7 million in 1990 to six million in 2015.

Few will disagree that reforms are needed for further progress to be made. The political action in the West reflects general discontentment, and perhaps even disillusionment, with organisations like the UN.

Rather than see an American withdrawal, it would make more constructive sense to weigh the negatives against the positives, to improve and enhance the institution.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline 'UN has had more successes than failures'. Print Edition | Subscribe