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The United Nations is a paper tiger

By Peter Bowden - posted Monday, 2 November 2020

The Armenia and Azerbaijan war is a superb example of the UN's problems. This war is a territorial dispute over the Armenia-backed breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, located inside Azerbaijan. Armenia and Azerbaijan are two former Soviet republics in the Caucasus. The dispute between Yerevan and Baku, respective capitals of each country, is over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, predominantly ethnic Armenian. The Soviet authorities merged it into Azerbaijan in 1921.After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenian separatists seized it in a move supported by Armenia. In that war 1991 -1994, about 30,00 people were killed. An independence referendum was held in Nagorno-Karabakh on 10 December 1991, approved by 99.98% of voters. Armenia, a Christian country, the official date of state adoption of which is 301 AD, has faced political and economic instability since it gained independence from the former USSR.Corruption is a big problem. Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea, has been under the authoritarian grip of a single family since 1993. It has a Muslim majority.With approximately three times the size of its rival, in population and Gross Domestic Product (GDP), boosted substantially by large oil and gas reserves, Azerbaijan can better dominate a war of attrition.

The New York Times reports (19 October,2020) that three weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave that is part of Azerbaijan under international law, has settled into a brutal war of attrition. The Armenians are defenceless against the Azerbaijani drones that hover overhead and kill at will. About 300 – 400 Armenians have been killed in the current conflict.

Azerbaijan has deployed firepower superior to Armenia's, using advanced drones and artillery systems that it buys from Israel, Turkey and Russia. But it has failed to convert that advantage into broad territorial gains, indicating more conflict to come.


Heydar Aliyev, a former officer of the KGB, ruled Azerbaijan until his death in October 2003. He handed over power to his son, Ilham, only weeks before. Ilham has made his wife, Mehriban, Azerbaijan's first vice president.Turkey, with ambitions to be regional power in the Caucasus, has thrown its weight behind oil-rich and Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan.Armenia is hostile towards Turkey over the killing of Armenians by Turkey under the Ottoman Empire during World War I.The Young Turk regime killed 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923, a massacre which Turkey denies. The veracity of the Armenian genocide, details of which can be found on several websites, is widely accepted.

Readers in the West may be ideologically inclined to support Armenia. Others of us believe that if the people in a region vote for independence then they must be given that independence. Barcelona is a good example. Other reasons exist for intervening. The Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations states that it was established to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations provides that the UN seek solutions to conflict. The Security Council is the organ with primary responsibility, under the United Nations Charter. The Charter gives the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

Has the United Nations done anything on the Armenian Azerbaijan conflict?The UN Security Council has called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to immediately halt the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh and urgently resume talks. The Secretary General has issued his standard "Tut! Tut! Naughty Boys!" But that is all. The UN has implemented more than 70 peace keeping operations since its inception. Even the threat of intervention by the Blue Helmets would ensure that the bombing and shelling, mostly of civilians, would stop. But it has done next to nothing.

Why? Is it because most of us have only the haziest idea of where these two countries are located? And we do not care? Why do we not demand of our own government to initiate peacekeeping steps? Is it because the United States, usually a prime mover on UN peacekeeping resolutions, is too preoccupied with Donald Trump and his election? Is it because the United Nations is mostly a paper tiger? It will step in when the United States urges, but not of its own initiative? The writer of this opinion piece seeks other opinions.

There are many other examples where the United Nations has failed to implement its peace keeping charter. Syria is another good example What started as a nonviolent uprising in the mainly Sunni province of DarÊ¿Ä, in southern Syria, that the first major protests occurred in March 2011. A group of children had been arrested and tortured by the authorities for writing antiregime graffiti; has escalated into a full-fledged civil war. The war was essentially a sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims. The Shia sects being represented by the Alawite faction. The regime of Bashar Al Assad cracked down violently, and civil war broke out. The US and several other countries joined in support of the rebels. Al Assad was confirmed by an unopposed referendum in July 2000. He was confirmed again on 27 May 2007 with 97.6% of the vote.

97.6% of the vote appears very suspicious, somewhat like Alexander Lukashenko's 80% in Belarus. Once again, the UN could have supervised this election. There are many dictators. Freedom House tells us that there are 50 dictatorships in the world (19 in Sub-Saharan Africa, 12 in the Middle East and North Africa, 8 in Asia-Pacific, 7 in Eurasia, 3 in the Americas and 1 in Europe).


It may be because the governments of this world are unwilling to give the United Nations too much power. They are wary of creating a world government. The five superpowers at the Security Council (China, Russia, France, United States, United Kingdom) would lose their veto of " substantive " issues.

But it is conceivable that they may be willing to create a world policeman. A United Nations policing force, assigned the sole task of preventing world conflicts. Countries would regularly assign troops to the extent that they were judged economically capable.

The policeman would have a limited number of tasks. To stop wars, ensure elections at reasonable intervals, ensure that the elections were not rigged, police commitments in international agreements. The world would be a safer and happier place with an effective world policeman.

China might present a problem. Xi Jinping recently had himself elected for life .It is indubitably a dictatorship, one that squashes numbers of its citizens (Uighurs, Tibetans,) and plays heavily in foreign trade and in the South China Sea. It is the world's second largest power and also has veto power in the Security Council. The alliance of South East Asian Nations on China, The Quad, eventually spreading across the nations of this world, may convince Xi that he does not have world support.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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