UN at 70: Five Greatest Successes and Failures

The United Nations celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2015. How has the UN fared over the last seven decades?

There is no definitive answer to the question of whether it has been a success or a failure.



Due partly to UN conflict resolution and peacekeeping initiatives, the number of people dying in conflicts has declined since 1945. Worldwide, fewer people died in conflict in the first decade of the 21st century than any decade of the 20th.

Ending famine

Large parts of the world’s population suffer from poverty and hunger, and thousands die of malnourishment every year. But the numbers have fallen from the 20th century, when more than 70 million died from famine. The UN’s World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organisation, and UN-sponsored emergency aid management can take some of the credit.

Countries who gave up The Bomb

The UN had a hand in countries voluntarily deciding to give up weapons because they were too efficient. South Africa did this at the end of apartheid, and Kazakhstan did so when the Soviet Union fell apart.

Protecting the Galapagos Islands …

... and 1,000 other World Heritage sites. The UN cultural organisation UNESCO is a leader in protection of the world’s most important natural and historic places.


Genocide in Rwanda and Srebrenica

The UN had an “Assistance Mission” for Rwanda in 1994, which failed to stop the majority Hutus from killing almost a million members of the Tutsi minority. The massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men at the hands of Serb forces in Srebrenica in 1995 was another UN failure. The sight of a UN peacekeeping force commander drinking a toast with the Serb commander damaged the UN’s reputation.

Rape and child sex abuse in the Congo

UN peacekeepers were accused of paying for sex or raping women and young girls they were supposed to be protecting in the Democratic Republic of Congo in early 2005. There have been similar allegations in countries ranging from Cambodia to Bosnia to Haiti.

Spreading cholera in Haiti

Genome testing showed that the world’s worst recent outbreak of cholera, which swept through Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, was likely started by a Nepali UN peacekeeping force who carried the disease. More 700,000 were infected and 8,000 died.

Iraq oil for food programme

This UN programme enabled Iraq to gain relief from international sanctions by selling oil through the UN, which would supervise the delivery of food and medicine with the resulting cash. However, the money ended up in private hands and became the worst financial scandal in UN history.

Source: UN at 70: Five Greatest Successes and Failures
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