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Opinion: The UN is helpless in the new world order

The fight over who bombed an aid convoy in Syria shows that the UN doesn't have an effective strategy for helping people in war-torn areas. Germany may be able to play an increasingly important role, writes Ines Pohl.

The United Nations is at its wits' end. The organization's structures have proven themselves to be outdated. They no longer function in a world where conflicts don't happen along borders anymore, where it's not about ideological domination or winning new territory. With the verbal attacks by US Secretary of State John Kerry against his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, the world now has video evidence: the bureaucratic mega-agency has no idea how it can help the Syrian people.

The bombing of an aid convoy that should have brought relief to thousands of people is the dreadful proof that all the negotiating and political wrangling has been in vain. People are still dying – day and night. They are dying now, as you read this sentence.

Experiences from the Second World War

When the UN was established in 1945, the world was quite a different place. The experiences of the Second World War were fresh in people's minds. Global political structures were created to avoid repeating such a catastrophic event.

DW Mitarbeiterin Ines Pohl

DW's Ines Pohl

The five permanent members of the Security Council were given the power to veto decisions in order prevent any single superpower from becoming too strong. Important economic powers of today, such as Brazil and India, didn't get much of a say on anything. Post-war Germany didn't even join the UN until 1973.

The central structure of the UN has changed very little. It is still possible for a country such as Russia, China or even the US to simply veto any majority resolution it doesn't like. This also affects the selection process for the position of UN secretary-general. And this structure also prevents a candidate from being chosen who might have a clear and bold vision to lead the organization. In the end, they have to settle for someone who is prepared to take a middle road and keep everyone happy and who will avoid taking a stance on any difficult topics.

Too little strength to change

In a world of terrorism, with countries and political structures disintegrating, the UN is more important than ever. Yet the agency appears to have neither the courage nor the strength to renew itself in order to face such challenges. This is in part because the victorious powers of the Second World War refuse to accept that they alone cannot solve conflicts such as the one in Syria. They must relinquish some of their power in order for the UN General Assembly to actually become a powerful instrument for furthering understanding among nations.

Syrien Krieg - Kämpfe in Aleppo - Mann mit Kind

Despite numerous attempts to negotiate peace, Syrians continue to suffer

With relations between Russia and the US becoming ever frostier, any large-scale UN reform is unlikely to be on the agenda. It is ironic that this has happened under the watch of a US president such as Barack Obama, who himself recognized early on that the current ideological struggles cannot be won without accepting a new world order.

Germany's role increasing in importance

In the middle of this seeming stalemate, Germany has announced its candidacy for a non-permanent member seat on the UN Security Council for a two-year term beginning in 2019. Its chances of being selected are not bad. At least in the Ukraine conflict, Berlin showed that it is in a position to be able to mediate between different camps. Insiders who have not entirely given up hope say that Germany, as the fourth-largest financial contributor, may someday advance to become a permanent Security Council member.

But would this really help? In the end you have to remind yourself that at least it's better if politicians are screaming at each other than if they refuse to talk to each other at all, letting weapons do the talking instead.

And last but not least, this UN General Assembly shows once again that Germany must also act in its own interests on the world stage. For the conflict in Syria is brutal evidence that today even faraway wars will at some stage end up on your own doorstep.

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