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September 17, 2021
The United Nations Is Obsolete

As world attention descends on the United Nations General Assembly, Intelligence Squared U.S. casts a critical lens on this nearly 76-year-old global organization. In light of recent controversies in places like Haiti, and its limited presence in places such as Afghanistan -- where the Taliban has regained control -- questions are mounting as to whether the United Nations itself is both ineffective and outdated. Those who say “no” point to its promotion of peace and stability in an increasingly fractured political landscape, its devotion to human rights, its addressing of climate change, its commitment to multilateralism, and its widespread delivery of humanitarian aid as evidence of its value. The system is not perfect, they say, but its achievements are many, and are often unsung. Yet those who say “yes” question its usefulness in addressing a radically different global environment than the one in which it was formed, critique its promotion of globalism. They also cite corruption and a lack of accountability with regard to the very populations the body is charged with helping. So, in light of these emerging questions, we ask an especially timely question: Is the United Nations is Obsolete?

 
Post-Debate
Winner

Against the Motion
62 %
22 %
For the Motion
16 %
Undecided
Pre-Debate
Against the Motion
56 %
22 %
For the Motion
22 %
Undecided
Breakdown
Against the Motion
44% - Remained For the Against Side
9% - Swung From the For Side
10% - Swung From Undecided
For the Motion
7% - Swung From the Against Side
11% - Remained For the For Side
4% - Swung From Undecided
Undecided
5% - Swung From the Against Side
2% - Swung From the For Side
9% - Remained Undecided
Post-Debate
Winner

Undecided
8 %
50 %
For the Motion
42 %
Against the Motion
Pre-Debate
Undecided
0 %
50 %
For the Motion
50 %
Against the Motion
Breakdown
Undecided
8% - Swung From the Against Side
0% - Swung From the For Side
0% - Remained Undecided
For the Motion
0% - Swung From the Against Side
50% - Remained For the For Side
0% - Swung From Undecided
Against the Motion
42% - Remained For the Against Side
0% - Swung From the For Side
0% - Swung From Undecided
About The Debaters
For The Motion
An image of Rajan Menon
Rajan Menon − Political Scientist & International Relations Professor
Rajan Menon is an author and scholar who has held several esteemed teaching positions at Columbia University, the... read bio
An image of Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner − Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, The Heritage Foundation
Nile Gardiner is a British scholar and commentator currently serving as director of the Heritage Foundation’s... read bio
Against The Motion
An image of Angela Kane
Angela Kane − German Diplomat & Former UN Official
Angela Kane is a German diplomat and served as the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs where... read bio
An image of Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou
Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou − Scholar & Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mauritania
Mohammad-Mahmoud Mohamedou is a scholar, author, and diplomat. He is currently a professor of international history... read bio
Main Points
For The Motion
  • Numerous failures on the part of the United Nations, such as peacekeeping failures in Rwanda and Srebrenica, have shown that the United Nations does not perform well in crises, costing millions of lives over the decades. 
  • When it comes to real crises, the UN is at best a bureaucratic bystander and at worst a corrupt actor; powerful states in the region are more likely to take effective action. 
  • A sovereignty-based international system prevents the UN from effectively enforcing its resolutions or missions. 
  • The structure of the UN has not reflected the changes in international dynamics. 
Against The Motion
  • The space the UN provides to allow countries to come together to speak is invaluable. If there was no UN, it would have to be invented. 
  • While there are some notable failures, there are many more successes among the UN's peacekeeping efforts that do not get as much publicity.  
  • The United Nations is what its member states make of it. It has the ability to rise above its challenges and face long-term problems often not addressed by individual countries whose politicians serve shorter terms. 
  • The world is faced by a series of global problems that require global responses, such as climate change, cyberwarfare, and the coronavirus pandemic. The only way we have to organize those responses is through the United Nations.