WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- Happy United Nations Day! It was 63 years ago Friday that the U.N. Charter went into effect. To paraphrase noted bard Paul McCartney, "Will we still need it, will we still feed it, when it's 64?"
The answer is "Yes." The failures of the United Nations are many and awful, but it has had some overlooked and crucial successes as well.
The United Nations certainly has failed in its primary function -- to stop and prevent war. But you would have to wait for the Messianic era proclaimed in many of the world's great religions to achieve that.
At least 100 million people have been killed in conflicts since the United Nations was created. It has proved toothless and futile in preventing the genocide in Darfur or the violence in Congo that has cost 10 million lives over the past decade. It never raised a finger to rein in tyrants from Mao Zedong in China to Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
When the United Nations has been authorized to act, to try to prevent war or end mass slaughters, its own administrative incompetence has repeatedly signed the death warrants of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
In Bosnia, the United Nations failed utterly to prevent the massacre in Srebrenica. In Rwanda, the organization's incompetence failed to deter a genocide that cost a million lives.
In both cases, some form of concerted humanitarian intervention by the great powers would have been far more effective and humane. Trusting in the United Nations, as U.S. President Bill Clinton did, proved a true warrant for genocide.
U.N. apologists usually argue that since the organization functions at the bidding of its member nations, it is their fault rather than the world body itself when it cannot perform international security functions.
But this argument does not hold water. Had the United Nations not existed, or been sidelined from the word "go," the innocent victims of Srebrenica and Rwanda would have had a far better chance of being saved by concerted great power action. Trusting in the United Nations to protect them proved their doom. U.N. officials were culpable precisely because they craved the prestige of running security operations that they could not begin to deliver.
U.N. apologists also claim the world body does a great deal of good with its health, food and relief agencies. However, this argument too is spurious. The best of those bodies, such as the Geneva-based World Health Organization, would be maintained and funded even if the United Nations vanished. Many of them are far more adept in publicizing their efforts and fundraising among the rich and beautiful of the global elite than they are in actually helping people anyway.
In terms of promoting global development, critics from the right and the left have cogently argued for decades that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have done much more harm than good. In the current global financial meltdown, the United Nations has been an irrelevance.
However, in one crucial area it has performed brilliantly -- though none of the credit goes to the Secretariat or any part of the organization's huge bureaucracy.
For the veto system of the great powers exercised in the U.N. Security Council actually works. In the closing months of World War II, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt pushed the idea and won the grudging agreement of Soviet Premier Josef Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for it.
Since then, the Security Council veto has played a major role in preventing any outbreak of global war between the world's leading industrial powers for the past 63 years. This is a record already three times better than that of the moribund League of Nations, which lasted less than two decades before World War II broke out in 1939.
As long as the policymakers in Russia, the United States, China, Britain and France remain confident that they can block any international action or unilateral action by each other, or by other major powers, through the wielding of their vetoes as the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, outright conflict between them can be avoided.
However, starting with the U.S. and NATO bombing of Yugoslavia to end Serb violence against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999, a precedent was established whereby major powers, most of all and initially the United States, but now Russia too, have felt increasingly free to act unilaterally with their armed forces without the cover of a U.N. Security Council resolution.
In August the Russians took advantage of that precedent to invade the former Soviet republic of Georgia in the Caucasus and occupy one-third of it, despite Georgia's close ties to the United States and its aspirations to becoming a NATO ally.
The United Nations certainly hasn't prevented wars or mass killings around the world, and the wording of its Charter limits it from impinging on national sovereignty to prevent national governments slaughtering millions of their own citizens within their borders.
Since it was created, wars have been running at about the same rate they did in the second half of the 19th century, with the same disproportionate emphasis on colonial or postcolonial conflicts.
The U.N. track record is still vastly better than the first half of the 20th century that saw both world wars and the unprecedented genocides and mass slaughters inflicted by Adolf Hitler across Nazi-occupied Europe, Stalin in the Soviet Union and Mao in China.
The ideal of the United Nations sounds noble, and the U.N. General Assembly came up with the idea of U.N. Day to blow its own trumpet. But its many failures need to be exposed and examined if the organization is to do a better job in the future.