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Commentary

United Nations procrastinating

It has been years since disputes in the South China Sea broke out between China and other nations including the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore and even as far down as Australia, which are all stakeholders because they are part of the oceanic ring bordering the area. Multiple international implications have already been in effect, yet the United Nations appears unconcerned.

This stance seems to be a deviation from the very reason the United Nations was founded and its charter drawn up. A review of history will reveal that the League of Nations and the United Nations were founded as international facilities to act and mediate in conflicts between nations as soon as these arise in order to nip any prospective motive for another world war in the bud.

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World War I started in July 1914 when the emperor of Austria declared war against Serbia, whose agents assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand as he was in the process of annexing Bosnian settlements which Serbia planned to conscript to form Yugoslavia. The Austria-Hungary empire was supported by Germany, while the big powers—Russia, France, Great Britain and her Commonwealth countries—sided with Serbia. The skirmish spread like wildfire. The world thus experienced, for the first time, war in international proportions.

The conflict that lasted for four-and-a-half years devastated the concerned countries and left about 16.5 million people dead and 20 million injured. A crippling cholera epidemic doubled the mortality rate; it victimized both soldiers and noncombatants, resulting in a huge drop in the European population.

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Leaders of the warring nations realized the fallacy of settling disputes through war. This sentiment was triggered by an incident on Christmas Eve, when the guns in the Maginot and Siegfried Lines fell silent and soldiers sang “Stille Nacht” on the German front and “Silent Night” and “Bon Nuit” filled the air on the Allied front. The warring nations’ leaders adopted Woodrow Wilson’s idea of uniting countries in an international covenant where protagonists will ventilate their grievances and explore peaceful means to settle their differences.

World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. And on Jan. 10, 1920, the League of Nations was founded. World peace reigned thereafter.

However, the League of Nations proved to be like a toothless dragon when, due to lack of military support, it failed to prevent Japan from waging war against China in the 1930s. Taking a cue from this display of weakness, Adolf Hitler armed Germany and capitalized on its people’s resentment over shouldering the bigger share of the war reparations and their desire for revenge. Rousing the German people’s sentiment by exalting the Aryan race to which they belonged, Hitler had no difficulty in starting a conflict that expanded into World War II.

Advanced weaponry and modern war strategies inflicted fantastic destruction and human casualties many times more than in World War I. The United States, although a distant participant, spent a large fortune, reportedly sufficient to have provided bungalows to all its homeless families at the time. But once again, world leaders realized the futility of addressing conflict among nations through war. Therefore, immediately after the war, world leaders once again convened; on Oct. 24, 1945, they founded the United Nations, the international organization designated to prevent countries in conflicts from resorting to war.

China was among the early proponents of the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), but this does not seem to figure in its stance vis-à-vis the territorial dispute in the South China Sea. Should the United Nations fail to chastise China over its continuing disregard for the Unclos, and World War III erupts, how many million non-Chinese Asians will die? How much destruction will be inflicted on the region, how deep will be the setback to its economies and the dream of Asean integration? How many drones with nuclear warheads will kill or mutilate innocent Chinese in the mainland?

Will the United Nations hold back action until this threat becomes a reality?

And what is the use of Filipino soldiers serving as UN peacekeeping forces in certain parts of the world if they may not contribute to the prevention of war?

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Santiago A. del Rosario, MD, is a former president of the Philippine Medical Association and of the Manila Medical Society.

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TAGS: League of Nations, Unclos, United Nations, world war I
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