|By Alaa Alghamdi| Recently we have seen heightened security along the Saudi borders in response to the threat posed by Houthi rebels, those same rebels who exerted such power that they forced President Mansour Hadi to leave the country. The leadership of Khaled Bahah as Vice President offers hope that decisive action may be taken to resolve this matter. Meanwhile the UN is referring to the situation as a humanitarian crisis, and they are by no means incorrect.
In addition to labelling the situation as such, the UN has begun imposing arms embargoes on the rebels. This is a good moment to consider the role of an overarching, extra-governmental body such as the United Nations. Conceived in the years following World War II, in the interest of preventing further global conflict, the UN has become an unparalleled institution – a body whose authority extends beyond that of the governments of sovereign states. This was a concept relatively unknown with regard to the modern nation state. One might argue that in Medieval Europe, the Catholic Church held such power, both overseeing and superseding that of the individual sovereign. The UN was the first secular body to do so, and its power is, at least in theory, collective rather than simply superior.
It is not without its failings, of course. One might say that the UN has certain imbalance of power and authority. On the one hand, the fact that the permanent members of the Security Council enjoy the privilege of veto power means that, most likely, they will always be immune from sanction, unlike the rest of the world. At the same time, once a resolution is made, there is no guarantee that the member states will provide the troops, equipment or specialized personnel to get the job done. For this reason, there have been several occasions on which the UN has failed to prevent or stem a humanitarian crisis that it was monitoring or attempting to address. Finally, there have also been examples, in the past few decades, when states have acted without or even securing the authority or decision of the UN.
For the most part, however, we can acknowledge that the world is safer with the contribution of the UN than it would be otherwise. Criticism of the actions of a ruling body, especially when they affect a sovereign state, is inevitable, but there are positive and constructive ways to present that criticism.
What we may be sure of, however, is the need to protect ourselves as well as elicit support from the higher governing body. The confluence of responsive global and local action offers the best chance of a speedy resolution.
(Dr Alaa Alghamdi is an academic and political commentator based in Saudi Arabia. He is a regular contributor to the Arabian Post)