Oom, Shmoom? The UN 'actually does prevent war'

A new study presents evidence that the UN acts as more than just a bystander on world events.

United Nations General Assembly in New York (photo credit: REUTERS)
United Nations General Assembly in New York
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Despite David Ben-Gurion’s coining of the phrase “Oom, Shmoom” to dismiss the importance of the UN – and despite its anti-Israel bias being recognized for decades – a new study has found the international organization founded in 1945 has been “effective at suppressing conflict throughout its history.”
The study appears in the journal Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications.
Conducted by Dartmouth College and Ohio State University, the study presents evidence that the UN acts more than just a bystander to world events. Instead, the researchers found, it “provides a forum where diplomacy reduces the chance of war.
Voting coalitions improve chance for peace and defensive alliances, not democratization.”
In addition to analyzing the UN’s effectiveness at preventing war, the research also uses General Assembly voting records for more than 65 years to assess the organization’s impact on the spread of democracy and the building of defensive alliances.
“Our analysis provides evidence that the UN is more than just a witness of changing policy preferences,” said Scott Pauls, chairman of the mathematics department at Dartmouth in New Hampshire. “The world body impacts future decisions, particularly by suppressing conflict.”
The review of 5,143 UN General Assembly voting records from 1946 through 2011, found that the process of nations working together over time builds trust and facilitates fast, transparent communication that raises the chance of resolving crises peacefully.
“There is more nuance in voting records than was previously thought,” said political science professor Skyler Cranmer of Ohio State. “The evidence demonstrates that the UN is more effective at achieving its mandate of avoiding wars than many experts think.”
The research assesses the priorities that shape state actions as opposed to treating voting records as a reflection of those priorities.
Until now, existing research on the UN mostly considered voting patterns descriptively or addressed the impact of factors like foreign aid contributions on member voting.
From the voting records, researchers identified historic voting alliances – labeled as “affinity communities” – consisting of longterm macroclusters and short-term microclusters which provide the basis for coalition- building and cooperation.
Macroclusters named in the research are the more enduring UN voting alliances. One macrocluster identified is comprised of the UN’s Western European and Others Group as well as Russia, Japan, China and some Eastern European countries. The second, much larger group, comprises the balance of UN members.
According to the study, there have been 15 times in the UN’s history when the two macroclusters have merged into a voting community including all but a few states. In most of these instances, the US and a small number of other countries formed a group separated from the rest of the world as a result of divisive votes on issues like the Middle East and human rights, the authors said.
Microclusters are more volatile voting alliances that form and dissolve in response to faster moving political dynamics. The high level of voting agreement within microclusters translates into the largest degree of conflict suppression.
“While the UN obviously does not prevent all armed conflict, the affinity communities reduce the probability of conflict,” said Pauls. “It is through this mechanism of intensified diplomatic interaction that the UN has historically been able to better achieve its primary goal of maintaining international peace and security,” the authors concluded.