In the wake of World War II, a devastated global community vowed never to let such atrocities occur again. Out of the ashes of destruction rose the noble ideal of the United Nations � an international body to monitor, control and ensure world peace.

The UN Charter, of which all member states are signatories, begins with the following righteous preamble:

"We the people of the United Nations (are) determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which has twice in our lifetime bought untold sorrow to mankind; and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights (�); and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained."

Clearly these worthy sentiments do not apply to the people of Sudan. Or to those of Zimbabwe, Palestine, Myanmar, Tibet, Israel, Rwanda, Srebrenica, North Korea, Iraq, Chechnya, Uganda and Guantanamo Bay� Shall I continue?

The United Nation's dismal failure to protect fundamental human rights, intervene when faced with the threat (and actuality) of genocide and censure despotic leaders are all indications that the organisation is, in fact, defunct. And at the heart of this ineptitude lies the Security Council.

The big five

The most powerful body of the United Nations, the Security Council is made up of 15 members: five permanent members with veto power and 10 non-permanent members who are elected for two-year stints.

The permanent members, ostensibly the flag-bearers of morality, are the victorious allies of the Second World War � the USA, China, Russia, France and Britain. The non-permanent members are elected by the General Assembly according to regional representation and cannot be elected for consecutive appointments. The presidency of the Council rotates on a monthly basis.

Germany, Japan, Brazil and India (known as the G4) have made bids to become additional permanent members on the grounds that they are the UN's second and third (Japan and Germany) biggest funders and two of the largest contributors of troops for peacekeeping missions (India and Brazil). However, given the current permanent member's stranglehold on the Security Council, this is unlikely to happen any time soon.

The Council is tasked with maintaining international peace and security and, since Resolution 1674 was passed in April 2006, with protecting "populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity". It is obliged to investigate any dispute or situation which may lead to international friction and recommend what action should be taken in the face of a threat to peace or an act of aggression.

When the Council passes a legally binding resolution (there are also non-binding resolutions) all the member states of the UN are obliged to follow it. The Council can call on members to apply sanctions or to take collective military action against an aggressor.

However, in order for a resolution to be passed, nine members need to vote in favour of the resolution with no vetoes from any of the five permanent members (abstentions are acceptable).

And herein lies the first of many problems.

Power of the veto

During the Cold War, the Security Council was practically paralysed by the vetoes of Russia (118) and the US (38). Since then, the veto has been used far less frequently, however, the decisions taken by the Council are still largely dictated by the politics of the five permanent members.

Because the agenda of Security Council meetings is regarded as a 'substantive matter' � as opposed to a 'procedural matter' which bypasses the veto � only those subjects, which are acceptable to all five of the permanent members, make it onto the agenda.

As a rule, the US always vetoes resolutions about Israel; China is sensitive about Tibet; Russia is inflexible on Chechnya and Northern Ireland is a sticking point for the UK. And these are just the obvious affiliations.

The irregularity with which the Security Council implements its mandate � humanitarian intervention in Kuwait versus Rwanda, censure for disobeying resolutions in Iraq versus Israel � suggests that it only addresses those matters that are of strategic or political interest for one or more of the permanent members.

Then there is also that tiny matter of arms. The permanent members of the Council are the only nations recognised by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as possessors of nuclear weapons (of course, there are those who operate outside of the treaty). This exclusive nuclear club entrenches the existing power dynamic by ensuring that other nations cannot (legally) develop nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, in 2004 four of the five permanent members were also the top four weapons exporters in the world when measured by arms value. The fifth, China, was ranked seventh. When it comes to small arms and light weapons (typically used in civil wars and estimated to be responsible for half a million deaths a year), China, Russia and the US are all top exporters according to the Small Arms Survey 2005.

It is hardly pushing the limits of plausibility to suggest a conflict of interests.

On the off-chance that the Council should pass a legally binding resolution, there is the further problem of implementation. The UN relies on the compliance of member states for implementation. If member states refuse to implement sanctions or provide troops for peacekeeping missions, there is very little � short of expelling the member, which in effect amounts to nothing � that the UN can do about it.

The cost of peace

Keeping the peace is an expensive endeavour. The UN's 63 peacekeeping mission since 1948 have cost approximately $54-billion and the approved resources for the past year have totalled an astounding $6.8-billion.

Proof of mankind's compassion and commitment to peace? Perhaps, but money and power are inextricably connected. Nothing, including aid, is free.

In a research paper titled 'How Much is a seat on the Security Council Worth?', Ilyana Kuziemko and Eric Werker uncovered systematic use of aid from the US and other UN agencies (mainly the US-controlled Unicef) to 'buy' votes from non-permanent members of the Security Council.

On average countries receive 59 percent more aid from the US and 8 percent more from the UN during the time that they are on the Council. This can escalate as high as 170 percent and 53 percent when there are volatile issues at stake.

The research only applied to the US, but it would be na�ve � even in an age fond of America-bashing � to assume that similar adjustments to aid are not being made by other permanent members of the council.

The Security Council is not governed by any moral code, by a love of justice or a desire to prevent suffering. If anything, it is governed by political alliances, money and the arms trade. So, where would we be without it?

Powerful nations would do as they pleased, doling out aid and military assistance when it was politically viable. Poor nations would be at the mercy of tyrannical leaders, opportunistic neighbours and greedy capitalists. And genocides would continue unabated.

Without the facade of legitimacy afforded by a defunct international peace organisation.