Why the UN is Liked In Africa, But Not So Much in the Middle East

Earlier this week, Gallup released the findings of a major global survey of 126 countries from 2007 to 2010, asking “do you approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of the United Nations?” Overall, approval far outweighed disapproval (44% “approve,” 17% “disapprove” 33% “don’t know.”)

What is most striking is how these responses fell along regional lines.  Specifically, the UN had its highest approval ratings in Sub-Saharan Africa, and lowest in the Middle East and North Africa.

The countries that are at the top of this list (including Kosovo) are places where the United Nations has had a pretty robust presence the past decade or more. It would appear that being up close and personal with the day-to-day work of the UN, its agencies and Blue Helmets is generally a positive experience. Sierra Leone and Mozambique are both places that were once ravaged by civil war 10 years ago, but are now stable thanks to intervention by UN peacekeeping and are recovering from conflict because of UN nation-building projects.  Seeing the UN at work — as opposed to reading about the geo-politics of the UN in New York and Geneva — tends to make people like the UN.

And here is where the UN is least liked.

My guess is that the low scores in the Middle East and North African countries has something to do with a perceived pro-Israeli bias at the United Nations. (Yes, you read that correctly.) While we in the United States tend to decry alleged anti-Israeli statements and measures coming from the General Assembly and other UN bodies, the fact of the matter is that the UN created Israel.  Specifically, Resolution 181 enshrined the 1947 partition of Palestine, which passed the General Assembly without the support of Arab countries. Since then, the UN has been seen to embody a global status quo that denies Palestinians their rightful claims to statehood.

You may agree or disagree with that analysis, but the willingness of the United States to deploy its veto at the Security Council in defense of Israel does serve to re-enforce this perception.  Should the General Assembly pass a Palestinian Statehood resolution this fall–and should the United States be forced to deploy a veto in the Security Council on this measure–I would imagine the UN’s approval rating would plummet even further in some of these countries.