DR. GYAN BASNET
The United Nations (UN) was founded in 1945 in order to replace the League of Nations and doing so to bring about a new world order. Today the organization’s structure still reflects the circumstances pertaining at the time of its founding, but in the meantime the world has changed dramatically. Modern history, as taught, tells us that this international organization has become an essential part of the system for dealing with international problems, but we need to ask how relevant the UN is in the changed political circumstances of today. How successful has it been in fulfilling its promises and living up to its ideals? Does it truly constitute a global voice? Just how successful has it been in maintaining the peace in every part of the world?
The UN has been able to prevent the recurrence of war on the scale of the First and Second World Wars. It has been instrumental in maintaining an international balance of power. It has played a role in the demise of colonialism on the one hand and of apartheid on the other. Its agencies, such as the WHO, UNICEF, and UNESCO, have keenly participated in the transformation of the international social sector. Moreover, despite being essentially a political body, it has provided a platform via its conventions and declarations for matters extra-political, e.g. human rights, women’s rights, climate change.
However, the UN has failed to prevent over a hundred major conflicts resulting in the death of over twenty five million people. Its peacekeeping missions in several parts in the world failed, and it was unable to stop genocides in African countries such as Rwanda, Congo, Sudan, Liberia, and Sierra-Leone. Similarly, it was unable to prevent massive genocides in the USSR under Stalin and in Cambodia under Pol Pot, and it failed to prevent the US and its allies entering an illegal war in Iraq. For decades Israel has taken unilateral action against its neighbours, but a resolution of the border crisis appears to be as far away as ever. It was nowhere to be seen, too, when NATO bombs rained down on the former Yugoslavia.
Today, the UN has been reduced to a talking shop where big and powerful nations show their might. Power politics and use of the UN as a tool for serving self-interest has reduced the relevance of the world body: it has become a hostage of the major powers, and it has totally failed to understand the present changed global political order.
The Westphalia view of international law as a disciplinary force between nation states, each with its own economic, social and political authority has, however, now ceased to be appropriate in a global society where the power of non-state actors continues to grow. As cross-border activity and practices increase in number, Professor B. Sausa Santos argues that the nation-state is less able to maintain the level of control that it once had over the flow of persons, goods, money and ideas. The ease of capital movement and the increasingly powerful world financial markets and multi-national corporations, backed by fast communications and therefore information, have meant that parts of the world such as Asia, Africa, and Central and Latin America have been drawn into the global economy at an increasingly rapid rate. Now monolithic financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are the economic order of the day. Moreover, rapid population growth, environmental decline, and poverty lead to economic stagnation, political instability, and possible state collapse. Increased globalization effectively diminishes the role of the UN. As Professor Serge Sur argues, General Assembly resolutions are relegated to a lower rank, and major UN conferences become things of the past. CNN becomes the world’s communicator, and in the new economic order, the WTO plays a far larger role than the UN. In short, the UN’s inter-state, collegial style of diplomacy has little relevance in the globalized world of today.
The collapse of the League of Nations in the 20th century led almost automatically to consideration of how to replace it. A similar failure by the UN now is producing a similar reaction today.
Reforms within the UN itself will not suffice in this changed situation. Fundamental change is essential. Just as the UN was established at a series of conferences in San Francisco attended by the victor nations of World War II, so a similar series of world conferences should now involve all countries. The aim should be to establish a new form of global institution to replace completely the current UN. The new institution needs to be inclusive and to be based on equal voices, equal power sharing, and with strong enforcement mechanisms adapted to the present political world order. It must represent all continents and nations and must provide a strong form of global governance. It must promise equal justice, equal distribution of world resources, a withering of the gap between rich and poor countries, and an all-out assault on climate change and environmental degradation. The new institution has to replace the UN is urgent: its mission must be to achieve peace, social harmony among all races and religions, and the full recognition of human rights.
Dr. Basnet is a researcher and an Advocate in the Supreme Court.