What’s next for the UN

The excellent Suzanne Nossel at Democracy Arsenal proposes ten next steps for the United Nations.

It is a mixture of

  • eminently sensible and practical ideas including making Bill Clinton the next General Secretary, funding the proposed staff buy-out, forming an America’s Regional Group, and putting UN TV on air,
  • completely sensible but non-negotiable ideas, such as creating standing peacekeeping capacity, a US-supported peacekeeping training centre, and putting the UN at the heart of US efforts on terrorism and WMD.
  • not very sensible ideas, such as doing away with the months of prior negotiations on the draft communique, and boycotting the Human Rights Council.

Most intriguing is tucked away in tenth place: invoking the new responsibility to protect in Darfur.  As you would expect, I think this is not only sensible but essential. I can’t decide if it is practical. But getting on with this would really show that this new agreement means something important.

Meanwhile at TPM Cafe, Ivo Daalder proposes that instead of trying to reform the UN, we should

create a global organization that would unite the world’s democracies — an alliance of democracies.  … now that the UN has proven itself to be an emperor with no clothes, it’s time to take a serious look at this idea.

Daalder proposes that this new alliance should have its own military capabilities.

<rant>This seems to me to be wrong-headed at almost every level.  It simply isn’t true that the UN is irrelevant. It is true that the views of the Security Council were not taken into account on the invasion of Iraq – but that was the result of the unusual (and possibly illegal) behaviour of a small number of member states (who would be leading members of the proposed alliance of democracies).  Day to day, the UN plays an essential role across a huge range of fields, from agreeing international telecommunications standards to monitoring global health epidemics, and it does it pretty well.  (See here for a list of ten things the UN does well.) It is true that there is a problem with the institution’s difficulties in creating a multilateral framework for security – but that is primarily the fault of the country that Daalder would have at the heart of his new institution.</rant>

1 thought on “What’s next for the UN”

  1. I’m not convinced that the ‘new’ UN ‘responsibility to protect’ agreed at the UN summit adds anything of significance to the existing UN Charter. The Guardian leader that you cite says that —

    there was one real shift: recognition that the world body has a “responsibility to protect” – to ensure that genocide, ethnic cleansing and other war crimes should not be ignored in the name of state sovereignty… Like other issues on the summit agenda, this was subject to much battering as the final document was negotiated. … Happily, a majority of states… backed Canada’s initiative – producing what amounts to a significant advance in international humanitarian law and a clear break with the UN’s tradition of non-intervention

    But the Charter already gives the Security Council full power, and explisit and exclusive responsibility, to use, or authorise the use of, force and to intervene in a country’s internal affairs once it has determined the existence of a threat to or actual breach of international peace and security; and there’s nothing to prevent the Council from declaring that an imminent act of genocide or an impending humanitarian disaster represents such a threat, given the ‘international’ dimension of genocide or famine driving refugees into neighbouring countries, arousing passions in the area, and so on. What has restrained the Council from intervening in impending or actual disasters of this kind in the past is not the lack of power to do so under the Charter, but unwillingness to provide the wherewithal for intervention on the part of the powers who would be called upon to supply the troops and relief workers and logistics and other resources required (not to mention the probable casualties involved in an intervention that might be resisted by the local authorities). And it’s obvious that no government is going to bind itself to behave any differently in all future hypothetical situations regardless of its own national interests at stake, the extent of domestic support for participation in a particular intervention, the probable cost in blood as well as treasure, the availability of viable partners in the operation, the extent of likely local collaboration or even acquiescence, etc. All Council members, indeed all UN members, will take those decisions on a case-by-case basis, exactly as they have always done, whatever ‘commitments’ they might have entered into at the Summit.

    PS: It wasn’t the failure to take into account the ‘views of the Security Council’ on the invasion of Iraq that made the invasion ‘possibly illegal’: it was the failure to secure the Security Council’s explicit approval for the invasion in a new resolution, as required by international law, that made the premature and unauthorised resort to force plainly and undoubtedly illegal. The new consensus on the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention in no way supersedes the absolute requirement to get UN Security Council approval for any resort to the use of force other than in self-defence against armed attack. Very little if anything has really changed.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *