One of the greatest transformation in the international system since the Treaty of Westphalia is the development of the United Nations (UN). The UN was established in 1945 following the Second World War to facilitate cooperation, security, and development among the world’s nations.
Since its creation, the UN has made significant contributions towards the study of international conflict by maintaining a leadership position and serving as a diplomatic and military mediator on the world stage. There are, however, significant limitations embedded within the institution that has hindered its ability to act as an efficient organization.
These are found in the structure of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and a lack of designated and binding enforcement capabilities. These limitations significantly undermine the international system and limit the United Nations application creating a need to reform and reinvent how we think about world governance in the modern day system.
However, the United Nations is still a foundational pillar in the quest for world order and should maintain a leadership position to the approach of conflict in the international system.
The Development of the United Nations
The United Nations is a multilateral intergovernmental organization originally conceived in 1942 by 26 the countries above and their continued commitment to fight against the Axis powers. It was brought into existence by the 1942 Declaration of the United Nations and was officially established in 1945.
In the beginning, the UN consisted of 53 member states, however, as of 2011 the UN now contains 193 countries. Despite the criticisms that surround the functionality of the UN, very few can reject the claim that it is the most critical international organization the world has invented to date.
The United Nations has four primary purposes;
(1) to keep peace throughout the world,
(2) to develop friendly relations among nations;
(3) to help nations work together to improve the lives of poor people, to conquer hunger and disease and illiteracy, and to encourage respect for each other’s right’s and freedoms, and
(4) to be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations to achieve these goals. (1)
Therefore, the UN serves as a unifying force among the world’s nations to tackle global concerns that create and facilitate international conflict.
The history of the United Nations is traced back to its predecessor, the League of Nations. In 1919 the United States rejected the Treaty of Versailles, refusing to become a member of the League of Nations. This is important because many scholars have attributed the failure of the League to the United States refusal to join, and, the failure of the league is argued to be a factor that contributed to the inability to prevent World War Two.
Thus, any successful version of such an institution would have to include the United States. Following the Second World War, there was an urgent need to create an organization that would prevent another devastating conflict, and the League of Nations was re-envisioned as the United Nations.
This new intergovernmental organization sought a vision of world peace and order predicated on liberal internationalist ideals of human rights, promotion of democracy, and national self-determination. Despite early optimism, the UN was immediately constrained by cold-war pressures
Successes and contributions of the United Nations
Peacekeeping is a product of the UN and has been successful in many cases.
In one analysis using International Crisis Behavioral data along with data sets of UN activity shows that UN military involvement decreases the risk of a one-sided victory and diplomatic engagement increases the likelihood for a compromise in the long run. (2) The analysis also finds that diplomatic and military engagement coupled together substantially hastens the pace of stalemate outcomes. (3)
The UN’s contribution, however, is not limited to only War and Peace efforts.
Other Areas the United Nations Has made Contributions:
- Decolonization – The UN was in charge of the oversight of the process of decolonization involving nearly half the world’s people inhabiting virtually the whole of Africa, much of Asia and the Pacific, and many countries in and near the Caribbean Basin. (4)
- Famine and Poverty– The United Nations has been able to reduce the incidence of poverty across the world through many different programs such as the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals.
- Social and Economic Development – Read – GLOBALIZATION AND THE DEVELOPING WORLD: A PANACEA TO THE DEVELOPING WORLDS PROBLEMS?
Criticisms and urgently needed reforms of the United Nations
Since its creation, the United Nations has been riddled with structural inadequacies, which have rendered it powerless against preventing international conflict. The primary duty of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), as stated in the charter, is the maintenance of international peace and security.
Through the UN Charter, all members are obliged to follow the decisions made by the UNSC giving them an especially important role in the creation of world order. The structure of the UNSC was a prerequisite for the major powers to become a member of the UN following World War Two and consists of the United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom, and France.
It has, however, become the greatest barrier towards preventing and resolving international conflict in the modern state system and is completely undemocratic for an institution that promotes democracy.
Interests of Few Outweigh the Many?
In theory and practice, either France or the UK, each with not quite 1.0 percent of the world’s people, could block the wishes of the representatives of the remaining 99 percent. (5) This results in the interests of the few outweighing the interests of the many, becoming a tool for the major world powers to promote their interests at the world expense.
Many scholars have noted that the UNSC’s actions are primarily guided by the geopolitical visions and interests of its veto-wielding permanent members (P5). (6) This helps explain the inaction in Syria and the failure of international intervention.
Despite large-scale evidence of atrocities being committed and calls for peace by the global community; Russia, China, and the United States all have geopolitical interests that have taken precedence despite the war continuing for five years with no apparent end in sight.
The primary tools that are supposed to guide humanitarian intervention and international order through liberal internationalist ideas are ultimately being used with underlying realist motivations. This makes calls for reform justifiable to address concerns of international conflict.
Many amendment formulas have been proposed by academics to dismember the deadlock that exists among the current UNSC members. However, as we have seen, none have been adopted yet, and the current system remains.
Looking Beyond the United Nations In the Quest for World Order
As the League of Nations was a stepping-stone towards the creation of the United Nations, the UN is a stepping-stone towards the creation of genuine world governance. The United Nations in its current form lacks the proper tools to deal with many dangerous trends in international conflict. This has been shown through its inadequate ability to manage major power rivalries that exist in Ukraine, Syria, and the South China Sea. Competition over geopolitical interests has severely limited the ability of the UN to resolve either conflict. A newly envisioned United Nations needs the tools to address these incapacitating problems. This can be done by assigning new binding enforcement capabilities to the United Nations while also reforming the veto system of the UNSC.
Further Dangerous Trends The United Nations Lacks Capabilities To Deal With:
The United Nations also needs a overhaul in order to address growing issues such as the mass spreading of transnational terrorism and the chronic state instability suffered by many countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Libya, etc). However, that is for a separate post. Overall, despite the incapacities suffered by the United Nations, it is still a fundamental pillar in the quest for world order.
2) UN intervention and the duration of international crises
3) UN intervention and the duration of international crises
4) Needed: A Revitalised UN,
5) Needed: A Revitalised UN,
6) The Mandate and the (In)Effectiveness of the UN Security Council and International Peace and Security: The Contexts of Syria and Mali.