The range of reforms or thinking about the future of the UN in emerging world orders is largely predicated on prior beliefs of the nature of the good society and on possible futures of the emerging world order. This article investigates these positions, summarizes recommendations for UN transformation and provides a synopsis of relevant bibliography.
Dr. Sohail Inayatullah
Idealists such as P.R. Sarkar, Charles Paprocki, R.G.H. Siu, Robert Muller and Titus North believe that a parliament of humanity or a world government democratically constituted by world citizens is humanity’s natural progression from barbarism to civilization. Only internal fear, greed, hate and other emotions have kept humans from achieving this goal. The UN will realize its true mission as humans themselves move towards perfection. This is fundamentally the moralist-idealist position adopted by humanists, utopians, and spiritualists.
The future world is a mixture of sensate and ideational civilizations; an integrated world that is holistic, wherein there is economic balance between regions, between city and rural areas, between genders, and within the minds of each person . Individuals themselves have found a balance between the materialist and spiritual tendencies within themselves. In this vision of the future, nations gradually disappear and identity is reframed around bio-regions and other more rational, less sentimental (not religious, national, racial, territorial) forms of social organization.
Less inclusive is the Western liberal view of the long linear march of democracy; the perspective that democracy is the highest form of human social organization. The role of the UN is to facilitate democracy throughout the world, stamping out the structures and ideologies of feudalism, fascism, totalitarianism and racism. Democracy, however, is contained within the nation state. The United Nations stays primarily an organization of nations. People are collectively best joined within the nation-state rubric. Nations, however, can and should, join together to create a parliament of nations thus ensuring collective security.
Within the UN itself, within the framework of the nation-state, hierarchy of power is desirable since there are the wise and the foolish, the rational and the irrational, and the parent and the child. Eventually power and responsibility will be shared once the foolish change their ways and children grow up, once all nations become truly democratically representative. This has been a pervasive American model, democracy having originated in Greece and passed through Europe to finally rest in the US, it is believed. Now that communism is dead, it is only the chaos of the Third World that needs to be managed; that is, world order is primarily a function of implementation, merely a technique, to use Focauldian language. The image of the emerging world order is one where the principles of the European enlightenment and further articulated by the US State department are realized. The UN would ascertain that universal human rights are respected, that nations follow liberal models of economic growth, and that territorial boundaries are honored.
An alternative structural-functionalist view argued for by Zenia Satti posits that the UN must be seen historically. The United Nations came about to meet certain needs and changed once these needs were met. The League of Nations represented the shift from the European balance-of-powers system to the notion of collective security, of the view that the entire body of nations would safeguard each other from aggression. However, non-compliance from states and its weak structure (the inability to stem aggression when it suited powers) led to the downfall of the League. Nations continued to make agreements based on their national interest.
Because of the failure of the League of Nations to become a supernational authority, the UN was less idealistic in its goals, eventually focusing not on becoming a supernational authority but on developing mechanisms of regulating the balance of power between the two world blocks. As a result, general universal notions of justice or peace, behind the idea of collective security, were in practice abandoned, argues Satti. As a consequence, UN meetings became focused on theatrics of mass consumption in the home nations of leaders. However, with the end of the Cold War, the UN is once again at a transition phase, most argue. What type of UN results in the near future is dependent on a range of variables, including world geo-politics, the growth of the world economy, technological advancements, and the globalization of culture. In any case, the expectations of the UN are higher now, having reverted to an idealistic phase, at least towards the vision of global governance if not world government.
Radical reforms, for example, call for a consensus on global human rights, on denying sovereignty of criminal nations , for a world militia, that is, a UN organization which is more than the United Nations. Clearly, unlike the 1930’s during the demise of the League, the UN is not irrelevant. As Boutros Boutros-Ghali [former SG of the UN] remarked, “The United Nations has almost too much credibility.”
Given that the emerging world order is believed to be fraught with local and regional ethnic and religious conflicts, usually carryovers from colonial and communist days, the UN must expand its functions. The task of the UN now that the world is no longer bipolar is to expand peacekeeping and peacebuilding, to gradually move towards world governance on issues of ecology, development, human rights and other problems that no one nation-state can individually tackle. The goal of the UN is to aid in the original goal of the creation of a community of nations.
From a realist view, critics such as Coral Bell, Keith Hindell, Frank Ching and Wang Kan Sang argue that any future of the UN must deal with the fact that it is primarily one-nation run and that all nations use it when it is to their political benefit. Thus, even though the actual balance of powers has shifted, governments remain committed to national self-interest. The realist discourse continues to dominate with global justice applied equally to all nations remaining an elusive, if not impossible, idea and reality. Thus the idealist future does not deal with the resentment small nations might feel toward big power hegemony. How will they find a voice in the UN as it becomes more active, remains the operating design question? If they cannot, then we should again expect to see the euphoria surrounding the UN transformed to the realization that it is merely a branch office of American foreign policy, argue critics.
In this realist position of the UN, the image of the future world order is that it will be primarily dominated by a few nations, those currently wealthy and having nuclear advantage. The UN will be used on a case by case basis to press military, strategic, economic and cultural advantages.
Alternatively, instead of a unipolar world, there is evidence that in terms of relative power (since no nation has economic, cultural, military and territorial domination) the most likely world future is that of a multipolar world. This assertion can have a range of consequences. First, instead of the assumption that the UN can easily restructure, now that traditional bi-polar tensions have diminished, it could mean that there will be more tensions, as not one but multiple hegemonic powers vie for who gets to run the world. Galtung argues that we might have an emerging Islamic power (two or three generations hence), India, China, Japan, and three Western (US, Europe, and Russia) hegemons. However since zones of power are clearly demarcated in this multipolar world order, structural reform of the UN might indeed be possible. There is a range of potential conflicts ahead which the UN must prepare to handle: (1) within spheres of interest; (2) between two hegemons and in border areas; (3) multipolar (uniting in pairs or other variations); (4) a coalition of hegemons (as in against Iraq); and, (5) a coalition of peripheries (they of course will not gain UN legitimacy since they were not victorious in the second world war).
Thus we would expect the UN to play a different role as it tries to accommodate the cultural and governance assumptions of these very different world powers. In this model of the future, we would expect continued efforts of India and Islamic nations to gain full-time Security Council membership, thus joining the US, France, England, Russia and China.
In any case, the guiding assumption is that the UN has come about for various reasons and its structures reflect these reasons. There is no grand march of history, no Geist, no divine force leading humanity to progress, to civilisation. Nor is there any a priori reason that nations should peacefully coexist. Power and its pursuit, in contrast, are natural. The Prince must rule, whatever guise he decides to use.
Related to the functionalist views is a historical structural position offered by Immanuel Wallerstein and Crane Brinton which argues that because of our historical evolution there are only a range of possible world structures available: world ideology as in a world church (the Holy Roman Empire or the Caliphate, for example); a world state as with the communist model; world empire as in the Mongol empire or the Roman empire; or world capitalism as politically constituted by the particular mix of inter-state relations, the call for democracy within nations, and the actual state of anarchy between nations. Mini-cultural systems or small self-reliant states or regions have historically tended to capitulate to these larger structures, as they have been unable to fend off globalizing trends. Thus, we should be surprised if a world government or world governance structure emerges that is multi-cultural, multi-civilizational and resolves issues of local/global, market/state, individual/collective, and spirit/body/mind dilemmas. Idealistic utopians, however, argue that these paradoxes can be resolved, that humanity is on the verge of bifurcation, and that we should expect a higher level of complexity to emerge that creates a new human being; one not tied to the dark past, but one committed to a humanistic, ecological, gender-equal, inclusive view of the future.
Given these general positions and images, what are some specific suggested reforms that would create an alternative future for the UN in emerging world orders:
(1) Because of the end of the veto-veto structure of the Cold War, the UN is now expected to work better. Thus no new dramatic changes are needed, rather only implementation of security and development is needed.
(2) The UN should be restructured by increasing the number of permanent members on the UN security council. This is to reflect emerging new military and population powers such as India and Indonesia. The UN Security Council must become more representative.
(3) The UN should cease to be nation-state focused and better represent the views of the many social movements who have been and remain critical of both capitalist and State oriented economic and cultural models. These include movements such as the ecological, the spiritual, the alternative-development, indigenous peoples and women’s. Often representing non-statist perceptions of social reality and value structures, these groups argue that nations do not adequately represent local and regional interest groups. Currently they have no official power and their success lies in the moral authority they wield and the development programs they have accomplished and the alternative development model they work from.
However, they are rejected by many national UN missions since social movements are not considered to represent the people since they are “private” special interest groups. They, for example, are not elected to power at local or national levels, yet claim to represent the people. Social movements, however, respond that while they are not democratically elected, they better represent the aspirations of many and represent positions (generations ahead) and groups (the environment) for which elected officials have no incentive to defend. Nation-state representatives often only represent a certain elite, usually, male, upperclass, elite university, and disciplined in political science or international relations, they also argue.
(4) The UN should evolve into a world government with two houses: one nation-based the other population-based (instead of a general assembly and security council) or some other governance structure that takes into account the range of identities that exist today. Specific suggestions include that the UN should have three houses: one based on nations, the second on social movements, and the third a house of the people.
(5) The power of the Secretary-General (SG) should increase as currently the UN General Assembly (GA) bogs down executive decision-making and implementation because of bureaucratic and national concerns.
(6) The UN should become less centralized and move to become a facilitator, helping bring social movements, individuals, governments, ethnicities and other identities into forums of mutual exchange and negotiation. It should focus on its moral authority and not attempt to increase its executive, military or judicial powers.
(7) The UN should be disbanded because it represents a minority (which can be the West, the third world, intellectuals, or international bureaucrats depending on one’s political, knowledge and class position). Regional associations are better suited to solve conflicts. In any case, the UN has merely become a debating society of clever national leaders. It suits nor helps no one but international intellectuals and bureaucrats.
(8) The UN must be revitalized so it can better deal with the many conflicts ahead, including, but not limited to, issues of the newly created nations, problems within old nations, and emerging cases resolved only by global law. However to be revitalized it must obtain increased funding from member nations.
(9) The UN should remove itself from the exercise of third world development since, among other reasons, East Asian experience shows that the international system is a hindrance not a help to the creation of miracle economies, to economic growth. The sooner the UN (and, of course, related international agencies) ceases to function (particularly as lender, regulator, and expert) the better it is for economic growth since the UN only serves to create a global welfare state and to create development experts who are unable to transform local or global poverty.
We now turn to the literature abstracted and attempt to summarize it (as well as bringing in other relevant literature), focusing on recommended changes to the UN and images of the future world order.
West-Oriented World Government
Franz Shurmann in his American Soul gives us two contrasting images of the UN. In the first, the UN once a debating society has rapidly become a world government. The first stage of the creation of the world government is a Western Block from Vladivostok to San Francisco. There are some historical precedents for this, when in 1879, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck convened a great power conference to settle all world problems. However in the long run nothing came out of it, instead a generation later a world war erupted. The most likely future of a world government is West-oriented: a continuation of the Enlightenment project of individual rights and liberal democracy for all. Economies would be liberal and free with borders primarily for labor and drug trafficking. However, tourists and currencies could travel freely.
In this image of the future, human rights are seen as individual-based and not from the view of structure (centre-periphery), collective (the role of groups) nor history (colonialism). The third and fourth worlds as well as China are left out of this equation, or must join on the terms of the West if they are willing to give up their cultural views of rights and the role of the State in capital formation.
Cultural Basis for Governance
The Chinese, however, as evidenced by numerous articles in the Beijing Review take a different view of the UN, arguing, for example, as He Hongze does in his “New Role for the UN,” that “the internal affairs of one country can be solved only by the people of that country. The efforts of the international community can only be helpful or supplementary.” In addition, Chen Jian has argued that reform efforts should not change the structure or mechanisms of the UN, they should merely strengthen it. Change should be accomplished through consensus in line with “the principle of balance and that of rationalization.”
However, at the 46th General Assembly Keith Hindell in his “Reform of the United Nations” reminds us that the relativistic argument to human rights was resisted most by newly-democratic Eastern European nations, who believe that sovereignty is often an excuse for State terrorism. The issue is: is there a greater good beyond state sovereignty. Must much of the charter be rewritten to have a “right of interference” as suggested but later disavowed by Bernard Kouchner, the French Minister of Humanitarian Action? As the Secretary General has commented, sovereignty does not confer the authority for mass slaughter.
Schurmann’s second model is similar to the rhetoric of the Chinese model in that it is an alternative rendering of the UN as the hub of an international community, with the goal of governance not government. Rather than a club, the idea is inclusive, people and nations working together to solve common problems.
The Need for Supranational Authority
However, paradoxically–and this the Chinese find contentious to the idea of an international community–national sovereignty can be a stumbling block, and clearly a reflection of the Cold War and of the lack of representation of Asian and African nations in world economic and political bodies. As Hindell argues, “Taking a slightly longer-term view, the issues of climate change, environmental pollution, AIDS, migration, drugs, and international crime all require some kind of supranational authority to act within the boundaries of the [nation] state.” Part of the issue is that without supernational authority to enforce compliance, individual nations, who are legitimised in a majority of ways (none of which is total consensus), allow suffering and pain to occur to their own citizens. “If national sovereignty resists the measures to reverse climate change, some UN members will drown while others could lose large slices of their territory.” AIDS is another example. Hindell also suggests that an International Criminal Court be established. “An ICC would need to be backed up by an international law-enforcement agency with powers of arrest, detention, arraignment, trial and imprisonment.”
Of course, all these challenge sovereignty; a boundary that major powers such as the US as well as less powerful Asian nations who have yet to realise full (not only political but economic and cultural as well) sovereignty would yield to. But as R.B.J. Walker reminds us the nation-state is a recent phenomenon, created out of the battle between church and empire. It is a reflection of the modern world, neither eternal nor necessary. From the view of Hisahiko and Terumasa, what is needed is for nations, particularly Japan, to adopt a three-fold strategy: national interests, UN interests and international interests. These must be balanced. Nations must balance their own interests with those of the UN itself. Equally important are regional interests.
Moral Not Strategic Power and Authority
Robert Aldridge believes that governments’ unwillingness to relinquish authority to the UN should not be seen as a temporary condition, as idealists have maintained. In fact given that strong solutions (such as military or sanctions) in the long run fail, the UN should focus on becoming the “spokesperson of humanity.” Part of becoming a spokesperson involves the Secretary General giving a State of Humanity address. Robert Muller seconds this proposal for a State of Humanity address, particularly at the upcoming 50th UN anniversary. He also suggests that ngos prepare 50-year reports on their activities, results, and membership so as to articulate comprehensive world assessments. Education then of the young is a far more important strategy than the long wait for governments to accept supernational authority, especially when such authority can go against their own particular national interests.
World Government: Benign or Dictatorial
Related to this view is that at the simplest level, whether one believes a world government is desirable or not is based on whether one believes it will be benign or dictatorial, argues Titus North.
North writes that historically there have been two ways to consolidate power: integration by empire, that is, by conquest as in the case of the Huns and Mongols; or by consent, as initially in the case of the US. Conquest attempts to break down the notion of balance of power between sovereign states while consent attempts to redefine issues and mutual identity at a global level. The third effort has been hegemonic, not conquering but avoiding consent as well, that is, creating spheres of influence, of colonies. As Crane Brinton writes, in “Global Governance: A historical survey,” “It would be rash to prophecy an effective world government in the near future, but it would equally be short-sighted to maintain that no such government is possible. On the contrary, the precedents point clearly, assuming no catastrophic destruction of civilization, to the establishment of some form of organized world government possessing the necessary police and financial powers, and it is not inconceivable that the United Nations will develop into such a government.
The Inevitability of World Government
Far more enthusiastic about the possibility of a world government is P.R. Sarkar. For Sarkar, part of the problem is local leadership and the fear that they will lose their leadership. Normally a cyclical theorist, however, with respect to governance Sarkar believes that the strength, by and large, of geo-political and social sentiments (casteism, racism, nationalism) will continue to fade over time. He advocates a step-by-step formation of a world government authority, largely based on a transformation of the UN and a strengthening of regional organizations. As a suggestive design, Sarkar argues for two houses. The first would have representatives based on population and the second on nation. Both houses would have to ratify decisions. Initially, the world government will be legislative but only in certain areas. This will eventually expand. But world governance must be based on more than a theory of collective security, it must be fundamentally cultural, humanitarian, a belief that local cultures combined can create a new global human culture and retain their own individual aesthetics. In any case, the process for Sarkar must be incremental.
Charles Paprocki, as part of the International Network for a UN Second Assembly, has extended this argument further and writes that the UNGA should become an upper legislative house and a council of non-governmental organizations (or people’s organizations) should become the lower house. Resolutions would be introduced in the lower house and, if approved, passed by the Upper house. Once the legislative structure is in place, Paprocki believes that the world government can become strengthened once the Executive and Judicial branches have increased power.
A New Ethic for Peacekeeping
Less concerned with grand issues such as world government, political scientist Coral Bell, writes in “The Fall and Rise of the UN” that a new ethic is needed to justify why a young man from X country should die in a UN peacekeeping operation elsewhere. Formerly having rights within the context of the nation-state also meant that one had the duty to protect one’s nation. But patriotism does not help the family of a dead UN peacekeeper. What is needed is the creation of a UN legion, a military service made up of volunteers, working at their own request. His or her death would then not be a burden for a particular state but perhaps a hero, someone who died for the larger idea of global peace or justice. This view is echoed by Edward Luttwak , who believes it should be structured like the French Legion. Using this language of justice would take out the issue of mercenary, of men and women fighting not for their country but for wealth. However, Okasake Hisahiko and Nakanishi Terumasa ask in “Clearing the Way for a Global Security Role” how can a standing army be democratically governed? Who will command the forces? Won’t it simply reflect the values and force of the world power that has most to gain from the particular military action? They believe that a UN army will primarily reflect the views of the nation that leads the army and thus argue that Japan should change its constitution so it can play a potentially greater role in future UN actions.
Transforming the Security Council and the General Assembly
Bell gives other suggestions as well, the first of which is based on her reading of the fall and rise of the General Assembly (GA). Used initially by the US as a way to avoid the Security Council (SC) stalemate, the UNGA eventually became a breeding ground of Third World aspirations, argues Bell. Thus initially for the US, “the moral authority of the Assembly had been substituted for the merely legal authority of the Council.” The notion then was that the GA better represents the community of nations, with the SC representing only the victors of the second war, the great nuclear powers. However, once the GA was less compliant to US interests, the US attacked the General Assembly’s power in the UN. The US’s miscalculation of assuming that the world thought like itself–assuming the universal nature of a particular philosophical tradition–was a fundamental mistake signaling the fall of the UN for Bell.
The implications are that any effort to rethink the UN must have a cross-cultural view of human rights, it must account for difference as well as desired similarity, that is, it must become a real parliament of Humankind, in which nations would create international harmony and thus banish war and eventually poverty, the original view of Woodrow Wilson. This is in contrast to the view of the UN as a great concert of powers, of the mighty paternalistically developing the new young nations so as to make sure that no evil tendencies arise. Coming to consensus on issues such as human rights, economic rights, and now even national sovereignty should begin not with an approach to abstract universals but a will to peace, to a desired future. This can only be based on an understanding that behind the structure of inter-state relations lie very real differences of cosmology and culture, of varying views of social space and time. The Chinese perspective moves in that direction but stops once national sovereignty is questioned.
But with the fall of the Soviet Union, the SC has become the prime global institution and the UN has regained centre stage, thus allowing the possibility of what it was originally designed to do. To transform the Security Council, Bell believes that the Council must be more representative and include India, Japan and Germany, as well as some representatives from the South: Brazil from South America, Nigeria from Africa, and Indonesia from the Islamic world.
Making the UN More Representative
Richard Evans in “Reforming the Union” also believes the UN must be more representative. He argues that the British, French and German seats should become a single the EC seat and Japan should get a seat as well. The UN formed to promote peace and democracy should in itself become democratic, he believes. He asks why five members can dictate policy to 174 other members. Of course, 15 nations do pay 84% of the budget, but unfortunately there are few suggestions to include this in the reform equation since nations are expected to be altruistic (or foot the bill for their international interests).
More problematic for Evans is that the UN is US-dominated. “Even its allies are afraid to vote against it.” The US uses the UN to support its own policy agenda, witness the attack on Iraq and the reticence of action against Yugoslavia, argues Evans.
In “Reforming the United Nations” Frank Ching believes that now that the UN is already 50 years old, Asia should be heard more. Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Ali Alatas suggests the creation of a new category of permanent members that do not have veto powers. Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohammed raises the larger international relations issue, asking why the UN is not democratic? He believes the veto should be eliminated. Singapore, however, has argued that the veto should be diluted not eliminated. Two negative votes would be needed to block a resolution. Moreover, there should be a corresponding financial burden to pay for this privilege. Wang Kan Seng, the Singapore foreign minister, believes that each veto member pay 9% of the UN operating expenses and 11% of the peacekeeping operations. Other suggestions include the regionalization of the UN: giving a seat to the Non-Aligned Movement, to the Organisation of African Unity, to the Organisation of American States. What these suggestions however do not tackle is the implications for this. Will this lead to more regionalization, increased effectiveness or to more stalemates, to a return of not an East-West Cold War but a north-south divide. Pure democracy while participatory is not efficient and efficiency is hardly ever participatory.
Accountability in the UN
But other reform-minded individuals are less concerned with what the UN does and more with how it does what it does. American diplomats, for example, argue that the UN should become more responsible and cost conscious. Equally, Algerian diplomat Muhammed Sahnoun believes that the UN is slow and incompetent, at least in how it acted in Somalia. The French have gone a bit further in their attacks of UN mismanagement. They propose a tribunal to punish UN staffers. This and other suggestions have led to plans to create an inspector general to sniff out fraud, waste and mismanagement.” Of course, being more business-like means less of a focus on affirmative action in hiring practices. But Yeshua Moser gives an alternative reading to the problem of fraud. Writing from Bangkok, he argues that prevalence of fraud in the UN peacekeeping operation in Cambodia has not only hurt the UN’s legitimacy but has endangered peace as well. In the Cambodian case it has led to increased power for the Khmer Rouge, who have come to represent “local” people. This situation may end up making massive airstrikes more acceptable and making more peaceful incremental solutions, since they are harder to implement, harder to gain agreement for.
This perhaps is the paradox: how to have an agency that reflects the diversity of world cultural and management practices and is efficient instead of an agency based on power politics, office and position chasing. Part of the problem again of the entire UN is that it is a united nations (representing its member notions) not united peoples or movements or individuals.
Johan Galtung in his recent paper, “Global Governance For, And By, Global Democracy,” argues for global governance; with governance defined as soft persuasion, largely using positive incentives focused on cultural and normative power rather than on military or coercive power. This is favored instead of federal world government systems whose power is too great. The goal is to create world citizens at different levels of society, economy, and polity. But who are the world citizens: they are transnational corporations representing capital, international NGOs representing civil society, inter-governmental organizations such as the UN (with its many layers from the General Assembly to the Security Council) and the people themselves. Thus legitimacy comes from people, capital, and state. What then is needed is a world assembly of states, a world assembly of people, with direct voting and direct elections, even referendums, a world assembly of indigenous peoples (to represent those who have a special claim to the Earth), a world assembly of international people’s organizations, and a world assembly of commerce. Concretely, this means adding a second assembly to the UN for the people and a third for the corporations. Membership would be based on criteria such as representation, level of democracy, concern with human interests, reflecting world perspectives, and having a sense of the long term, of permanence. Like Sarkar this is a gradual scenario using Sarkar’s famous fourfold articulation of power: military, economic, intellectual and people’s.
To summarize these are the main reform-oriented trends:
(1) Transform Security Council (and make it more representative of real power;
(2) Change structure of power within UN (between the SG, the UNGA, and the SC as well as UN bureaucracy) by increasing the power of the SG, or transforming the power of the SC or making the UNGA more representative.
(3) Democratize UN (by better representation of aspirations of the world). This could mean not only within statist forms by, for example, diluting the veto, but also by allowing for some type of role for NGOs beyond consultative status.
(4) Make UN more accountable (treat UN as a business instead of a large bureaucracy functioning through political state level patronage) and thus more responsive.
(5) Redesign the UN–two houses, four houses, regional associations or some other design structure.
(6) Rethink Peacekeeping–creating a military with soldiers not from nations but a professional standing army.
(7) Popularize UN–create a house of NGO’s or social movements that reflect the values of the women’s movement, ecology, positive peace, spiritual transformation, social justice and sustainability. Develop an annual State of Humanity address.
(8) Strengthen UN–more powers, more military powers, more peacekeeping, more development, and more funding for the UN.
(9) Become a World Government–with legislative power initially and eventually executive and judicial powers; also deny national sovereignty when necessary.
To conclude this essay, the available recent literature of the futures of the UN in emerging world orders suggests that there are, in general, three positions:
(A) REINVIGORATE AND REALIZE ITS ORIGINAL PURPOSE
This is the most popular perspective. It includes a range of structural reforms (SC representation, right of veto, power of GA, world militia) to prepare the UN for the next century and the likely political shifts the world is undergoing. Part of the reformist position is to make the UN more accountable to member nations and to general principles of good governance. The focus should be on becoming a moral authority not a world government, a spokesperson for humanity and ecology, not a site for the advancement of the egos of national functionaries. The UN should thus realize its mission of being an arbiter of the disputes of nations.
(B) RETHINK ITS STRUCTURE AND MISSION
This is less popular among national functionaries. It involves rethinking the UN representational structure to include other forms of representation including social movements, who reflect non-State and non-business power as well as a general assembly of commerce to reflect the views of global commerce. The rights of indigenous cultures and of women, not only at economic or cultural levels, but at the more important level of epistemological transformation , of using their categories to rethink the context, the values, the mechanisms, and the structure of the United Nations.
(C) TRANSFORM AND EXPAND ITS PURPOSE
The UN should become a World Government through some model of layered sovereignties with the UN having supreme sovereignty on most issues (federal and state structure) including the right to suspend national sovereignty when needed.
The problem of the UN as quoted earlier by Boutros-Ghali is that it has too many expectations placed on it, too much credibility. It is the ideal of a family of united nations, of united peoples, united organizations that people yearn for, hoping somehow that the UN organization can somehow meet that need. The UN then often is more than the UN, a metaphor of what is possible and desirable: positive peace and justice. Bosnia in many ways represents the failure of this metaphor and perhaps a growing up of the UN. If it were not for NATO, the horrific genocide by the Serbs of Pale would have continued unabated. Realists, of course, are not surprised given the power politics of the world system and Idealists have renewed calls for a fundamental transformation in the United Nations.
The Long View
Structurally, if we are to take a macrohistorical view, there are four possibilities. These are derived from Sarkar’s notion of four types of power (worker, warrior, intellectual and merchant or chaotic/service; cooercive/protective; religious/intellectual); and, remunerative), Sorokin’s ideas of three types of systems (sensate focused on materialism, ideational focused on religion and integrated, balancing earth and heaven) and Wallerstein’s world systems theory.
Simply stated, there are have been four structures.
- World Empire – victory of warrior historical power – coercive/protective – sensate
- World Church – victory of intellectual power – normative – ideational
- Mini-systems – small, self-reliant cultural systems – ideational
- World economy – globalizing economics along national divisions – sensate
In the next 25 years, option 1 is unlikely given countervailing powers – as there is more than one hegemon in the world system and given lack of political legitimacy for recolonization, for simply conquering other nations. The human rights debate allows world intervention in failing nations but nation to nation conquest.
Option 2 is also unlikely given that there are many civilizations vying for minds and hearts. While the millennium has evoked passions associated with the end of man, and the return of Jesus, Amida Buddha or the Mahdi, the religious pluralism that is our planet is unlike to be swayed toward any one religion, any one savior.
Option 3 is possible because of electronic systems and aspiration for many for self-reliance ecological communities electronically linked. However, small systems tend to be taken over by either warrior power, intellectual/religious power or larger economic globalizing propensities. In the context of a globalized world economy, self-reliance is difficult to maintain.
Option 4, the world economy, has been the stable system but now has become increasingly problematic. While the globalizing tendencies remain, the strength of the interstate systems is undergoing relative reduction.
Revolutions from above (global institutions from UN, WTO, IMF) and regional institutions (APEC) and revolutions from below (social movements and nongovernmental organizations), revolutions from technology (cyber democracy, cyber communities and cyber lobbying) and revolutions from capital (globalization) make the nation far more porous.
A countervailing force are revolutions from the past – the imagined past of purity and sovereignty (economic sovereignty, racial purity, and idealized good societies), which (1) seeks to strengthen the nation state (to either fight mobility of individuals –immigration – or mobility of capital – globalization – or mobility of ideas – cultural imperialism and (2) seeks to create new nation states (ethno-nationalism).
However, none of these problems can be solved in isolation thus leading to the strengthening of global institutions, even for localist parties, who realize for their local agendas to succeed (for example, the Green Party), they must become global political parties, they must globalize themselves.
Thus what we are seeing is even in local tendencies a move to the global. There is no way out. However, this globalism is not merely the freeing of capital, but the freeing of ideas (multiculturalism), the saving of the environment, as well as the globalization of labor.
While the latter is currently about fair wages for workers throughout the world (in terms of purchasing power), it also means for the elite workers movement throughout the world, having university positions in varied nations, or moving from multinational to multinational, nation-hopping and passport collecting. This could eventually lead to a real globalization of labor and the creation of the Marxian dream –workers of the world unite.
Taken with the problematic nature of sovereignty of self and nation, the stability of the last few hundred years of the world economy/interstate system are suspect.
The structural argument is that during times of intense transformation, plastic time, where there is a struggle between worldviews and processes, there is a new center, a reordering of power.
We can thus anticipate a world government/security system in conjunction with 1000 or so self-reliant ecological systems, a gaian future. While liberals hope for a world governance system to help manage world growth, the reality is that over time, it will be a world government system with strong localism that is far more likely. The world polity will likely have a world constitution with basic rights such as language, basic needs, culture and religion enshrined. The meanings people give to these principles, however, is likely to be local.
In conclusion, the futures of the UN are dependent on theoretical positions, changes in the world’s geo-politics, as well as the aspirations of individual citizens and non-government organizations. They are as well tied into long term structural macrohistorical forces.
In any case, we should be surprised if the UN at the beginning of the third millenium has not evolved from its current structure.
Copyright The author 2011