After the inception of the United Nations, the world viewed the United Nations as the impetus of a new global order. Nations states succumbed to peaceful concessions rather than having allowed interstate problems to culminate into a third world war. The United Nations was different from the League of Nations in that it reintegrated WWII victors as well as losers and formed them into a coalition that worked towards global peace and security.
However, as decolonization began to manifest in the 1960’s, the increase in the number of sovereign states expanded membership in the United Nations. As the numbers of member nations grew, the United Nations reflected more diversified interests. The major shift in interests was notably observed in one of the principal organs of the United Nations, the General Assembly. It granted all member nations the right to one equal vote and resolutions could be passed with a two-thirds majority. With this in mind, the United Nations widened its scope to reflect the interests of smaller nation states such as in the areas of economic development and health.
However, small state ambitions have coincided with the interests of the great power states. For example, countries such as Rwanda or Burkina Faso would have preferred to form U.N. initiatives to aid their countries’ sustainable development rather than having spent the U.N. budget to support the U.S. aim to counter the war on terrorism. In addition, because of this growing disparity between national interests, the United Nations has not been able to adhere to its proposed principles. In recent years, one has observed one of the greatest human rights violators, Libya, elected to chair the Human Rights Commission. Another deplorable undertaking was Syria, a global supporter of terrorism, elected to Security Council.
Today, the image of UN has suffered greatly due to repeated scandals that left the image of a corrupted and dysfunctional organization, incapable of performing its attributions in the new world order.
UN is facing a new world order to which it must adapt in order to maintain its position and its role on the international arena. Recent years’ crisis have found UN incapable of having a firm and prompt reaction and somehow stuck in the attitudes adopted in its beginnings. UN seems unable to rise to the expectations and unable to assume a leading role in world politics. Instead of having the means to impose its position in the world, UN is faced recently with on of its worst periods, when its position on different subjects has no importance or influence.
The distribution of power in today’s international order is inclining more and more towards the West, especially towards the only world power remaining – the US. The relations between UN and US are more and more deteriorated due to the differences in opinion over the war in Iraq and this inconsistency in the relation with US had a great cost on UN. However, UN is still seen by Washington as having an important role in the international arena on both security and humanitarian levels.
This is why the US is trying to find out solutions for a reform of UN by trying to involve the organization in the ongoing crisis in the world. The challenge is therefore even greater with UN having to face a new leadership starting in 2007, and having to face the nuclear crisis in Iran and North Korea. Perhaps the only reason why UN is still supported by US is that it is still seen as “a valuable forum and tool for advancing U.S. interests on the international stage” (Gardiner, 2007). Despite the shown support for UN reform, there is little trust in US that it might succeed.
UN, although seen as a strong organization that regulates upon the world order, no longer has the power to enforce its sanctions and dictate in crisis. It is very unlikely that UN will be able to impose its sanctions on Iran or North Korea in what regards the nuclear crisis, so the role of the organization is becoming more and more insignificant. This is why the gap between the capabilities of UN and its position is getting wider.
The most important role of UN has been played in the past decades in humanitarian actions, as the involvement of UN in third world crisis has gained a very valuable reputation. In contemporary humanitarian crisis UN seems unable to perform its role and intervene in such a serious matter as the genocide in Sudan. Due to this incapability, the role of UN is more and more contested at the international level, as the UN proves to be as incapable of dealing with humanitarian crisis as it was with Rwanda and Bosnia. This is why there is a need for reform in the UN Human Rights Council (Gardiner, 2007).
The challenge that lies ahead of UN through the nuclear crisis in Iran and North Korea is going to define the future of the organization and its role in the international arena. This is why it is so important for UN to regain its position and influence. But in order to do so, UN must go through institutional and managerial reforms that will reinforce the organization’s role in world politics.
In the actual shift in power in the international arena, UN’s decisions seem unlikely to have much influence on particular actors. Countries such as Iran or North Korea are very unlikely to be affected too much by the sanctions imposed by UN as the power of the organization is rapidly decreasing.
There is an increasing opinion that UN is an illegitimate organization, incapable of facing the current international order and no longer able to impose its position in the international arena. This situation was caused by several scandals and crisis that the organization faced in the past twelve years (Gardiner, 2007). UN’s poor interfere in Rwanda, Bosnia, or Sudan, as well as cases of corruption exposed inside the UN have affected the image of the organization greatly, making it unable to stand up for its cause in international crisis. If UN is no longer respected and seen as the moral protector of human rights and of peace, then it cannot perform its role. As UN proved unable or unwilling to stand up for its humanitarian believes in genocides or against dictatorship, its influence and its role decreased considerably.
UN’s actions have been intensively critiqued and its credibility suffered greatly after 2005, when UNESCO gave the José Martí International Prize to Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, awarding the Latin American leader for his “struggle for liberty” (Gardiner, 2007). This award was clearly against the position held by the world powers and it stands as a proof of the gap created between the formal rules of UN and the international powers.
Perhaps the only way in which the UN can save its credibility and perform the role it was created for is by not expanding the membership in the Security Council. In the new international military context, the role of UN can be significant and by paying its cards right the organization has a chance of regaining its influential role.
In order for UN to continue its work and re-impose itself it must adapt to the new world order – it must follow the leadership of US and Western forces. By increasing the number of members in the Security Council, UN would be forced to take stands against the US as the vote will likely be against US on key issues. An enlarged Security Council would be against the US, which would widen the gap between UN and world leadership (Gardiner, 2007).
One of the reasons for UN’s inability to respond promptly and efficiently to world crisis such as the war in Iraq is that its operational system is far too slow and ineffective. The members of the Security Council have far too different views in order to reach an efficient agreement in time. This institutional framework of the UN proves to be inefficient in today’s changing world order. UN’s ability to respond in crisis will only decrease in a larger Security Council, since it already faces serious difficulty.
If UN wants to reinforce its position in the international arena, it must face some very much needed reforms that are intended to shape up the organization and make it reinstate a leading role. But such reforms are very unlikely to be achieved as the influence of opposing members is quite considerable.
A significant number of member states, especially those leading the G-77 group of developing countries view the reform of UN as threatening to their influence in the organization and therefore they use all their power to prevent the reform of UN. Particularly this kind of influence that some member states have upon the UN decision making process is the kind of influence that is widening the gap between the actual world powers and UN (Schaefer, 2006).
In order for UN to actively participate in international relations, it must reform its institutional framework. But in order for UN to reform, it must have the vote of several countries that are against reformation and strengthening the role of the West. This vicious circle is the one that is stopping UN from evolving and adapting.
The influence of today’s great powers in the UN decision making process is low and this is one of the reasons why UN is losing its legitimacy. Instead of being an important actor in security matters, the institutional framework of UN makes it impossible for the organization to reach a consensus in an effective time framework, leading the organization not interfering or not taking a strong enough position in important issues.
Today’s international actors seem to ignore the UN and seem to take decisions disregarding the position of UN particularly because the influence of UN has decreased severely in the past decade or so. More and more voices see the UN as a future failure that will follow its predecessor, the League of Nations.
In recent years, the role of UN is more and more challenged and its decisions have less and less impact in the international arena. Designed to promote peace and worldwide security, the UN proves to be a failure 62 years later due to its incapability to evolve and develop in time. UN’s incapability to adapt to the new world order and its inability to promote its goals makes the organization seem dysfunctional and illegitimate. The major change that is needed for the future of UN lays in its ability to face the challenges of today and to aggressively take action in the matters concerning today’s threats.
1.Gardiner, Nile, The Decline and Fall of the United Nations: Why the U.N. Has Failed and How It Can Be Reformed, February 7, 2007, available at http://www.heritage.org/Research/InternationalOrganizations/hl991.cfm;