“The UN is now an outdated body.” Discuss.
The United Nations is a body that was set up at the end of WWII to maintain peace and security amongst states. The UN is the successor to what was the League of Nations. The League of Nations, set up after WWI by President Wilson, had a similar goal to that of the UN’s. To maintain peace and security, and at the time, attempt to prevent another World War. This of course was not achieved.
In regards to the question stated, there are differing opinions as to whether the UN is now obsolete and unnecessary as a body. In this essay I will discuss both sides of the argument before concluding whether or not the UN is an outdated body.
First, I will discuss the views that the UN is now outdated and obsolete.
In suggesting the UN is outdated, much criticism has been focused on the make up of the Security Council. This is because the members of the Security Council are simply considered to be outdated. Many argue that the Security Council is outdated because it continues to reflect the great power politics of 1945, with the USA, Russia, China, the UK and France being permanent members with veto powers. Pressure to reform the Security Council has been significant, many strongly suggest that new permanent members should be included in the Security Council. Member states that are more reflective of today’s great power politics, rather than states reflecting the Great Power Politics of 1945. Many suggest that new members should include either modern day economic powers and significant UN contributors such as Japan and Germany, or rising states that can represent a broader range of continents such as Brazil and South Africa. Many have suggested that specific UN bodies are outdated for this very reason, there is no representation of Africa or South America within the UN Security Council. This is somewhat absurd when you consider that Brazil has a larger economy than the UK, yet has no representation within the Security Council. With the upcoming World Cup and Olympics in South America, it is clear that South America has a prominent position in the world system. Therefore, many argue that the UN is outdated, because bodies are not truly representative of the current world order.
The UN has also been criticised because of its budgetary position. The UN’s budgetary position has historically been based on the ability to pay, creating tensions within and between the Global North and the Global South. There is much resentment with the USA, the largest contributor to all of the UN’s budgets. This resentment has grew due to the fact that the USA is faced with a General Assembly in which all states have equal voting rights. This budgetary imbalance has ultimately led to allegations that economically developed states are more favourably dealt with by the UN. Therefore some argue that the economics surround the UN are outdated. Surely it would be more acceptable if all member states contributed the same amount. At a time of economic difficulty in world affairs, member states who give more valuable capital are likely to demand more influence By ensuring that all member states commit at the same level, UN bodies would no longer be at risk of being dominated by states who give the most and demand the most as a result, at the expense of the other states.
A further criticism is that the UN largely operates as an intergovernmental body. Therefore as a body, the UN arguably has little power when it comes to enforcing its decisions and bring transgressors into line. It is clear that the UN was formed by Great Powers that did not want it to develop the kind of authority which might limit their freedom of manoeuvre in the future. It is still very clear that the UN is dominated by these Great Powers, or once Great Powers today. For example the UK and France would not support talks of reforming the members of the Security Council since it may compromise their own position. Therefore they act conservatively to maintain their own power and influence. Even if it is on the merits of their power over 50 years ago.
In an interconnected world like ours, as a result of Globalisation, in which challenges increasingly have a transnational if not global dimension, such weak intergovernmentalism may no longer be appropriate. This was illustrated with the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and by the difficulties in the UN carrying out its peacekeeping role. Another example can be seen in the recent case of Syria. Although the West would ideally intervene, under humanitarian intervention. Within the UN security council, Russia and China would use their power of veto since they resent Western influence, specifically in a geographical location near to their own. This conflict over self interest between West and East states leaves the UN Security Council regularly in stalemate.
However, on the other hand, some suggest that the UN can be defended. They would argue that the UN is not outdated, but that it played an important role in our ever changing world order.
In relation to peacekeeping, its primary limitations are not so much internal as ones that stem from the politics of of Great Power rivalry. Nevertheless, after the end of the Cold War the UN supported the trend towards humanitarian intervention. The UN has been keen to respond to the rise of interdependence and has underlined the importance of human rights in global politics somewhat successfully. The UN is considered by many to remain up to date in its willingness to expand its agenda and broaden its concerns. Especially in relation to economic and social questions. This can be clearly seen when one consideres the amount of global conferences that have been arranged to resolve, address and hopefully rectify pressing problems such as the environment and development. The UN therefore still has significant impact in regards to issues which effect the world as a homogeneous entity.
Some examples of this significance can be seen through conferences, set up in order to try and rectify a global issue. Human rights (Vienna 1993) population (Cairo 1994) women’s issues (Beijing 1995). The UN still makes a significant contribution to facilitating co-operation on development issues through its Human Development Reports and now by the Millennium Development Goals. It is clear that the UN has adapted and despite being limited in terms of resources, the UN has adapted to the effects of Globalization by reinforcing a growing sense of interdependence. The UN has shown that it is up to date with the current world order since it now holds belief in an ideology which believes issues can be resolved through cooperation. Cooperation made easier due to the world’s growing interconnectivity.
Furthermore, despite its imperfections, it would be unfair to suggest that
the UN is unreformable. The operational and strategic approach to peacekeeping and the provision of humanitarian aid have both been improved significantly in recent years. Furthermore reforms could certainly be initiated. For example, UN agencies could be better coordinated, the UN could confer legitimacy of international action rather than always implementing action itself. Relationships with regional organizations could also be strengthened. What is important to remember though, it that the UN has adapted in the past, and similarly it is capable of adapting once again.
Furthermore, many argue that in the case of the UN, its fair to say that the world is a safer place with the UN than it would be without the UN. Although it will never be able to prevent all wars and resolve all conflicts, it provides a valuable framework for cooperation, should the international community wish to use it. The UN serves to increase the chances that international conflict can be resolved without resorting to war, and if war breaks out, that military conflict will quickly lead to peacemaking and peace-building. In this sense, whilst the UN has significant flaws, its a rather indispensable body.
In my opinion, I believe that the UN is rather outdated in its current form. Although the UN has adapted in its approach to solving global issues, seen in the various world conferences, the UN itself remains fairly unrepresentative. I strongly believe that UN bodies such as the Security Council are in need of reform. However this is reform is somewhat impossible given the member states veto powers. If the UN is to be considered truly up to date, the security council, in order to be efficient, needs to show the new era of world order we are in. The security council also needs members from significant countries which as of now have no place in the security council.
As a result of Globalisation, world order has changed, the UN needs to change to reflect this. Representation in the security council needs reforming, as to allow states such as Brazil to join. There should be at least one representative from each continent to symbolise our current movement into a multi-polar world. Furthermore, I believe that the UN is outdated because unlike our government, it lacks openness, and therefore a vital component of a liberal democratic body. More details should be released as to which states contribute the most and furthermore, the UN should act to rectify this sense of hierarchy, whether perceived or actual, within the body. All states should have the same influence and this should be check and balanced like our government is, as to make sure that no one state is dominant in such a global body. A body based on Liberally Democratic features such as equality.