The U.N. has grown sluggish at 70 – and needs reform

The United Nations world order was not perfect since the very beginning

Maria Dubovikova

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When the United Nations was established 70 years ago, the foundations of the modern world were laid.

And for seven decades, the U.N. remained fundamentally unchanged, with its Charter acting as the key document determining the way the international community functions.

Fundamentally the U.N., its Charter and international law have been keepers of peace, setting out a relative order in a chaotic world.

But the world has been changing, evolving and developing. It has become far more complex. The world population has reached 7 billion people. And the number of U.N.-member sovereign states has risen from 51 when it was founded in 1945, to almost 200 today.

The U.N. world order was not a perfect one since the very beginning. The principles of its core document – self-determination, territorial integrity, the national sovereignty – have become instruments of tough geopolitical games. They are interpreted and reinterpreted according to the interests of one global player or another.

The challenges the world faces demand a fast response – something that cannot be given by a 70-year-old dotard.

Maria Dubovikova

This has made the world a hostage to these geopolitical games, returning it to the chaos of realpolitik. And the Security Council has often witnessed discordance between its key players – paralyzing its normal functioning.

Reform of the U.N.?

The discussion over reforming of the U.N. has continued for a long time, without any concrete result.

For the U.N. is in a deep crisis. The Security Council composition is totally outdated. Will the inclusion of new permanent members make it more effective and functional? No. The reason is that, for the world’s ‘great powers’, national interests always prevail over the common good of the global community.

These great powers provoke global problems and instability, instead of being the guarantors of peace. Thus the Security Council, formed by the wealthy states with huge geopolitical ambitions, rarely corresponds to the global interests of a common peaceful coexistence. So it cannot be an effective instrument of global management no matter how it is reformed.

The Security Council would be much more effective if the member-states were working and collaborating on the crisis resolutions as a united body, and in the name of common prosperous future.

Sluggish in its old age

The peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions of the U.N. member states have been replaced by ad hoc coalitions acting with no U.N. approval.

The temptation not to wait for U.N. approval is because of the slowness in tough decision making.

“Cheerful” U.N. infographics on peacekeeping operations in places like in Darfur totally forget that the decision to launch there was taken extremely late, because of the unwillingness of some members to send the troops. But at least it was finally sent.

Yet other conflicts of the 21st century are eventually settled by the hastily formed coalitions with no U.N. mandate, and with dubious methods of war-waging, causing numerous deaths among civilians.

And the reason is twofold – the U.N. takes too much time to take decision, and has lost its role as a key institution legitimizing such operations. The conflict in Syria could have been settled through the power of the U.N. peacekeepers. But it was not.

The U.N. as it is now cannot tackle the challenges the world faces, because these challenges demand a fast response – something that cannot be given by a 70-year-old dotard. And that’s why it should be renewed and rethought.

Take the destruction of historical monuments in Syria, and previously in Iraq, that were under UNESCO protection. This shows that such protection is no more than words. Voices of regret and condemnation cannot protect world heritage from being destroyed by barbarians. On the contrary – it gives much more meaning to the destruction as it gets conveyed to the world by the media. So is there any use in UNESCO without a thoughtful, in-depth reform?

The U.N. as a whole is a necessary element in maintaining international order, as prevents us from descending into World War III. The U.N. is a guarantor of order, but that order is slipping.

So it needs a deep and well-thought reform, especially to make it react fast and properly to the challenges the world faces.

But the main reform is not needed inside the U.N. body itself, but in the minds of the world leaders that make up its core – the Security Council.

Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

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