A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
David HannayCo-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the United Nations in the UK parliament
Yes, the UN does matter—all the more so when the rules-based international order that it has helped build up and that it epitomizes is under so much stress.
The #UN needs to change some of its ways to be more effective.Tweet This
The UN needs to change some of its ways to be more effective, and that will be a challenge for the new secretary general who takes over in January 2017. Let us hope the best candidate is chosen on merit, not on any regional or other preemption.
There is a huge agenda waiting for whoever is chosen: making a reality of the Sustainable Development Goals and the climate change commitments agreed to in Paris in 2015; being more active in conflict prevention; making a success of peacekeeping missions and eradicating sexual abuse by peacekeepers; using the UN’s convening influence to good effect when dealing with migration; and fashioning coherent overall policies to which all UN agencies contribute.
But the bottom line at the UN, as always, is the attitudes of the member governments. Would they be better off without the UN? I do not believe it. Yet they need to do a lot more than they have done in recent years to give the organization the resources and the political backing it needs to succeed.
Paul HeinbeckerDirector of the Center for Global Relations at Wilfrid Laurier University and distinguished fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation
The #UN is indispensable to assure good global governance.Tweet This
Yes, the UN matters. Despite the scleroses of a seventy-year-old, very human institution, the UN is indispensable—albeit not fully sufficient—to assure good global governance. The UN Charter embodies the international political and security rules of the road that most countries respect most of the time. The member governments of the UN have spawned an extensive body of international law, treaties, norms, practices, and institutions that govern most facets of interstate relations. With these apps, the charter has become the world’s central operating system, the motherboard of global governance. These many UN accomplishments bring greater order, predictability, and progress to global affairs and greater modernity, security, and dignity to peoples’ lives.
As the twenty-first century unfolds and new powers come to the fore, no single country will be able to control events. As a consequence, new combinations of multilateral, minilateral, regional, and bilateral cooperation between governments, civil society, and private and state-owned enterprise will be necessary. Nonetheless, the UN will remain the only organization able to convene the whole world under one roof, to discuss issues of common interest to all humanity, and to sustain the norms that make peace, security, and prosperity possible. That’s why the UN will continue to matter.
Joachim KoopsDean of Vesalius College Brussels and director of the Global Governance Institute
The UN still matters as a key actor and forum in global governance—perhaps even more now than at any time since its creation seventy-one years ago. Despite its weaknesses, the UN remains the only global institution that brings together 193 member states as well as regional organizations, NGOs, and—though not quite as effectively—global corporations. It remains a key promoter of norms and ideas that serve as catalysts for global policies and acts as a focal point for directing attention toward global or regional problems. For example, when European leaders sent no clear moral signal during the refugee crisis, it was the UN high commissioner for human rights who had to remind European policymakers of their moral obligations.
The #UN still matters as a key actor and forum in global governance.Tweet This
Despite negative headlines and recent scandals regarding sexual abuse and inefficiencies in the field, UN peacekeeping remains one of the most successful conflict containment and peace-supporting tools in the history of mankind. The sheer range of UN programs and funds provides essential services and resources in some of the world’s most inaccessible and dangerous regions.
But the UN also remains a highly politicized place, where inspiring humanitarianism collides with national interests. Like any organization staffed by human beings, it represents the best of all worlds and the worst of all worlds—but it will certainly not cease to matter.
Jamie SheaDeputy assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges at NATO
The UN matters, but it needs a strong secretary general, a better balance between adopting new initiatives and implementing old ones, and more interaction with regional organizations.
The UN is often a weather vane that reflects rivalries and tensions.Tweet This
Former UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld once said, “The UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.” The UN is often a weather vane that reflects rivalries and tensions, rather than the expression of a mythical international community. But this does not make the UN irrelevant.
Only the UN can set the agenda for action on issues that affect the future of humanity and on which no individual nation will assume ownership. Examples are the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change reached in December 2015. In New York this week, two summits could produce a global compact to share the migration burden.
Only the UN can set the norms of international law to avoid a world in which might is right. The responsibility to protect and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are universal standards by which the behavior of states can be sanctioned. Who else investigates human rights violations in eastern Ukraine and Crimea if not the UN?
And the UN provides the bulk of peacekeepers—more than 105,000 blue helmets and police officers in sixteen missions. Ten have a mandate to protect civilians. The UN goes to places where the world’s leading nations refuse to become involved.
Ruzha SmilovaSenior assistant professor at the Political Science Department of Sofia University
The UN is not irrelevant, although claims of irrelevance have haunted it since its inception. The end of the Cold War ushered in a brief optimistic period, yet the hope of a stronger role for the UN quickly gave way to renewed criticisms of the organization’s failures to prevent genocide, tackle global terrorism, and relieve humanitarian crises.
Claims of irrelevance have haunted the #UN since its inception.Tweet This
In the post-9/11 world, the liberal West’s claims to moral authority and world leadership based on universal norms rather than raw power are constantly being challenged. Against this background, the UN remains the only global organization with some moral authority to set norms for peaceful conflict resolution and able to develop instruments to effectively uphold these norms.
The alternative is a disordered world governed by realpolitik and the balance of powers. This alternative is attractive only to publics whose fading memories of the horrors of war, coupled with the crisis of principled world leadership, have made them susceptible to the lure of opportunistic nationalist leaders. These leaders advocate the defense of spheres of national interests at all costs, with arms if needed. To effectively challenge this abysmal alternative, the UN needs strong leadership with the resolve to effectively reform its institutions.
Tommy SteinerSenior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Israel
From an Israeli perspective, the UN definitely matters. The UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, recognized in 1922 the Jewish people’s right to establish a national home on their ancestral homeland, and a UN resolution in 1947 led to the proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948.
From #Israel's perspective, the #UN definitely matters.Tweet This
Ever since, however, the UN has subjected Israel to vilification and discrimination. The automatic anti-Israeli bloc has made Israel the most frequently condemned nation by the UN on human rights grounds, ahead of North Korea, Iran, and even President Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. Only in 2013 did Israel become a full member of a UN regional grouping—a status without which Israel could not assume UN positions. Israel has never been a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council, as opposed to all other Middle Eastern nations. The failings of UN-led peacekeeping missions in Israel’s vicinity add to the negative Israeli attitude toward the organization.
Despite this unrelenting Israel bashing, Israel promotes at the UN issues and programs of global concern to which the country brings added value, including innovation and agricultural research and development. Politics aside, the UN is the only universal platform for sharing ideas and cooperative schemes that benefit from scarce media attention, which in turn makes them effective forces for good. If only for this reason, the UN matters much more than many would consider.