Time for a new United Nations

I fear that unilateralism may destroy the United Nations, if current events are anything to go by. Then I remind myself that it was Woodrow Wilson, an American president, who pushed for the creation of the League of Nations, and another American, Franklin D Roosevelt, who was instrumental in creating the United Nations, in cooperation with Winston Churchill.

There is no reason why in the next 10 or 20 years there may not be another leader in the United States who will continue the mission that began with Wilson and Roosevelt.

But this is the optimistic view.

Today the UN is being marginalised by unilateralism. In the past it was marginalised by bipolarism and the Cold War. But things are changing.

Globalisation will have an impact on every sector of life and bring about a globalisation of democracy, or what I call the democratisation of international relations. We may at present have a dictatorship system to deal with the world but on a practical level this is so difficult that decentralisation is essential. And decentralisation is one of the elements of democratisation.

To a certain extent the UN plays the role of scapegoat in the world today. If there is even the perception that a dispute will be solved easily, you will find mediators, indeed many of them, because everybody wants to pretend he has played a role in solving the problem. Then there are two levels of dispute: between the parties and between the mediators.

But it can also be the case that no one is interested in the dispute because of the cost, or because people have other priorities, or because the conflict may prove very difficult to solve, and no one has either the patience or the political will to play a role. In these cases, you entrust the dispute to the UN.

But the problem is that the UN is not able to speak up. How can it defend itself by saying that a given dispute is caused by Member State A when Member State A is its boss? If it were to use diplomatic weapons, it would have to say Country A is responsible. But Country A could then retaliate by not paying its dues and thus marginalising the whole UN machinery. Unable to defend itself, the UN then becomes the scapegoat.

As for the new world order, there are two elements to consider: one is globalisation and the other is the role of the UN. Globalisation is an irreversible process. A new phenomenon, it is bringing with it new and unprecedented problems. International terrorism and the globalisation of finance are two that face us now. The lack of precedent makes the search for solutions far more difficult.

The fact that we are confronted by new problems means there is a need for a drastic change in the UN. We must prepare ourselves for the third generation of international organisations, to succeed the UN just as it succeeded the League of Nations. The third generation will not come about by changing the composition of the Security Council, or revolutionising the operation of the General Assembly, or reinforcing the Economic and Social Council. The third generation must be the result of a drastic change in the overall concept.

The change needed is to obtain the participation of non-state actors in international affairs. We will not be able to solve certain problems without the participation of, let us say, big cities, or NGOs, or multinational corporations. How they will participate, what power they will have, how will they coexist with nation states, which will continue to be the main actors in international relations? These are the problems of tomorrow.

It may take years of hard work. It takes a generation to adopt a new concept or idea. It took 200 years to put an end to slavery. It took half a century to put an end to colonialism. Even the Charter of the UN was based on maintaining colonialism through the system of trusteeship.

It took three decades to accept that we have a problem with the environment and to adopt the new concept of sustainable development — and even then we saw the failure of the Kyoto Protocol. So perhaps this is the beginning of a process of change, and it will take 20 or 30 years until this change is integrated into the system. — Inter Press Service

  • Boutros Boutros-Ghali was secretary general of the United Nations from 1991 to 1995

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