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UN in 21st century: Do we need a monolithic institution?

As the post-Cold War euphoria faded, the future of the United Nations became clouded by widespread scepticism and disillusionment about its roles and capabilities. Moreover, the world organization is crippled by heavy debts and entrenched bureaucracies. Nonetheless, pessimism about the United Nations should not limit its possibilities for the future.

Thus, we are confronted by fundamental questions at this juncture. Do we need, and want, the United Nations? Can the United Nations address the challenges of a world which is so different from that of 1945? Can it answer evolving peace and security demands and sub- and trans-state challenges, which are increasingly apparent? Can an organization which was established on the basis of relations between stable states adapt to issues and problems which do not conform to this paradigm?

States and the Evolving Nature of Sovereignty

Much effort is expended in questioning whether an international system based on sovereign states will be durable in the future. As various aspects of world affairs continue to be globalized, the state system seems to be increasingly incapable of addressing certain issues and problems.

In both developing and developed regions, ethnic minorities continue to challenge the legitimacy of national governments. The conventional concept of the state does not seem to provide a solution for ethnic and irredentist conflicts. The relationship between nation and state needs critical enquiry. Another key question concerns the state's capability to govern. The most pressing issue concerns weak and failed states.

In the face of growing internal violence, ethnic strife and human rights violations, it is essential to reassess sovereignty as the basic ordering principle of the international system from both an empirical and a normative standpoint. Empirically, one could question the extent to which the invocation of sovereignty was used to prevent international action in the face of massive human rights violation. Normatively, it would have to be debated whether sovereignty entails not only states' rights but also the obligation to provide for the security and well-being of citizens. The principle of sovereignty should not prevent the international community from responding to severe human suffering.

Global Citizenship

Global citizenship focuses on the future of NGOs, the media and voluntary associations within global civil society. In a world of states - and regardless of their wishes - the global community of people has been steadily expanding and will continue to do so in the context of a global ethos. Within the UN system, non-governmental actors have played an increasingly prominent role in various areas, ranging from humanitarian assistance and human rights to the environment.

As the activities of NGOs have become more visible and important their international networks have also been growing. Yet the NGO community is far from monolithic. As a group, NGOs are immensely diverse, and their networks vary from issue to issue. One of the most pressing tasks is to investigate the nature of their networks and grasp their role and capacity as a prerequisite for understanding the relationship between NGOs and the United Nations and its Member States.

Market Forces

As the globalization and liberalization of economic activity continue to increase in pace, the role of the private sector in international affairs will expand accordingly. Although the Bretton Woods institutions are part of the UN system, they have not fully developed a symbiotic relationship with UN development agencies.

Multinational corporations have long been a primary driving force behind the accelerating trend of economic globalization. For large international companies, geography and state boundaries are no longer significant obstacles to their activities. With the advent of a truly global market place, particularly in international finance, big businesses are becoming ever more globalized and powerful. This creates implications for the economic sovereignty of governments, especially in small states. Moreover, multinational firms are advancing global interests which have also created tensions with local, national and regional business concerns. This is also true for political actors, including local and national governments. In this context, multilateral companies have emerged as important actors in the international political process in various fields, particularly trade, investment and the environment.

Regional Arrangements

Regionalism lies between state-centred multilateralism and globalism. For various reasons, regionalism has been promoted in different areas. Yet, although attempts have been made to develop regional organizations in many areas, only a few have produced desirable results. One central question concerns the compatibility of regionalism with national interests and global interests. As a halfway house between the state system and global society, regionalism has both promise and limitations. The UN Secretary-General has repeatedly called on regional organizations to share responsibility with the United Nations in a division of labour in regional conflicts and peacekeeping operations. However, regional institutions have often proved incapable of living up to his expectation because of their lack of resources and intra-regional politics.

International Organizations

If the structure of the UN system is unacceptable, what can be done to reform it? In particular, what kind of change is required to promote the United Nations as actor, arena and policy tool? The structure of the UN system was configured during the last days of World War II. Since then, the world has undergone tremendous change, while the basic structure of the world organization has remained largely intact. Clearly, the UN structure does not reflect today's international political realities, which accounts for its inability to mobilize resources effectively. Restructuring the United Nations, including an amendment of its Charter, is imperative if the organization wishes to remain a relevant actor in world politics in the twenty-first century.

Security Council: A case of flawed composition and representation or something more?

The Security Council is arguably the foremost committee within the UN when addressing crisis management and important security issues. This is bolstered by the powers invested in it, making its resolutions binding upon those required, ensuring complete compliance other than in cases where nations turn rogue and disregard the rules imposed. Even in such cases, the powers bestowed upon the council through chapters VI and VII of the charter ensure that stringent countermeasures can be enacted with a great degree of immediacy. However it is perhaps the most prominent body to be at the receiving end of scathing criticism, considering the stark polarity in its composition and the ambiguities in its mandate. Debate regarding the first aspect of criticism is singularly centred on the veto power.

 If the Security Council is to succeed as an organisation, it will have to do better to define and enforce a mandate regarding intervention, peacekeeping and use of veto in crisis situations. Proponents of a democratised UNSC have suggested doing away with the veto altogether instead of complicating the decision making process by offering more permanent seats, but the recondite article 108 is an obstruction to such endeavours. The article in lay terms suggest that a veto power may veto a resolution to get rid of the veto itself, a clever self-preserving peace of legalese which acts as a shield for wanton self-interest, which is unfortunately propagated using the security council as a shield.

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