The role and challenges for the UN

Posted in UN | 16-Jan-04 | Author: Rado Petkov

Rado Petkov is Director of the Southeast Europe Finance Consortium and Vice President of
The role of the United Nations in maintaining international peace and stability, as its Charter directs, is under question and doubt following the U.S.-led military intervention in Iraq. Some would argue that the failure of the UN Security Council to authorize the intervention and the ensuing occupation is a sign of the UN’s irrelevance in the face of post 9/11 security threats. Others would counter that it is precisely the nature of these new security threats that requires a multilateral approach to defusing them – an approach that could be best orchestrated and implemented by the UN. All eyes seem to be focused on Iraq for vindication of either theory. On January 19th, the United Nations will hold a meeting with the Iraqi Governing Council and the U.S.-led coalition to determine the UN’s role in Iraq as the country moves to self-government.

Yet regardless of what happens in Iraq, it is clear that the UN needs to reform to face the new realities of the post-Cold War and post 9-11 world. Its most powerful body, the Security Council, was designed to balance and preserve the interests of the victorious powers in World War II and does not represent the current constellation of national interests and political realities. As a result, it is not able to act or act quickly enough to confer international legitimacy on urgent military interventions to eliminate new global security threats. The Security Council should be either reformed to make it more representative by including additional permanent members (most logical choices are Japan, Germany, Brazil, India, a Middle Eastern country (e.g. Egypt) and an African country (South Africa)) or its powers should be devolved to regional organizations under a UN umbrella.

For all its shortcomings, the UN has an unmatched potential and experience in addressing problems that if left unattended are conducive to creating an environment that generates the exact same security threats that the international community is currently fighting. The UN’s work (through an array of agencies and programs) in eliminating poverty, disease and political oppression; in supporting education, human rights and social choice; and in facilitating commerce and exchange of ideas is instrumental in creating a social fabric that does not tolerate terrorism and destruction. It is that work and the capacity to carry it out that need to be supported and enhanced.

This issue of the World Security Network looks at some immediate challenges to the UN in Iraq, addresses the hot issues in the current debate over the UN’s relevance, and analyses the fundamental viability of the United Nations as an organization built on the collective will of sovereign nations. We hope you will find it informative.