The United Nations and Global Security – Political Science Essay
The question on whether the UN can provide adequate framework and tools in dealing with global security concerns, presents the complexity of the immense number of variables to be considered.
The United Nations have been created according to the realists’ power-politics principles and has progressively covered economic, social and environmental fields.
The recent protest at Seattle in December 1999, and in Washington D.C in April this year, showed that the potential impact of globalisation on a very wide range of contemporary social, political, cultural and economic relationships. It represents an issue of considerable importance to the conduct of the international system and the UN, addressing a sustainable human development and the promotion and protection of international human rights.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, more than 90 armed-conflicts took place in more than 60 countries, involving more than 60 governments. This means that a third of the States members of the United Nations have been involved in a war in the last ten years.
In Rwanda and in the Balkans, we have witnessed atrocities of a horrible and deadly magnitude. In many regions, the exploitation of ethnic and cultural divisions is fostering instability, strangling growth, slowing or stopping reforms and creating refugees and deaths. Even though it can be extremely difficult to identify the deepest roots of these conflicts, there are a series of trends and common points that show the changing of potential threats at global level.
The United Nations have shown its limits at Decision-Making level, both with inequalities in composition of the Security Council and deficiencies in power of the General Assembly (it detains only marginal responsibility in security matters), and because of its dependence on finance provided by its members. (Countries, such as US have used the “weapon” of not paying the supposed fees as tool for influencing the Organisation.
At present days, the UN needs to be reformed, the majority of the States, if not all, agree on it. But people disagree sharply on what kind of reform is needed and for what purpose.
NGO leaders aim for a more democratic UN, with greater openness and accountability.
Delegates favour reforms that follow the realist national interests and promote national power. Idealists offer plans for a greatly expanded body that would reduce State sovereignty, whilst conservatives push for a downsized UN with sharply reduced powers .
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in its public documents reported that world-wide instability and the increased use of violence for political purposes would continue into the 21st century and these external phenomena will pose, in future, pressure on States and threats on public safety of their citizens .
In the first part of this study we will analyse the changes in structure and security matters of the international system after the end of the Cold War and the new threats the UN will be facing in the 21st century.
Once done that, we will point at the discussions for reforms of the UN in the last four years and the point 2 of the Millennium Declaration with Kofi Annan’s suggestions.
The reform process of the UN and the question on whether it can be an adequate organisation to pursue global security implies a positive approach, as the consequences of its failure will fall on the whole International community.
The post Cold war period has seen important changes in the structure of the international system: the step from an ideological bipolarity of the East-West confrontation to a no-ideological multi-polarity has brought to a decrease in importance of military alliances (crisis of identity of NATO and disappearance of the Warsaw Pact)
The end of nuclear monopoly of the five recognised powers (China, US, USSR, France, UK) has experienced a dramatic illegal spreading of nuclear components and expertise from the former Soviet Union (Bielorussia, Kazakistan, Ukraine) and from some communist countries (China, North Korea) to several different buyers (countries, terrorist groups).
Japan, United States and Europe play the role of world’s superpowers in terms of science, information technology, industry, finance and communication while there is a rise in importance of macro-regional alliances regrouped around recognised, or not recognised economic blocks (MERCOSUR, NAFTA and South Africa, Brazil, India, China). The break of the ideological cohesion of the confrontation capitalism/communism has lead to a new rise of different kinds of identity (race, religion, ethnicity), with different social structures, which, at times threaten the configuration of particular States (Yugoslavia)
The explosion within states of wars between ethnic and religious groups results particularly difficult to be addressed. For many countries, the change from interstate to intrastate conflict has increased the danger for the non-combatants. “At the beginning of the twentieth century between 85 and 90 percent of war deaths were military…At the end of the twentieth century, about three quarters of war deaths are civilians” .
“Civilians are no longer just victims of war today – they are regarded as instrument of war. Starving, terrorising, murdering, raping civilians—all that is seen as legitimate” .
Ethnic cleansing has been attempted recently in Chechnya, East Timor, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, in conditions described by the former head of Medecins sans Frontieres as “a new age of barbarism”
In addition to that, according to the Interdisciplinary Research Programme on Causes of Human Rights Violations (PIOOM) , the number of Low Intensity Conflict (between 100 and 1000 deaths per year) and Violent Political Conflicts (less than 100 deaths per year) has increased sharply during the past five years. (Respectively from 31 in 1995/96 to 77 in 1999/00 and from 44 to 151 for the same period.
Armed conflicts generally occur in the world’s poorest countries, nullifying any chance of improving the already low standards of living. The deliberated destruction of crops or the posing of landmines for strategic purposes can drive into famine (Ethiopia, Eritrea) or impossibility to cultivate vast areas or no access to clean water with the consequent spread of diseases. In some cases, governments are not strong enough to provide Law and Order within their territory to their citizens. This can provide a basis of impunity for criminal organisations dealing with drugs, children and women prostitution, expired medical drugs, (mass destruction, chemical and light) weapons smuggling, that will then influence the global market and the rich Nations.
Intra-continental power struggles can also present environment threats.
For example, nuclear and missile testing in India and Pakistan, as intensification of the dispute over Kashmir, as well as the ongoing modernisation of China’s military forces and its commitment to use force to recover Taiwan, if necessary. The political instability of a part of that region could seriously damage the whole international community.
As tensions and conflicts within States rise, the number of displaced peoples as well as political and religious refugees will also grow, bringing with it social, economic, political and, therefore, security challenges.
The globalisation of the world economy can create immense tensions both with and within states, which can pose a serious threat in a long term.
Globalisation tends to be selective, jerarchical and leave behind not only entire parts of the globe (Sub-Saharan Africa), but also regions within developed countries.
Finance sector liberalisation has opened borders to the free flow of capital (but not free flow of people, for which the visa is needed), so that an estimated $1.5 trillion in world currency markets is been moved.
However, 90% of this amount is speculative and benefit mainly the giant hedge funds and banks. These short-term capitals, as Asia found during the financial crisis of 1997, can fly out of a country in a relatively short time and with little warning. This process limits the power of states to protect neither their economy nor their currencies from international speculators. Thanks to the liberal “contribution” of Reagan and Tatcher in the past two decades, states are facing the impossibility/inability to retain control over their national policies, eroding their in fields traditionally under their direct control: welfare, education…
With a quarter of the World’s people (some 1.4 billion) in deep poverty and nearly the same number malnourished and lacking in the most basic health care, the neoliberal system is highly unstable. Currency speculation has created a series of deep crises such as Mexico 1995 and Asian Tigers 1997. The most important factor of the crisis of the modern Sovereign States comes, according to Levi , from the internal contradiction between the national dimension of the State and the internationalisation of production, which, in turn is the consequence of an evolution in the mode of production, based on scientific revolution.
The United Nations
The Preamble of the UN Charter states that the organisation is “to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples.”
Art. 55 says: “With a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations.” the United Nations shall promote “higher standard of living, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress and development” as well as ”solutions of international economic, social, health, related problems” , as well as (recently) global environmental threats.
The founder members (mainly USA, France and England) hoped to create an international structure that could avoid the problems of the League of Nations and the chaos that followed WWI. They believed that, through Keynesian policies of intervention in the world economy, they could deliver a better life-condition to people and so, improving their security .
The purposes of the organisation are declared in UN Charter and its structure consists of a Security Council of five permanent members (China, France, Russia, UK and US) and 10 non-permanent members elected for two years term, a General Assembly, a secretary general and a Secretariat, an Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice and a Trusteeship Council.
Connected to the United Nations there are several specialised agencies and bodies: Food and Agriculture Org. (FAO), International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Labour Organisation, the World Health Org (WHO) and so on.
Among them, there are also organisations, whose contribute to a better life quality of the people can be questioned: the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the WTO.
The assumptions on which the rules of WTO are based are grossly unfair. Those rules also reflect an agenda that serves only to promote dominant corporatist interests that already monopolise the arena of international trade
If one could say that the principles are agreed by all states, the practices and, at times the goals, have failed to address common threats to security through a unified action.
There has been difficulty in reaching and implementing decisions and “there has been a tendency on the part of the major powers to dominate the economic institutions as well as the Council, rendering it as an institution for the imposition of the will of the strong upon the weak, of the large over the small, and the rich over the poor”
While the developed nations have a monopoly of seven permanent and non-permanent seats in the Council of 15 members, the vast majority of developing countries have to share the seven non-permanent seats. Among 185 members of the United Nations, 79 have not served in the Council. The five permanent members along with ten rotating member states do not constitute a representative, legitimate or authoritative voice for a United Nations of 185 .
The current permanent membership comes from events that shaped the organisation five decades ago and the political and strategic basis to hold this position no longer exists. Specifically, Britain and France are no longer global powers and therefore any reform should introduce a new balance according to the international realities of today.
There are several proposals for reforms.
The first proposal consists in giving a permanent seat to Germany and Japan (which are among the biggest contributors). The second is in favour of an enlargement of the Security Council to 5 new members (Germany, Japan, and one state respectively from Africa, Asia and Latin America) without any veto power and an increase of the number of the non-permanent members.
The last proposal (presented by Italy) is based on the creation of 10 “semi-permanent” seats that would cover the main world regions.
The common point of these proposals would be to widen the composition of the Security Council to the strongest states that would, in turn, represents as well the interests of the smaller states belonging to the same region (ex. Germany and Benelux, Japan and Philippines).
The veto power also creates a sharp disagreement. The right of veto was accorded to a realist view. The main assumption was that one of the Superpowers could stop a resolution or an action (except from particular cases such as the case of one of the member being involved in a dispute) that was in contrast with its national interests, and in doing so, preventing the dispute to escalate to threat international security.
Eliminating the veto power looks impossible because any permanent member can block the proposal and, in some cases, blocking any discussion dealing with it (double veto).
The failure of the member states, especially the United States, to fulfil their duties in founding the Organisation (for several reasons, strategic, economic and political) has had a particularly severe impact on the solvency of the United Nations. This crisis has been aggravated by what appear to be a “double standards” of intervention among some of the permanent member countries. (Rwanda, Yugoslavia)
“Some critics were concerned that the concept of “humanitarian intervention” could become a cover for gratuitous interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. Others felt that it might encourage secessionist movements deliberately to provoke governments into committing gross violations of human rights in order to trigger external interventions that would aid their cause.”
However, the respect for basic Human Rights, in accordance to the principles of the UN Charter, could elevate the quality of life of all people, regardless their race, colour or religion.
Our world will be as safe as we will decide it to be
The United Nations Charter, for its character of multilateral international Treaty is unique in world affairs and can be described as a real World Constitution.
Environmental and political threats, nuclear and biological pollution, massive killings and cleansing have been seen in this century like never before.
Globalisation has incremented the inequalities with and within states, the gap between rich and poor is increasing and religious and ethnic extremism have seen a new rise.
Global diseases such as HIV are spreading all over the world, but are the poorest countries to pay most and while one part of the world is experiencing the IT era, other parts are approaching the industrial revolution.
The United Nations alone are not able to meet these challenges. They affect the entire international community, and they require that all nations sincerely act in accord to the spirit of the Charter. Without a strong and effective Organisation, the whole international community will find immeasurably more difficult to meet these challenges and the consequences will fall on the whole community.
The emergence of several new states since the creation of UN shows that the tendency is toward an ever-increasing fragmentation
“Whether the world’s peoples have such an organisation at their disposal depends ultimately, now as in the past, on the commitment of their governments to it. Now, as then, the Member States are the very foundation of the United Nations and its will can traduce in action in the right direction” .