Globalisation and global governance will go on with or without the UN. Global governance has so far reflected mainly the interests of Western societies, but the UN, a confederation of 192 states (by June 28, 2006), has the potential to make it truly global. It has the potentiality to ensure that the ideas, norms and rules, which underpin global governance, reflect the diversity of values and interests in the world. The UN needs to work out its programmes in such a way that, wherever possible, racial, gender, cultural and economic inequalities are taken into account.
At the hands of the UN, global governance has also grown as an instrument of conflict management. In this direction, the UN has undertaken over 30 peace-keeping operations since 1956 and several humanitarian interventions in 1990s. A global Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) has been administered through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 1970. Other global arms control regimes have addressed biological and chemical weapons.
There is a supra-state governance in respect of human rights, labour laws, concerning torture, racial discrimination, protection of children etc. Hardly any state now invokes the domestic jurisdiction clause of the UN Charter. Global human rights governance has brought even individuals to justice after World War II and in the 1990s.
A permanent International Court of Justice (ICJ) has been established in Rome in 2002, although its statute has not been ratified by states like China, Russia and the USA. The UN has undertaken direct administration of Bosnia, Cambodia, East Timor, Haiti, Kosovo and South West Africa (Namibia). The construction of governance institutions has not been a one-way affair.
In ‘gazing beyond the horizon’, the Deputy Secretary-General, Frechette has emphasised three broad imperatives for the UN: legitimacy; instruments and institutions; and effectiveness. These are very important factors, but they are more complex than they first appear. This is because the UN means different things to various groups. Makinda briefly looks at how realists, liberals and constructivists view the legitimacy of the UN and finally suggest that the UN ‘managers’ need to reinterpret the charter consistently.
The UN appears to straddle the borderline between realism and liberalism, and it has lasted thus long partly because it has been perceived by both realists and liberals to have been in their interest. Realists care about the legitimacy of the UN, but for them this legitimacy is derived from the UN serving as an instrument of state interests. A UN without the potentiality to serve as a device through which states use their power to pursue national interests, has little legitimacy for the realists.
There is no doubt that some organs of the UN, especially the Security Council, serve as a platform for power politics. What generally concerns Third World states is that most of the power within the UN is held by Western countries, which dominate the international system politically, economically, technologically and militarily. Western countries also have the means to promote their values and norms more effectively than the non-Western states.
That is why Samuel Huntington has argued: ‘The West in effect is using international institutions, military power and economic resources to run the world in ways that will maintain Western predominance, protect Western interests and promote Western political and economic values’. Other realist scholars have made similar claims in relation to Western states’ control of the UN and other international organisations. For example, John Mearsheimer has argued: ‘The most powerful states in the system create and shape institutions so that they can maintain their share of world power, or even increase it’.
If the UN is to remain acceptable to the majority of people around the world, it has to erase the perception that it serves as a mechanism through which the values of powerful states are imposed on the weaker ones.
If realists have been mainly interested in the exercise of power and the pursuit of national interests, liberals have been interested in the UN’s universalist and progressive character. Liberals believe the UN has put power politics under check and facilitated the collective management of global public goods.
From some liberal perspectives, the UN derives legitimacy from its inclusiveness and its potential to bring about human progress. As Ramesh Thakur has argued: ‘The greatest strength of the United Nations is that it is the only universal forum for international cooperation and management. It must continue to play a central role in establishing a normative order which strikes a balance between the competing demands of equity and political reality’.
On the issues of democratisation and participation, some liberals have argued that the UN has neglected non-state actors for too long. Hence the increasing calls for the UN to involve the ‘global civil society more deeply in global governance. There is no doubt that a good number of NGOs have achieved phenomenal success in specific issue-areas.
However, agreeing on a mechanism for their participation with the UN in global governance is likely to raise difficult questions. NGOs have the capacity to do a great deal, but they have no obligation to do anything. Voluntary organisations are not accountable, even in theory, to those whom they serve. The UN requires great ingenuity to pursue democratisation without compromising the effectiveness and universal acceptability of its action.
For constructivists, the legitimacy of the UN is derived largely from its constitutive and transformative character. The UN is both a product, and producer, of ideas, norms and state interests and identities. The world’s leading constructivist in the International Relations discipline, John Ruggie, is a senior adviser to the UN Secretary-General. Ruggie has said his transition from academia to the UN ‘went surprisingly smoothly because it quickly became apparent that creative leadership in international organisation is social constructivism in action’.
The UN has been an agent of transformation. It has generated numerous ideas on such issues as development, the environment, human rights, women’s rights and peacekeeping. In this respect, the UN has become a very important norm-setting organisation. As the interests, preferences and identities of member states are neither fixed nor exogenously given, the UN has participated, however marginally, in influencing the way they are defined and redefined.
However, there is a perception in the Third World that the UN’s transformative power has been harnessed by the West and works to the detriment of non-Western interests. If the UN were to make a difference to global governance, it would need to address more seriously the imperative for democratisation in its agencies, taking account of growing demands for transparency and popular participation.
Greater openness cannot be achieved without creative efforts to recast sovereignty. Thakur argues that the ‘partial erosion of the principle of national sovereignty is rooted today in the reality of global interdependence’, but there is a general perception that this ‘erosion’ is too slow and too minimal.
For example, in discharging their responsibilities in the human rights area, UN secretaries-general have often been constrained by the UN charter, especially Article 2(7) that prohibits intervention ‘in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state’. This part of the charter has previously been interpreted in a manner in which it has indirectly shielded dictators from the international scrutiny of their human rights records.
However, in his address to the General Assembly in September 1999, Kofi Annan had said ‘Nothing in the charter precludes a recognition that there are rights beyond borders’. This line of re-thinking should be stretched further. With the rapid changes brought about by globalisation, what was ‘essentially’ within the domestic jurisdiction of states in 1945 may not remain so in present millennium.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon the UN ‘managers’ to reinterpret the charter to reflect the new global realities. It would be a travesty of trust if the UN charter were to serve as a hindrance to the evolution of state sovereignty. The community is to reinterpret the charter consistently.
The UN has the potential to make it truly global.
It has the potentiality to ensure that the ideas, norms and rules, which underpin global governance, reflect the diversity of values and interests in the world. The UN needs to work out its programmes in such a way that, wherever possible, racial, gender, cultural and economic inequalities are taken into account.