Reforming the UN: the European Vector

15:00 24.05.2011 • Armen Oganesyan , Editor-in-Chief, International Affairs



AMID THE CRISIS OF GLOBAL GOVERNANCE the UN invites new approaches to its role and potential. In fact, collapse of the bipolar system, the obvious inadequacy of the unipolar world and the financial and economic crisis heated up the hopes and expectations pinned on the UN reform. It has been generally agreed that the UN should be reformed yet there is no agreement on how to proceed.

The range of opinions is impressive: from skeptical to obviously enthusiastic. What else if not the UN? So far, however, its future mission remains vague.

The majority is convinced that the UN should pass decisions related to global challenges such as hunger, climate change, WMD, human rights violations, etc and act upon them.

The sustainable development issue and the financial and economic turmoil, however, create contexts which shed a different light on what the UN can and should do. The recent crisis, for example, created a fast changing environment in which countries had to move equally fast to set up a compact group able to adequately respond to the emerging challenges. The UN, however, failed to come up with impressive recommendations on how to reform the world financial and economic system.

On the other hand, one tends to agree with those who say that the ad hoc structures of the G20 type are unable to fill in the vacuum of global governance in the financial and economic sphere. On the eve of the November G20 Summit in Seoul, the contradictions had reached the boiling point of mutual claims and mistrust. Some of the American think-tanks pointed out, not without malice, that the expected concert of the nations degenerated into a cacophony of rivaling voices as the financial crisis was losing its urgency.

This is an overstatement yet we should admit that neither ad hoc nor regional structures can replace the UN as a universal and representative organization.

In the near future, however, the UN stands no chance of becoming an effective harmonizer of national economic egos amid financial and economic cataclysms.

On the whole, anybody seeking concrete results should ask whether the reformed UN will be able to fill in the vacuum of the G-zero world. There is a conventional scale of contemporary challenges which cannot be anything else but conventional because according to Russian and Christian Orthodox mentality God alone knows what is in store for mankind.

The UN as a vehicle of interests of the sovereign states should pass two survivability tests, each of them consisting of the conceptual and instrumental parts.

Depleting resources might trigger conflicts because of the self-preservation instinct deeply embedded in all nations. I was greatly surprised to hear President Obama talking about growth "in all parts of the globe" at the latest UN General Assembly session; the UN had accumulated vast statistics about the limited and depleting world resources which made the call to "economic growth for all" somehow misplaced. If resources needed to realize our ideas appeared with a wave of a wand the world will be different, but not necessarily better. British scholar Kenneth E. Boulding used to say: "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or economist." Mr. Boulding was an economist.

With persistence better employed elsewhere we refuse to admit that the positivist development model has failed, even though the traditional Russian and Greek mentality accepts this possibility. No wonder, the world community confronted with all sorts of cataclysms proved unable to offer alternative development paradigms. In fact, the crisis of the contemporary development model is responsible for all other, including financial and economic, sub-crises but not vice versa. Indeed, the sustainable development thesis is itself amazingly sustainable. While using (or abusing by frequent use) this modernist cliche we prefer not to see the obvious: the contemporary development model undermines global sus-tainability.

In fact, we have approached another stage of world development. The share of Europe, the U.S. and Canada in the world gross product shrank from 68% in 1950 to 47% in 2003 (despite the Soviet Union's economic collapse). If this trend persists, in 40 years the rest of the world will account for nearly 80% of all material values while the population ofEurope (and Russia) will be rapidly growing old and will be shrinking. According to the World Bank, by the year 2020 the middle class of the developing world will swell to 1.2 billion, an increase of 200% against 2005. The new middle class will adjust its eating and dressing habits to the Western patterns to become a well-being society with the ever increasing consumption of natural resources.

The economic and consumer boom in the developing world which inevitably parodies the "fat old tiger" is not a potential challenge but an actual challenge to the Old and New Worlds and a threat to Earth's continued existence as a human environment.

You have the right to ask me: "Do you want the UN to pass a resolution saying that the consumerism as a social and cultural pattern is doomed?" Why not? At the very least we should proceed in practical activities from the facts without stating the obvious. The fact that this lifestyle is doomed by the scarcity of natural resources will cause, or has already caused one of the most dramatic conflicts the historical limits of which are nowhere to be seen.

There is another formidable challenge. In his time Leon Trotsky, a sinister figure of the Russian revolution, hoisted the banner of "permanent revolution," an era of permanent global chaos and anarchy, a cherished dream of universal evil. The events in North Africa and the Middle East, the conflicts, crises and challenges spreading far and wide suggest that an age of permanent turbulence has come to stay. This is not an alarmist conclusion; this is reality which should not be ignored and which has already affected the security sphere.

Let me remind that in February 1945, in the Crimea Roosevelt and Stalin initiated the United Nations Organization expected to preserve the Westphalian system and its complete and unconditional respect for the states' sovereign rights. I regret to say, that after President Roosevelt death shortly before the end of World War II the UN in many respects adjusted itself to the rules and customs of the bipolar world. It managed, however, to preserve stability for at least 50 years; it kept the world away from a "hot" war. Here is an interesting assessment of the United Nations'historical role offered by Dr. Vladimir Kuznechevsky of the Russia's Institute for Strategic Studies: "Neither the Korean War, nor the Berlin and Caribbean crises, nor other similar events had shattered this model until the 1990s when the Soviet Union left the scene... The developments in Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq were triggered by the United States and the North Atlantic Alliance which acted under its guidance, not by the UN. The Westphalian system and its unquestioned respect for national state sovereignty began to crumble."

Today, the United States and its European allies demonstrate their obvious dependence on the authority of the United Nations as the most representative of international structures. This breeds optimism amid global turbulence. The coalition treated the UN mandate (related to Libya in the first place) as an indispensable legitimate justification of its actions. Unlike his predecessors (Clinton in Yugoslavia and George W. Bush in Iraq) President Obama and his Administration preferred to act within the UN framework.

At the same time, the campaign in Libya, and the anti-Iranian sanctions for that matter, revealed the fundamental weakness of the UN and its SC. It turned out that having let the genie out of the bottle in the form of sanctions, neither the UN, nor the Security Council can control their implementation. Those who implement UN sanctions have also assumed the monopoly on subjective interpretation of them as indulgencies of sorts.

The status of UN sanctions, which are, in the final analysis, the will expressed by the community of sovereign states, should be upgraded by tightening control over the implementation of the spirit and letter of these documents. No supplementary sanctions, let alone those never discussed by the United Nations, should be permitted.

It seems that Europe in the broad sense needs these measures in the first place. Our continent cannot and will not avoid its share of turbulence even though those living outside of European ecumene look at it as an island of stability in the tempestuous sea. Those who hope to find refuge behind the palisade of euro isolationism are absolutely wrong. Its protection is an illusion: no stronghold of this sort will ever guarantee stability; it will rather provoke instability on our continent. Larger Europe can and should be actively involved in reforming the UN to adjust it to the challenges and threats of our day.

In this connection, I would like to quote late Patriarch Alexy II who speaking at a PACE session in Strasbourg said: "The very concept ofhuman rights, Europe's main political idea, has developed not without some influence of Christian teaching of dignity, freedom, and moral character of human being. From the very beginning human rights developed in the context of Christian morality forming with it a kind of tandem" brimming with inexhaustible creative potential in personal and social life.


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