Law and Society Blog

Possibilities of UN - part 2


Read part 1 here.

Elements of parliamentary democracy and the empowerment of civil society must also be more closely involved in the intergovernmental system of international cooperation, i.e. in the work of the United Nations and its specialized agencies. International non-governmental organizations - INGOs, or International Non-Governmental Organizations - as well as parallel parliamentary bodies already exist as consultative forums in many international organizations. Non-state actors such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and Medicine sans frontiers or Opus Dei may have a greater impact on events and the international community agenda than many small states.

The tempting idea is that these organizations, which complement complementary intergovernmental cooperation, should also monitor more effectively the compliance of Member States with the criteria of democracy and respect for human rights. This can and should be actively promoted, but it is not realistic to assume that cooperation in areas such as combating climate change, preventing military conflicts or managing crises could be limited to countries that meet the narrowest democratic criteria.

The UN must be universal or it have no office. The UN cannot be replaced by any competing organization of like-minded countries - democratic or sovereign. However, this does not rule out the possibility that, in terms of trade policy and economic cooperation, democratic countries could be tougher on countries that commit blatant human rights violations. However, this readiness is limited by the fact that few countries are prepared to go so far in their judgments as to participate in sanctions that would cause them and the large companies that hold them in their home country a greater financial disadvantage.

It is an open question whether the President of the United States would itself serve good purposes of strengthening democracy. This is unlikely to happen if the forum he envisages becomes, even in the slightest degree, a permanent alliance that is perceived as a competitor to the UN.

Democracy does not succeed as an export product, and especially not by sword-sending methods. A liberal democracy that respects the freedoms and rights of all citizens is best spread by example, demonstrating its ability to deliver stability, security and prosperity, as well as solutions to the great challenges of the globalization era from sustainable development and climate change to pandemics. The Nordic countries are in a particularly good and their success in a globalized world economy is based on a Nordic welfare state, the  value of which is sometimes better understood outside the Nordic countries.

Of course, issues related to high security are also central to the UN. Alongside these, there are so-called threats of large-scale security that have rightly received increasing attention. They are not the result of military use of force and cannot be resolved by military means, but they can also become sources of military conflict because of climate change, migration and growing inequality. Terrorism can be a threat, both in terms of its origin and its use of military force, but it is not primarily a threat to be combated by the use of military force. It is precisely in matters of wide-ranging security and crisis prevention that the UN is at its best.

The Secretary-General easily personifies the UN criticism and the current Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has played his part. His administrative reforms, especially the promotion of women to key positions, are praised. On the other hand, the criticism is that he is not as clear as his predecessor Ban Ki-moon was while addressing the flagrant human rights violations, especially in the case of permanent members of the Security Council.

Clearly, defending and strengthening the UN and the entire multilateral rules-based system of international cooperation is, of course, in the interests of smaller countries. However, in a world of irreversible interdependence, it is impossible to show any country - subtracting the personal power interests of the power hungry leaders - whose interests this would not be.

Much, but not exclusively, UN-led has been built on an internationally binding treaty system. The structure of the world organization itself is very similar to what it was 75 years ago. The biggest change is the almost fourfold increase in membership to the current 193 Member States.

The more or less universal agreements handled by the UN and organizations set up to monitor them from human rights to trade policy and the intervening regulation of many everyday issues such as postal services, telecommunications, protection of endangered species, the use of nuclear power and shipping, or anti-personnel landmines.

In addition, international rule-based cooperation has been taken forward in a regional framework. Most of this has been done in Europe because of the work of the European Union, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), but also largely on other continents. The nuclear superpowers, Russia and the United States, had long concluded agreements to limit nuclear weapons equipment.

This international treaty system, shaped by decades of work. The rules, which it sets, are not complete or flawless. However, improving them and acting within them is the only way in the world of irreversible interdependence to be imagined to meet the challenges of unsustainable development, climate change, migration and power politics.

This hard-built and, at best, still fragile system of rules-based cooperation has long been under serious threat. Nationalist and populist movements around the world have demanded that their countries act as they see fit and withdraw from the agreements that bind them. Thus, it is appropriate that the defence and strengthening of this rules-based multilateral order of co- operation is one of the central tasks of anyone’s foreign and security policy.