[The United Nations at Fifty: Retrospect & Prospect]

Article excerpt

By the time it turned fifty, the United Nations had entered a critical period in the history of its peacekeeping operations and other national security affairs. Mounting criticism of its objectives and capabilities from within the organization became public. From Somalia to Rwanda and Burundi the world was shaken by a chain of momentous events after the end of the Cold War. The East-West conflict that had defined international events for decades was no more, the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict changed the traditional political dimension of the Middle East, and the former Yugoslavia was testimony to Europe's most brutal platform for ethnic cleansing. Nonetheless, profound progress has been made in reducing weapons of mass destruction insofar as Russia, the United States, South Africa, and some central European countries are concerned. And concrete steps have been taken with the extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and overwhelming approval by the United Nations General Assembly of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty to prevent further spread of nuclear weapons. But it is in the context of new conflicts that Thakur critically assesses the United Nations and, in conjunction with others, offers tangible answers to how the United Nations can meet the challenge of a balance between the desirable and the possible. A furthur addition to the growing literature in this area is Dimitris Bourantonis and Jarrod Wiener's edited The United Nations in the New Worm Order. Both books take similar and somewhat complementary approaches in their studies of the United Nations. Thakur's book is a galaxy of distinguished papers from the Thirtieth Foreign Policy School of the University of Otago, New Zealand. These papers reflect a wealth of experience and knowledge shared by foreign ministers, generals, ambassadors, and scholars. The Bourantonis and Wiener work, on the other hand, contains the views of specialists from European and one American universities. The central thesis of the two books is that the Cold War and the collapse of bipolarity has opened up new vistas and opportunities for international organizations, not least for the United Nations which in recent years has moved from the margins to become a central player in world affairs. The various chapters in the two books focus on the ability of the United Nations to sustain this new dynamism in the upcoming years. The articles in the Thakur book deal with six specific areas: evaluating the United Nations, United Nations reform, peacekeeping operations, preventive diplomacy, mediation, and development. Following an examination of trends, changes, and tensions in the global scene by the editor, an evaluation of the United Nations system is undertaken by Don McKinnon and Malcolm Templeton. An excellent account of the origins of the United Nations and the role of New Zealand, and the achievements in world organization in terms of its universality, the championing of human rights and its incorporation into international law, the welfare of colonial people, economic and social work, the advancement of development, and the codification of the Law of the Sea as part of the United Nations achievements appear in these chapters. As to failure, Templeton lists the reluctance of member-states to give up their sovereignty, the inability to maintain world peace, the increasing frequency of interstate civil wars, limited success in disarmament, and the final crisis. …