Opinion

Article excerpt

As the twenty-first century draws nearer, we are witnessing an era where foreign policy and international relations are increasingly values-driven. The United States and other major countries from the vanguard of what amounts to a universal crusade to spread doctrines and practice of their version of good governance and democracy, in tandem with wider acceptance of liberal market economic policy as the pathway to modernization. But a profound paradox emerges here. As the world grows more democratic, so the United Nations becomes less democratic--or at least mired in ways of governance reflecting its formative period, which fails to mirror today's world and relative global influence. Realists argue there is no correlation between a more democratic world and a more democratic multilateral system, that no intrinsic linkages exist. That is an argument which rests upon the distribution of power and those that want to maintain their built-in advantage. The signs are that the fundamental logic of such an argument will be put to the test sooner, rather than later, in the century ahead.

Critical reflection drives us to the conclusion that despite urgency and obvious need, the United Nations is probably not going to be reformed in a meaningful way. Differences among Member States stemming from power-political rivalries and "ideological" antagonisms have been fundamental obstacles to United Nations reform. These differences continue today. Even as the debate between East and West lapsed into obsolescence, the debate between North and South continues, with emphasis on conflicting claims on fundamental values and perspectives. The United Nations remains a stake and a prize in the escalating debate. Every proposal for change in the Organization is assessed in light of advantages bestowed upon one or the other side, and every recommendation for reform offered by one is predictably resisted by the other. Such a situation has tended to cause political gridlock everywhere.

The developing countries of the South regard the United Nations as a place of last recourse, not having Group of Seven or Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and having to bend to the conditionalities imposed by the Bretton Woods institutions. These countries believe in the centrality of the United Nations being a universal house, where they plead their case every September at the General Assembly They have not accepted the so-called "division of labour" between the United Nations and other multilateral bodies, like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), where the World Bank is accorded primacy in finance and development, the IMF in structural adjustment and the WTO in trade and investment regimes. The United Nations is only allowed to articulate the normative description of"soft issues", such as sustainable development, population and refugees, human rights and humanitarian issues. The frailty of such a role for the United Nations is most recently evident in the outcome of the General Assembly special session three days ago, which reviewed implementation of Agenda 21 and the commitments of the Earth Summit. The outcome reflected the inability of the United Nations to grapple with failure of Governments to meet commitments and its weakness in being able to catalyse the means and resources to operationalize sustainable development. The United Nations has precious little to translate words into real action.

Enthusiasm for reform is also unevenly distributed within the United Nations itself For many of those Secretariat officials who have been busy "reforming" for the last 15 years, the possibility of genuine change is greeted with cynicism. For others in the bureaucracy, the prospect of change is threatening, and the tendency to delay or derail reform via resistance from the inside is quite real.

The one huge task accorded to the United Nations is the maintenance of international peace and security. …