Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

The Role of the United Nations in the Contemporary World

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

The Role of the United Nations in the Contemporary World

Article excerpt

It is generally accepted that the United Nations Charter of 1945 gives the United Nations (UN) a role in global governance. The UN is tasked to maintain international peace and security to use international cooperation to address global socio-economic, cultural and humanitarian issues, and to uphold respect for human rights and non-discriminatory fundamental human freedom.1 These are often referred to as the three pillars of the UN system.

How has the UN peformed this role? Preventing a third world war after 1945 has often been considered a success of the UN. On the other hand, by the end of 2016, more than 65 million people across the world have been displaced by war and violent conflict, the highest such figure since the end of the Second World War.2 It is clear that keeping in view the major transformations in the world over the past seven decades, the effectiveness of the role of the UN has varied, depending upon the resilience and responsiveness of its structures.

A Brief Background

The structures of the UN were conceptualised during the Second World War. The primary objective of the allied countries fighting against 'Hitlerism' in the War was to prevent the outbreak of another world conflict. Reconstruction and development of the socio-economic infrastructure of many countries impacted by the War became a priority.

On 1 January 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt3 of the United States (US) convened a conference of 26 'allied' nations in Washington D.C. The conference issued the 'Declaration by United Nations'. The intention of the Declaration was to create structures of global governance under the broad framework of the UN. These structures would secure, and sustain the peace that would follow the war.

The Washington conference broadened the scope of an agreement on post-war arrangements reached earlier between the US and the United Kingdom (UK) in August 1941,4 contained in the Atlantic Charter. The inclusion of the 'right of all peoples to choose the form of government under who they will live', which was the third point of the Atlantic Charter, implicitly regulated the participation of countries like India at the Washington Conference.

India, then divided between British India and Indian Princely States, was represented at the conference by Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai, I.C.S. As India's Agent-General in the United States, Bajpai signed the Declaration on behalf of India. This effectively meant that India became one of the original stakeholders of the UN system.

Sustaining post-war peace by creating a holistic triad of structures to deal with financial, developmental, and trade policies became a priority for the participants of the Washington conference. Their broad goal was to overcome economic nationalism, which had given rise to conditions leading to the Second World War, and to facilitate the flow of capital for investments in reconstruction and development, especially of infrastructure, to sustain economic growth.5

Two specialised international organisations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (or the World Bank) were established through negotiations conducted during July 1944 at Bretton Woods in the US among 44 participating nations.

Efforts to create the third international organisation to coordinate globally on trade policy issues, recommended by both the Bretton Woods Conference, and subsequently by the UN, foundered due to opposition in the Congress of the United States. A provisional arrangement, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs or GATT, was reached by 23 countries in 1947. Their intention was 'to give an early boost to trade liberalization, and to begin to correct the legacy of protectionist measures which remained in place from the early 1930s'.6

GATT's provisional arrangement was not legally enforceable. It was only on 1 January 1995 that agreement was reached on establishing a World Trade Organisation (WTO). …

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