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UN Reform, The Proposed G-20 and Effective Multilateralism


by Brian Risman, Publisher and Founder, The Law Journal UK and Consultant in International Law


The UN just issued its report on reforming the organisation. Yet the reform initiative falls short, creating the need for key nations to take, through a G-20,  the initiative to deal with the world's problems.


On 2 December 2004, the United Nations issued the document “A more secure world: our shared responsibility; Report of the high-level panel on threats, challenges and change”. This document was prepared in response to the perception in many quarters that the United Nations was no longer effective in meeting its mandate.


Many neo-conservatives in the United States have attacked the UN as being irrelevant at best; but the feeling that the UN is impotent comes as well from very different quarters – for example, the UN (at the behest of the United States) conveniently ignored the genocide in Rwanda. As well, the UN, in blindly passing yearly resolutions automatically condemning Israel while ignoring or paying scant attention to Palestinian and Arab transgressions, did little to further the cause of peace as an ‘honest broker’. Indeed, this year many UN-supporting progressive countries have started to vote against these biased knee-jerk resolutions because of their destructive nature and effect on peace.


The UN is also hampered by the assumption that the power to deal with the world’s problems lies with the independent states on this planet. The hard reality is that many trans-national and multi-national corporations are far more powerful than most of the states in the UN. Yet this document ignores these corporations.


Another problem, particularly since 9-11, is that many high-minded UN initiatives, such as disarmament, are not being adhered to because of the new level of threat in the world. It is not just the United States seeing threats; most countries – even western progressive states – are quietly increasing security and armaments due to the growing threat of terrorism. Some countries have even pointedly stated that if the security situation worsens, they are quite capable of creating nuclear weapons.


A school of thought – which includes the UN – states the cause of terrorism is poverty. Yet the 9-11 hijackers were all extremely rich, particularly the ringleader, Osama Bin Laden. Clearly, poverty did not drive these murderers. What did? A religious ideology that offers no quarter to others caused these hideous acts. Now that is not to say there are not moderate influences; but Bin Laden has become an icon to a growing extremist movement. We see signs of this extremist religious ideology right in Europe, with the killing of a Dutch filmmaker from the famous Van Gogh family. Since that killing, Europe has moved from tolerance and diversity to a view that this extremist ideology must be rooted out.


The above comments are not aimed to justify any actions by countries, groups or individuals. They are aimed to show that we are in an environment heading increasingly to world theological and ideological conflict.


Yet this UN document, which aims to restore the credibility of the UN, in fact reduces the UN to complete irrelevance. Many pages, for example, note  many of the points above – and that due to these threats, many countries are not adhering to the terms of, for example, the Nuclear Disarmament Treaties. Yet all the UN can say is that everyone should start adhering to these agreements.


If there are problems causing international agreements to be ignored, wouldn’t it make sense to address these problems? Does it make any sense for the UN to avoid the issue by wishing threatened countries adhere to agreements that at best are ineffectual – and at worst, are now a threat to the survival of those very countries that supported these initiatives?


Is it any wonder the UN is ineffectual and irrelevant?


The UN document is correct when it states that initiatives must be multilateral in nature. The UN also rightly states that unilateralist actions can lead to chaos. We see the perfect example of this chaos in Iraq.


Yet how can countries avoid taking unilateralist actions when they see the UN is increasingly useless in meeting threats?


Many countries, accordingly, have called for an effective multilateralism – and indeed, so does this UN document.


Effective multilateralism was defined recently by President George W. Bush of the United States as not just process, but more importantly – results. Whatever your views are about Mr. Bush, he is not wrong when he states that no approach is effective unless it produces results.


That is what the United Nations should have done in this document – reformed the organisation in order to ensure effective resolution and results to problems. Instead, the United Nations opted to identify problems as they see it, but then failed to offer solutions other than to slap the wrists of countries no longer willing to adhere to now-irrelevant agreements.


The problem is that the United Nations is, for political reasons, unwilling to acknowledge the real problems. Yet many countries, and now increasingly Europe, are now demanding effective action to deal with these threats.


The net result of the deliberate myopia of the United Nations is that the old world of alliances will return, turning the United Nations into a meaningless debating society sidelined from any real involvement in world affairs.

A world of alliances led to hundreds of years of war. The ideal of the United Nations presented the possibility of world peace and order after the most destructive war in history, World War 2.  While alliances still existed – and exist – the battles in the post-WW2 era were fought at the United Nations, and far less on the battlefields.


There is another tragedy growing – that of the disintegration of many states due to poverty, disease, civil war, and corruption. The UN document acknowledges these threats, but simply chastises developed countries for not doing enough. Maybe – just maybe – these disintegrating states need to be examined as to why there is so much killing, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and starvation.  Yet aid agencies spend a large part of their worldwide contributions bribing warlords and street gangs to allow aid to reach the needy. These aid agencies are always aiding the victims of ‘the (latest) civil war’ – yet no one tries to fix the problem of these constant civil wars.  Feeding the victims only perpetuates the injustices causing the hunger – the corrupt governments, warlords and gangs need to be dealt with first. That will give the aid agencies a fighting chance to stop the hunger.


We know that injustices are committed by developed countries in their dealings with developing countries. Many treaties, for example the TRIPS Intellectual Property agreement, are heavily stacked in favour of the United States. These wrongs, however, pale before the wholesale slaughter of different tribal groups. It pales before the corruption and extortion preventing those who need the help from receiving it.


Many say 9-11 was terrible, ‘but’ there was a reason for it. There is always a ‘but’. There is no justification for wholesale slaughter of innocents, whether in the World Trade Centre in New York, or in Bosnia or Rwanda. An American or British soldier or civilian hostage being killed has no justification.  Children dying of hunger has no justification.


Until the ‘but’ is removed – and until an effective multilateral world or regional body, whether the UN or otherwise, deals with these problems and injustices – there will be no effective solution.


The UN document is correct in stating that multilateralism is the only way – for example, we all face environmental degradation and super bug pandemics. Yet unfortunately, due to politics, the UN’s solutions are more of the same. Unless there is reform at the UN, that body will only offer in-effective multilateralism.


Unfortunately, the prospects for reforming the UN are unlikely given two-thirds of the members and all the Security Council veto-holding countries must approve any changes. Reform has been proposed before, with little success.


Maybe the best approach for dealing with the problems is the aforementioned alliances – but not the slaughtering groupings of nations that have bloodied history. Rather, alliances such as the proposed G-20 of the key countries in the world, which would aim to deal with these problems, threats, and crises – that may be the most effective approach.


What we as a world need is creative thinking – getting results via effective multilateralism – and if a world body cannot achieve these goals, then a positive alliance for the world may be the answer.


Your thoughts? 
For previous Articles, please click to visit our Archive.  


Brian Risman, Publisher and Founder, The Law Journal UK and Consultant in International Law


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