REPOSITIONING THE UN FOR THE CONTEMPORARY CHALLENGES OF THE 21ST CENTURY

 1.         Introduction

In this paper we intend to examine the multifaceted challenges confronting the UN as a result of global social change and how the UN has been responding to these challenges over time. We also set out to identify the core areas where the UN needs to redress current anxieties from different interests in order for its efforts to yield the desired results. The paper therefore, opens with the identification of the missing links in UN’s responses, as a background analysis to the challenges of repositioning the UN for greater productivity and delivery. 

2.         The Missing Links in UN Efforts

            The UN has since inception in 1945, been beset by a number of problems. One of this is constitutional inadequacies. Not only are some of its current activities not directly provided for in the Charter, some provisions too, gives room for double standard/multiple interpretations. For instance, the question of peacekeeping, which has become one of the outstanding areas of the UN, was not mentioned anywhere in the charter. The UN only takes cover under collective security to undertake peacekeeping. The question of reprisal to acts of terrorism too, has been a subject of serious controversy, leading to three contending views. Yet, it has become a dominant feature of the international system under the guise of self-defence.[1] The ambiguities have usually created crisis of interpretation of international law. For instance, in 1950, the action of the Security Council that recommended the use of military force against North Korea was decided in the absence of the Soviet representative, Mr. Maliki. This event generated different interpretations, with each drawing support from Article 28 of the charter.[2]
            Related to the above is the use and misuse of the power of Veto by the Security Council permanent members. The permanent members of the Security Council have always employed the power of Veto to champion their own interests. This was particularly the case during the Cold War when the power became parts of the war arsenal at the disposal of the two rival powers – USA and USSR. It however couldn’t have been different because in practical terms, the formation of the UN by the victorious allied powers was informed by the need to extend the circumference of power politics.[3] Armed with such power, the “controllers” of the UN effectively dictate the tune and space of implementing decisions. This was the case in the failure to implement the Agenda for peace as demonstrated by the case of Bosnia and nullification of the 14-1 victory of Boutrous Ghali in the Security Council election held over his second term bid.[4]
It is against this background that scholars and commentators alike speak about the autocratic nature of the UN. This is reflected in its concentration of power of Veto in five states, of which some of them, France and Britain, for example, have lost their power base of qualification in the first instance (colonies); and the exclusion of some regions of the World particularly Africa and Latin America from membership of the permanent seat of the Security Council.[5]
            The UN is also confronted with acute financial problem. In less than two decades of its existence, precisely 1961, the UN was already in deep financial crisis. As a perceptive commentator puts it:-

In recent years the United Nations has been pursuing a precarious policy of financial brinkmanship. The gap between total liabilities and cash on hand reached $111,700,000 by the end of 1961. Three years later the UN had $8million in hand; no budget could be formally adopted because the General Assembly had been rendered almost imperative over the constitutional issues of the obligations of member states to contribute an assessed share of the costs of peace keeping operations; and several member states owed nearly $150million on their assessment for the 1963 and 1964 regular budget …..[6]

Several decades afterward, the UN has not been able to rise over its financial predicaments especially in terms of membership dues. For instance, by mid-summer of 1992, the total cash reserves of the UN were $380million and UN monthly operating costs were $310 million. At the same time, UN members owned $848 million to the regular UN budget and $1.2billion for peacekeeping operations. Of all the debtor nations, the US was the chief, with arrears of $517million. Of the 159 members of the UN then, only 67 had fully paid all their assessments.[7]
            The problem has been complicated by the phenomenon of corruption among the UN personnel. No further evidence is as important here that the resolution 59/272 of the General Assembly of 23rd December 2004 requesting the secretary General to submit annually to it a report on measures implemented aimed at strengthening accountability in the Secretariat.[8] In response to these challenges, the Secretary General revisited the existing mechanisms of accountability and oversight and developed a set of measures based on three main pillars, namely, accountability, transparency, and ethics.[9]
            If the UN must live up to the challenges of social change, it must be able to thoroughly engage these critical issues in addition to several other important developmental programmes.


3.         Towards Repositioning the United Nations

Quite a number of important steps are pivotal to repositioning the UN for the challenges of social change. This section of the paper explores some of these challenges:


(a)        Effective Reform of the United Nations

Today, the United Nations has existed for six decades. This period is definitely long enough for a comprehensive self-assessment and reform agenda, where appropriate. It will seem that this reality is fast dawning on the UN, following the series of reform proposal emanating from the Organization. During the Secretary Generalship of Boutrous Ghali (1992-96), these proposals for reform includes: Agenda for peace; Agenda for Development; and Agenda for Democratization. While these were implemented in part, the agenda for the democratization of the UN was totally rebuffed by the Super Powers particularly the United States.
Today, the demand for the reform of the UN has ever remains very potent. One particular area of reform concern has to do with the Security Council. The argument is that the Security Council as presently constituted, does not reflect the reality of today’s world, but that of 1945 into which the Organization was born. For one, it is said not to be representative enough especially in terms of distribution of power of Veto. Two, African countries constitute more than one-third of the UN and should therefore be accommodated on a permanent basis into the council. It is also argued that some African states have been very active and up to date in their UN obligations (peacekeeping operations, remission of dues regularly) and are no new comers to the Council having served in a non-permanent basis.[10]
While this demand is beginning to be appreciated by the UN, it has however not seen the light of the day. Of importance however is the fact that the UN Secretary General has tabled two proposals. The first (Options A) seeks to expand the composition of the Council to 24 members. This will include six new permanent seats to be distributed thus: two each for Africa and Asia while Europe and Latin America will have one each. This is in addition to another three non-permanent seats, which will bring the total membership to twenty-four. The second option (Option B) seeks to expand only the non-permanent category by creating new rotational non-permanent two-year seats, which will be divided among the continents of Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, each having only two seats. This will give a total of twenty-four seats for the Security Council.[11]
In response to this development, affected regions have been striving to take good advantage of the reform proposal. Africa, for example, has already opted for option A and preparing to choose the countries that will occupy the two permanent seats. While these reform measures are welcome, relief efforts should be made to implement them as soon as possible. This will help to democratize the UN by making it fairly representative of its components. A totally democratized UN will certainly enhance credibility of the UN itself and give room for a balance in the distribution of Veto power.
As a matter of urgency, other capacity-building reform measures are desirable. Such measures include a revision and review of the UN Charter to remove/amend all ambiguous provisions that permit double standards. Reform should also be geared towards enhancing the capacity of the UN to respond promptly and rapidly too, to threats to international peace and security. This may call for the establishment of a UN standing force that is well equipped, trained and funded so as to be able to respond to crisis anytime and anywhere. It is on record that the genocide committed in Rwanda could have been averted if the UN had responded rapidly enough.[12] The ongoing concern to tackle corruption in the Secretariat is crucial and should be sustained through accountability, transparency and ethnical values.


(b)        Strengthening Democratic Values

            It is a welcome relief that through the effort of the United Nations and other democratization forces, the democratization third-wave has swept across the whole world. However, the challenges of democratic consolidation, that is the entrenchment of democratic political culture and citizenship receptive to democratic ideals and values, is a much more daunting task.[13] It requires the strengthening of democratic ideals such that democracy can no longer be truncated, eroded or reversed. In this regard, the UN has a major role to play in preventing democratic erosion especially in transitional democracies where democratic roots are still very shallow. This can be done in the form of professional / technical assistance in the form of election monitoring as well as financial assistance and assistance towards the Fight Against Corruption and Poverty.


(c)        External Debt Relief

          One major factor that underscores the under-development of the Third World and attendant poverty is the question of debt crisis. Most developing countries groan under an excruciating debt burden that gulps scarce resources in the form of debt servicing. In this regard, the UN should be able to be of significant assistance. For one, most of the creditor nations and agencies (the Paris and London clubs, World Bank, IMF) are the principal “owners” of the UN that make things happen. The UN should therefore help to serve as a viable platform for the negotiation of the debt relief to the highly and lowly indebted nation. This will enable such countries to be able to use available meager resources for developmental purpose.


(d)        Redressing Global Inequality

The New World Order especially the International Economic Order (NIEO) is largely skewed in favour of the developed countries of Western Europe, North America and recently the South East Asian tigers.  This requires a very fundamental restructuring to redress imbalance. The globalization phenomenon has ensured the continuing marginalization of Third World Countries in world trade and the flow of international capital. It is such that as at year 2000, the developed economies of the world received 82.3 % of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflow, where north America had 24.6% and Western Europe 55.8%. For the developing countries, they had a total of 15.9%, far less than that of Western Europe and North America. The breakdown is as follow: Africa 0.6%, Asia and Pacific 9.0%.[14] The situation has not changed in any significant way today.
        Given the foregoing reality, it is crucially important for the UN to device means of balancing the high level of global inequality. One option is to encourage conscious transfer of resources in areas where there are surpluses to the needy regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America, in that order. It is also important to redress the roots of the in-equality, which can be located in the nature of the international economic system. There is need for a fundamental reform of the World Trade Organization in a way that will ensure fairness and justice to all member states.[15]


4.         Concluding Remarks

In this paper, we concentrated on the challenges of repositioning the UN so as to be able to cope effectively with global rapid social change and associated challenges. Proceeding from identifying the key problems confronting the UN to include legal constraints epitomized by ambiguities inherent in some provisions of the UN Charter, allowing for double standards, financial problem, the use and abuse of the power of veto and corruption, the paper went ahead to identify the core challenges of repositioning the UN. These include among others, the task of reforming the UN to make it reflect the reality of today’s world. In this case, there is need for a democratization of the UN, particularly the Security Council to make it reflective of the composition of the UN. There is need to also address the problems of corruption, legal constraints and so on.
Other salient issues central to repositioning the UN include the necessity if debt relief to poor countries and redressing global inequalities. These inequalities are manifested in the lopsided nature of world trade, capital flow and income between the developed and developing countries. This, the paper argues, calls for a deliberate policy design to transfer resources from the region of surplus to those of deficit in the world community.



[1] J Shola Omotola, “The US- Led Reprisals on Afghanistan: Matters Arising”, ABSSS Magnet, Vol. 8(1), 2000/2001, pp.9-10; “Cambating international terrorism; Possibilities and Limitation,” Nigerian Journal of international Affairs, vol. 29(122)
[2] See, Palmer and Perking, International Relations, Third revised Edition, (Delhi: AITBS), 2004, p.381
[3] See, Hassan A. Salin, “Nigeria and the UN: Failing New Realities,” Nigerian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 23(182), 1997, p.83
[4] See Boutrous Ghali, Unvanquished: A US –UN Saga,(New York: Random House),1998
[5] Boutrous Ghal, An Agenda for Democratization, (New York: The UN), 1996
[6] “Issues Before the Seventeenth General Assembly”, International conciliation, No 539(Sept. 1962), p.184, Quoted in Palmer and Perkins, Op. cit, p.382
[7] Boutrous Ghali, Unvanquished …….,Op. cit, p.20
[8]  Resolution 59/272 of the General Assembly of 23rd December, 2004
[9] United Nations, Measures to strengthen Accountability at the United Nations, Report of the Secretary General, (Washington, D.C: UN), 30 August, 2005
[10] See, Akinjide Osuntokun, “When service Deserve its Rewards: Nigeria and the African seat on the Security Council,” in A.B. Akinterinwa (ed) Nigeria and the UN security Council, (Ibadan: Vantage Publishes),2005
[11] Ibid, see also C. Nna-Emeka Okereke, “Nigeria and the permanent Membership of the United Nations Security council: An Apprasal,” Nigerian Forum, Vol.26 (9-10), sept/oct., 2005, p.310
[12] See, Andreas Anderson, “Democracies and UN peace keeping operations; 1990-1996”, International peacekeeping, vol.7(2)2000,pp. 1-22; Patrick A. Mc Carthy,” Building a Reliable Rapid –Reaction Capability for the United Nations,” International Peace Keeping, Vol.7(2),2000, pp.139-154; and Robert S. Barret, “Understanding the Challenges of African Democratization through Conflict Analysis,” Paper presented at the international conference on Intergroup Relation in Nigeria in the 20th century, Nasarawa State University, June 10-13, 2005
[13] For the challenges of consolidation see, Larry Diamond, Developing Democracies: Toward Consolidation, (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press), 1999; and Robert  Putnam, Making Democracy Work: Civic Transitions in Modern Italy, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press),1993, among others
[14] See IMF World Investment Report, 2002, Transitional Corporations and Export Competitiveness
[15] See J. Shola Omotola and Kenneth Enejo, “Globalization, World Trade Organisation and the Challenges of Development in Africa,” Mimco, Department of Political Science, Kogi State University, Ayangba, Oct., 2004
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