UN Needs To Be Reinvented To Suit The New World Order


The United Nations Day, on 24 October, marks the anniversary of the day in 1945 when the UN Charter came into force. The United Nations (UN) was founded immediately after the end of World War II. It succeeded the failed League of Nations with the aim of preventing further wars. UN’s membership has grown from 51 member states to the current 193 member states. As an intergovernmental organisation, its primary role is to maintain world peace and security by developing friendly relations among countries, achieve international cooperation and be a centre of coordination for nations on regional and global issues.However, over the past two decades, the role and position of the UN as a leading multilateral organization has come under question. Many of the member nations seek its relevance and validity in the changing world order where it has failed to effectively respond to international crises. The UN was intended to evolve over the years to keep pace with rapidly changing global realities. But what we are seeing is a world moving away from the “Liberal International Order” to a more of “Guarded Regional Disorder”. This mounting disarray is appropriately reflected upon through the statement of the head of the United Nations, who warned that the world is in “great peril,” and called for addressing divisions among major powers.

The UN tried to forge the liberal international order that inadvertently seeks to address the discourse and ambitions of “P5”—the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) comprising China, France, Russia, UK and the US. They make (and break) the rules with absolute disregard to this global member nations body. At present the Security Council doesn’t correspond to the contemporary geopolitical dynamics. This elitist high table needs to be either evolved or dissolved. In the case of the former, it must expand further to reflect upon the realities of the world by bringing in influential member states like India, Japan, Brazil, Germany, South Africa etc., to the decision making and implementing mechanism. This is precisely required for two broad reasons and logics.

Firstly, the rise of the Rest vs the rise of the West. Since the beginning of the century, we have witnessed the emergence of the “global south”—a loosely held term for the developing countries outside the developed world. This region is taking a lead on the global economic recovery and development. This economic rise has brought in a greater political confidence for these countries to have a greater say at the UN. This calls for structural changes in the functioning of the organization. No more is this issue more pressing than reforming the UNSC for a much greater, balanced and inclusive representation of the global south comprising developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. More specifically, India, Brazil and South Africa make strong contenders for the same. Hence, a reformed UN in which these regions get a sizeable representation is not just a necessity, but a priority.
Secondly, we have seen a consistent breakdown of the UN’s negotiations and mediation architecture over the past decade or so. Be it the Ukraine conflict, Sino-US rivalry, tensions in the Taiwan Strait, potential aggression by China on the Indian border, Covid pandemic, climate change etc. The UN has been at best a mute bystander and seeing the member nations responding to these challenges differently and not in unison. We saw the United States withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, which was under the aegis of UNFCCC (The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in 2017, with total disregard to international norms and consensus to which it earlier agreed in 2015. While again joining it in 2021 under Biden administration. More recently, we saw lack of consensus towards the Ukraine conflict due to veto from Russia, or China’s persistently blocking of terrorist organizations to be listed on the UN sanctions list to suit its geopolitical convenience. The UN has therefore been hijacked by many of its P5 members far too much and for too long.

Even Pope Francis has called for the need for “better multilateralism, but the UN is no longer fit for new realities”. In addition, finance serves as the foundation and an important element underpinning UN governance. This is where the considerable rise of funding from China to the UN may be one of the constraints for the latter not taking a stern stance against the former. For e.g., in the early 2000s, China’s share of the UN regular budget was around 2%, which has now ballooned to 15.25% in 2022, making it the second largest funder to the agency next only to the US.

The global agency is seeing a discord among member nations on pressing issues plaguing the world, be it poverty and socio-economic inequalities, global food security, public health crises, climate change, or be it access to and funding of green and clean technologies for low income countries, terrorism, etc. This utter dissonance reflects on the lack of negotiations, consensus building and executing mechanisms of the UN and its several bodies. As an institution that was to born to uphold the “Liberal International Order” but on the contrary the world we are seeing is more of a “Guarded Regional Disorder”.

Therefore, rather than seeking multilateralism, unintendedly it is deviating towards “multipolarism”.
The outcome is that it has merely become a “talk shop” rather than a “walk shop”. Although to be fair, the UN provides a forum and a platform for developing countries and other actors to voice their concern. However, there is a call to strengthen international cooperation in the interest of both nations and peoples, for a more peaceful and prosperous future for all. The expansion of the UNSC on the one hand while simultaneously giving greater teeth to the General Assembly members to overturn the veto power of the Security Council members has been discussed and it could be a stepping stone to reaffirm its purpose(s) and principles. The UN Day offers the opportunity to introspect upon and amplify its common agenda, discuss common problems, and find shared solutions that benefit all of humanity. The global body must reinvent itself, and for that it needs to reform its structure and functioning, thereby reflecting on the realities of the world order that is far different than when it was founded 77 years ago.
Dr Mohit Anand is Prof of International Business and Strategy at EMLYON Business School, France. Rajesh Mehta is a leading consultant and columnist working on market entry, innovation and public policy.