I thought this week would be a great slot for Carl’s topic on the relevance of the United Nations. Not only was it the organization’s 70th anniversary last week, but Monday will be the opening day of the 2015 UN conference on climate change in Paris. The conference (details here) is a big deal. Close to 200 nations will participate, with a goal of concluding the first ever binding, universal agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions to keep global climate from warming beyond a stated amount.
I will open the meeting with a brief description of what the UN’s main functions are. There are a lot of them and measuring their effectiveness is harder than it might seem. but, it’s undeniable that the UN has many, many flaws and shortcomings. Some of these were deliberately built in to limit the organization’s power and the ability of weaker nations to combine and challenge the major powers, but other problems are more self-inflicted by the UN bureaucracy and organizational culture. Still, the organization does some things well, or at least better than the nobody that would be doing them if there were no UN.
To me, the really interesting question is whether the UN is capable of adapting to the major problems facing the world in the 21st century, or whether it will grow increasingly overwhelmed and irrelevant. I have I mind a host of problems that I will list on Monday, like climate change, failed states, increasing refugee flows, new means of warfare (like cyber), emerging public health challenges, etc. I recently delivered a presentation on the prospects for better global cooperation via transnational organizations. (Gee, I hope it was more interesting than that description sounded.) I will pivot off of those remarks, but stay brief.
Here are some discussion questions I hope we can get to that I will use to guide our discussion. Also, a few links to info on what the UN does and the major criticisms of it and concerns about its future.
Discussion Questions –
- WHAT does the UN do; its major functions and activities? Formal versus informal powers. Relationship to other global govt orgs (IMF, EU, etc.)
- WHO/WHY: Whose interests does UN serve?
- Nations: Just the great powers, esp. USA? Other nations’ influence?
- Non-nations: NGOs and/or a growing “global civil society?”?
- COSTS of the UN:
- $$$: Who pays the UN bills. Is our share “fair?”
- How much control does the UN have over us? How much does it constrain U.S. freedom of action?
- BENEFITS: What does the USA get out of the UN? What does the rest of world get? What about when their interests clash?
- THE FUTURE:
- Is the world changing so as to make the UN more or less relevant?
- UN reform versus growing irrelevance.
- US POLITICS:
- Why do conservatives hate the UN so? What do they propose?
- How do progressives (inc. Obama/Clinton) view the UN’s future role?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- ABCs of the United Nations:
- Assessing the UN at 70:
- 70 years and $500B later: What has the UN achieved? Recommended.
- Foreign Affairs Magazine’s take. (free site registration req. to read.) Recommended.
- How Obama sees the role of the UN and international governance in the 21st century. I see this as the basic Democratic POV of our foreign policy future.
- Criticism of the UN:
- Reforming the UN:
- Paris: 5 things to watch for at the Paris climate summit. Or, see our mtg last month on climate.
Next Week: Who Broke Congress and what if it cannot be fixed?