Year XXXIV, 1992, Number 2 - Page 113



The old order is gone. A new order is yet to emerge. The world finds itself at the cross roads. The order that existed since 1945 was characterized by the existence of a cold war between the two power systems led by the US and the Soviet Union. The power system led by the Soviet Union was revisionist and anti status quo. The loosely organised bipolar world provided the framework within which nearly the whole international system operated. But the end of the cold war (1988-91) and the collapse of the power system led by the Soviet Union abruptly terminated the parameters within which the old order operated.
This was a systemic change of historic proportions. Like any systemic change, it has led to gains for some and losses for other members of the system. But the contemporary international system is unprecedentedly global in terms of its membership and the extent of interdependence within it. Any assessment of the nature of the emerging world order must be based on a holistic view of the entire international system. It may be useful to begin by enumerating the key elements of change in the old order, before we consider the challenges that the world faces and the place that the United Nations occupies in the new world order.
Elements of change.
As stated earlier, the end of the cold war represents the most significant change in the old order. This welcome change, however, has created uncertainties of various kinds. The countries which belonged to power blocs have been deprived of old friends and allies whose support they can no longer take for granted. The greatest uncertainty, paradoxically, has been created for the non-aligned world. The non-aligned countries can no longer hope to rely on the support of one of the superpowers in case of the hostility of the other, either diplomatically or militarily. Each country now faces the challenge, and has the opportunity, to look for friends anywhere in the world, depending on mutuality of interests.
The second significant change is the collapse of the power system led by the Soviet Union. This meant not merely the disappearance of the second most important power system in the world, thereby emptying a vast international space in military and ideological terms, but also freeing a large number of countries in Europe and elsewhere from military domination and ideological constraints. This also meant hundreds of millions of people hitherto outside the market economy now wanting to join it, and compete with the underdeveloped world for scarce capital, technology and services.
The third change that follows from the first two is the emergence of the United States as the most dominant power of the world. The resultant situation has been described as a unipolar world.[1] This development is welcome in as much as the United States stands for the values of freedom and democracy. But it becomes unacceptable when the United States seeks to achieve its strategic objectives in the name of freedom, or appropriates and misuses global institutions towards such ends.
The fourth important change is represented by the emergence of Germany and Japan as economic power centres.[2] It is as much a paradox as a miracle that the two defeated powers which were denied military capability after World War II are now threatening the peace of their former enemies through their economic might. While the root of Germany’s international power lies mainly in its integration within the European Community, which, after the decisions of the Maastricht summit meeting, is evolving towards economic, monetary and political Union, a way has to be found to give greater responsibilities to powers whose influence in international structures is on the increase.
The fifth change in the old order has taken the form of a sharper polarization between the North and the South. In the old order, the Soviet Union was perceived to be sympathetic to the goals and aspirations of the countries of the South, even though Soviet aid was provided to these countries on a very selective basis. With the collapse of the Soviet led power system, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are driven to the West in search of massive aid, and have already given enough evidence of yielding to Western perceptions and demands on critical global issues. Their economic subservience to the West coupled with their cultural and geographic links puts the North as a whole in sharper contradiction with the South. The South, in the process, will be denied the billions of dollars of aid which will now flow to the East.
Challenges to world order.
In the light of the changing situation, some elements of which have been discussed above, we have to understand the challenges that the world faces.
The foremost challenge exists in the field of security. The world is not uniformly secure for all. Some are more secure than others. Despite the end of the cold war and dismantling of some strategic and technical weapons, the bloc mentality (e.g. NATO) has not disappeared. There is no foolproof mechanism of controlling the spread of nuclear weapons, to which a few states have unhindered access. The security of small and weak states is particularly endangered.
The second challenge exists in the field of development. Despite the great strides made in science and technology, there are shameful and humiliating discrepancies in standards of living between different parts of the world. More than one billion people in the developing world live in poverty, i.e. struggling to survive on less than $370 a year. Nearly half of these poor live in South Asia. Life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa is just 50, as against 80 in Japan. Mortality among children under 5 in South Asia exceeds 170 deaths per thousand; in Sweden it is fewer than 10. More than 110 million children in the developing world lack access even to primary education; in the industrial countries anything less than universal enrolment would be regarded as unacceptable.[3] Mozambique, a nation of 15.3 million people lives on God’s mercy with a per capita GNP of $80, while Switzerland with a population of 6.6 million enjoys the choicest of God’s blessing with a per capita GNP of $29,880.[4]
There are other challenges such as democracy and human rights, the environment, drug trafficking, terrorism, most of which are transnational in character. They flow from poverty. They contribute to insecurity among nations. They require global solutions.
More than 400 million people in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are inching towards democracy. But human rights and democracy are still denied to more than half the people of the developing world. Environmental degradation has been caused by over indulgence in the North and poverty in the South.
But the helpless South is being asked to pay a still greater price for it Drug trafficking is being controlled by feudalistic, authoritarian and militaristic regimes in the South in league with powerful mafias in the North. Terrorism also is a by-product of poverty and denial of human rights. All these are problems which admit solutions only through multilateral institutions, some at the global level and others at regional levels. We have to examine the place of the United Nations in this framework.
United Nations reforms.
Thirty-six eminent leaders and thinkers of the world were strongly echoing the aspirations of mankind when in the Stockholm Initiative on Global Security and Governance issued on April 22, 1991, they said: ‘‘The United Nation System was founded at the end of a world war when people clearly saw the need and opportunity to create a system that could guarantee international peace and security... However, the United Nations is today not strong enough to deal with the tasks that face it... The United Nations needs to be modernized, and its organization updated.”[5]
The international system of today consists of 166 countries[6] which are members of the United Nations and nearly 10 which are outside it. It comprises nearly the whole human universe with a diversity of religious, cultural and ethnic identities. If life in this universe has to be made happy for everyone, some order has to be established in it; an order that takes care of the interests of the whole and not only of certain parts. Such an order, the new world order as it may be called, can be established only if the United Nations, reformed and strengthened, is made its centrepiece. The following areas of reform demand attention as a priority.
1. Security Force. So far, enforcement action has been mandated by the United Nations Security Council on two occasions: on July 7, 1950, on the occasion of the Korean war; and on November 29, 1990, on the occasion of Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait. On both occasions, even though action was taken in the name of the United Nations, the United Nations lacked control or influence over the course of military operations. In both cases, military operations became identified with the strategic goals of the nation or nations leading the allied effort, which were different from the goals as interpreted by other members of the Security Council. This led to divisive forces within the United Nations. In both cases, the aggressor got an opportunity to identify the struggle as being with one country, the United States, rather than with the international community as a whole.[7]
The Korean and the Gulf wars may not necessarily serve as parallels for the future, unless the vital interests of a major military power are at stake. Besides, there are financial uncertainties involved in sustaining such operations. Therefore the need to put them on a durable basis. Member nations must be encouraged to sign special agreements with the Security Council in accordance with Article 43 of the Charter. The Military Staff Committee must be activated in accordance with Article 47 of the Charter. Some advance thinking must be done on training, coordination and the command structure of such a Force. Some provision must be made for putting the financial support of such a Force on a secure basis.[8]
2. International Court of Justice. It is a great pity that the International Court of Justice has not been adequately utilized for preventing conflicts. The UN General Assembly, vide its resolutions of November 17, 1989, on the Decade of International Law, adopted on the initiative of the non-aligned movement, is committed to promoting adherence to the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court. At present, not more than 40 countries have accepted this jurisdiction. In the opinion of Judge Nagendra Singh, a former President of the World Court, to ban the use of force and not to provide for obligatory settlement – preferably judicial settlement of disputes – is virtually to put the cart before the horse. It is inconsistent to outlaw war and yet maintain a system of voluntarism in the settlement of disputes.[9] World public opinion should be mobilised to demand expansion of the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court. Until then, nations in dispute must be asked to resort to the advisory opinion of the Court more often.
3. Security Council. The present Security Council was constituted in an entirely different historical context. Two of the defeated powers of that time have now become economically more powerful than some of their former victors. The membership of the United Nations has expanded from 50 to 166.[10] There are countries in it which have populations constituting nearly one-fifth of humanity but a voice in decision-making structures equal to the smallest of nations. There are members with control over 25 per cent or more of the entire world’s strategic resources such as oil.
The non-aligned countries’ ministerial meeting in Aeera on September, 1991, called for expansion of the Security Council membership. While the size of the Security Council, the criteria of its permanent membership and members’ veto power need to be reviewed, it is also necessary to expand the functions of the Security Council. The concept of security has become much wider, with the inclusion of considerations of development and the environment. The Security Council must deal with the threat to the security of mankind in its most comprehensive sense, taking into account the views of the Brandt Commission, the Olaf Palme Commission, the Brundtland Commission and the South Commission.
4. International Criminal Court. There is a debate in international legal circles and in some NGOs that it is time to constitute an International Criminal Court to prosecute individuals charged of crimes against humanity, such as genocide, torture, apartheid, drug offences, trafficking in women and children, piracy, aircraft hijacking, hostage taking, etc. But world-wide official thinking in this respect is far behind enlightened nonofficial thinking. However, this is an important issue which deserves serious consideration in the context of building a better security regime.
5. Peoples’ Chamber. A large number of NGOs over the years have raised the demand that a Peoples’ Chamber should be constituted as a second chamber of the UN “legislative” structure to voice the aspirations of the people of the world alongside those of the states which are represented in the General Assembly. There is considerable merit in this view in as much as states, even with democratic political systems, tend to acquire an autonomous personality which quite often works at cross purposes with people. Besides, peoples across the world have common interests which are not always reflected in the deliberations of the state-oriented General Assembly. But this question also is far from the comprehension of official thinkers at the present stage.
According to the South Commission, which submitted its report in May, 1990, the United Nations should be able to give higher priority to economic and social issues as the political and military tensions subside, reducing its responsibility in respect of international peace and security. “It must be an important aim of the South to secure for the United Nations a pivotal role in the management of the international economic system.”[11]
It is necessary that the United Nations, at a high political level, takes an overview of world economic issues and monitors developments in the international economy paying special attention to the implications which significant trends and movements have for development and the environment. For this purpose, a summit of a representative group of leaders from developed and developing countries should be convened periodically. A main objective of this summit should be to explore the interrelationships of the various components of the world economy, notably the monetary system, finance and trade, their links with international political and security matters, and their impact on the development prospects of the South.
It is necessary to bring about improvements in global economic management and decision-making by reforming the voting structure of the principal multilateral financial institutions, i.e. the IMF and the World Bank. The present rules which give effective control of these institutions to the larger contributors, i.e. the developed countries, should be reviewed and modified so as to give increased weight to the South. The weighted voting system of the recently established Common Fund for Commodities should also be examined, so that it provides for a more egalitarian distribution of voting influence and is at the same time acceptable to the international community as a whole.
The environment question was brought onto the international agenda with the submission of the Brundtland Commission’s report in 1987. This Commission defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[12]
In the last few years, the environment question has become a subject of serious academic concern, and also one in which world public opinion is actively involved. As the world is preparing for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development to be held in Brazil in 1992, a lot of thinking has been done by people concerned as to how to enhance the role of the United Nations in the protection of the environment.
The essence of this thinking is that the environmental challenge cannot be met by mere voluntary action by states acting severally. It requires a system for establishing rules binding for all, institutions and procedures to survey and control their execution, and the application of sanctions against offenders. The existing institution in this respect, i.e. the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) does not possess the power or the organs required for legislation and execution. Therefore, it is necessary to establish an autonomous organ of the United Nations, or a specialized agency to deal with protection of the environment. Such an organ should co-ordinate existing conventions, institutions and procedures, and fill the lacunae in fields where adequate institutions and procedures have not yet been developed. It should really be a system comprising of a plenary assembly, an executive council, a secretariat and an environmental court. The assembly should enact binding international regulations. It may be desirable to have a system of weighted voting to enable the big powers to join the system, but they should not have the right to veto as in the present Security Council.[13]
The increasing role of the United Nations in the governance of the world has focussed world attention on the criteria used for the appointment of the UN Secretary-General, his terms of appointment, and his authority and jurisdiction. A study conducted by Brian Urquhart and Erskine Childers, two distinguished international civil servants, with the help of the Ford Foundation and the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, points out that parochial, national, geographical, or political considerations should cease to dominate the process of appointment. If a decision is taken to make a single-term appointment for a maximum of seven years, it would do much to energize and facilitate the search for, and appointment of, candidates. The views of non-governmental organisations and committed citizens working on the planet’s major problems should also be heard on the central question of the multilateral leadership required to address those problems.[14]
While it is true that the Secretary-General functions within the realities of the existing power structures of world politics, it is also true that the Secretary-General can be instrumental in constructively modifying the existing power structures.
The financial resource base of the United Nations is precarious. It suffers from many limitations. The total budget of the United Nations is too small to meet the increasing demands in the fields of security, development and the environment. It is overly dependent on the political whims of a few big powers. The United Nations can be held to ransom if its policies do not suit the interests of those powers. If the United Nations has to be made stronger, its finances must be based on a more durable and secure basis.
The United Nations cannot be strengthened if the task is left to the governments alone. The United Nations belongs to “the Peoples”, as the opening words of the Charter say. “The Peoples” must assert themselves, for their stakes are permanent, while governments come and go.
Satish Kumar

[1] The concept is theoretically weak, although it captures the reality to a considerable extent.
[2] In 1989, the GDP of Japan ($2,818,520 million) and Federal Republic of Germany ($1,189,100 million) was next only to that of the United States ($5,156,440 million). See World Development Report, 1991, p. 209.
[3] See World Development Report, 1990, pp. 1-2.
[4] See World Development Report, 1991, pp. 204-205.
[5] See Common Responsibility in the 1990s: The Stockholm Initiative on Global Security and Governance, April 22, 1991, pp. 37-38.
[6] When this text was written (in October 1991) the number of member states had not yet reached the current level of 175.
[7] For more discussion on this subject, see Bruce Russett and James S. Sutterlin, “The UN in a New World Order”, Foreign Affairs, New York, Spring 1991, pp. 69-83.
[8] See also Stockholm Initiative, op. cit., pp. 12-13, and WAWF, A Proposal for United Nations Security Forces, Oslo, 1989.
[9] See Nagendra Singh, The Role and Record of the International Court of Justice, Martinus Nijhoff, 1989, pp. 27-28.
[10] See Note 6.
[11] See The Challenge to the South: The Report of the South Commission, Dar-es-Salaam, 1990, p. 263.
[12] See The World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, Oxford, 1987, p. 43.
[13] For detailed discussion, see A Proposal for a General UN System for Protection of Environment (by Commission of Experts of the World Association for World Federation), Oslo, 1991 (unpublished draft); see also Effective Global Environmental Protection: World Federalist Proposal to Strengthen the Role of the United Nations (by Pamela Leonard in collaboration with Walter Hoffman), WFA, Washington, 1990; and Stockholm Initiative, op. cit., p. 29.
[14] For details, see Brian Urquhart and Erskine Childers, A World in Need of Leadership: Tomorrow’s United Nations, Dag Hammrskjold Foundation, Uppsala, Sweden, 1990.

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