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Research Report

The Future of the United Nations: Understanding the Past to Chart a Way Forward

Joshua Muravchik
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2005
Pages: 180
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-6)

    After sixty years, the United Nations, as we know it, is a failure. It stands as a monument to naïve American idealism. American idealism has done some great things for the world: It spurred the end of colonialism, the rise of human rights, and the spread of democracy. But it has sometimes gone off the rails, as in 1928, when the United States foisted on the world the Pact of Paris that “outlawed” war. Or in 1945, when the United States persuaded the other nations that the way “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” as the preamble...

  2. (pp. 7-16)

    The anguished relations between the United States and the United Nations are ironic because the UN is largely an American invention, as was the very idea of a universal organization of states. Around the beginning of the twentieth century, America passed Britain as the world’s largest economy, and the upstart nation began to emerge from its isolationist cocoon to find its place in world politics. That search has continued for over a hundred years now, with oscillations between globalism and isolationism. Meanwhile, the rest of the world has struggled to come to terms with the burgeoning American colossus. Much of...

  3. (pp. 17-72)

    How, then, sixty years after these inauspicious beginnings, does the UN stack up? First, let us consider its foremost purpose: the preservation of international peace and security. Chapter VII of the charter entrusts the Security Council with responding to “any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression” by deploying armed force “to maintain or restore international peace and security.” Toward this end, this section also establishes a “Military Staff Committee” (MSC) and requires all member states to make units of their armed forces “available to the Security Council, on its call.”

    But this entire apparatus...

  4. (pp. 73-80)

    While the UN’s failures are more numerous and easier to enumerate, the organization has some successes to its credit. As against the body’s failures in various conflict situations, its peacekeeping efforts in Namibia, Cambodia, El Salvador, Mozambique, Eastern Slavonia, and East Timor are generally regarded as having achieved their missions. These were cases of agreed transfers of authority, or where previously warring parties had reached a settlement but still felt distrust of one another. UN peacekeepers were not there to enforce agreements but to provide good offices trusted by all sides, verifying to each that the other was keeping its...

  5. (pp. 81-91)

    However much it may remain a repository of hopes for a future when all men will more nearly feel toward one another as brothers, the record of the UN over its first sixty years shows more failures than successes. What is the cause of this sorry performance? Because the Cold War was such an obvious source of paralysis during the organization’s first forty-five years, analysts have rarely probed further. But the Cold War has been over since 1989, and the organization’s functioning has improved little. It is clear that other causes must be found.

    The Soviet bloc was America’s chief...

  6. (pp. 92-109)

    In November 2004, the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change presented its comprehensive plan for revising the UN, including 101 specific recommendations.¹ This was followed in March 2005 by the issuance of an even broader report by Secretary General Annan. Entitled In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security, and Human Rights for All, it embraces and amends the proposals of the High-Level Panel while also dealing with a range of economic and social issues flowing from the UN’s September 2000 Millennium Summit.²

    These two weighty documents are only the latest of many reform initiatives since Annan acceded to the post...

  7. (pp. 110-122)

    The contributions of the High-Level Panel and secretary general in defining terrorism, codifying the limitations on sovereignty, and in some other areas are valuable. But on the question at the heart of the UN’s purpose—how to keep the peace—they would lead us in the wrong direction. The errors begin with delusions about the UN’s record. The panel claims that the UN has contributed substantially to keeping the peace, but it offers few examples. It offers lists of ways in which the UN has allegedly helped—for example, it says that the secretary general has conducted diplomacy—but it...