6.6.6.1 The United Nations (UN)

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6661.htm)

Global politics have been evolving since the Second World War along collaborative lines, centred on the UN.  The UN Charter sets out its aims:

“WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS
DETERMINED

to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and

to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and

to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and

to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

AND FOR THESE ENDS

to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, and

to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and

to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and

to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS
TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS.”

In the terminology of this book, its goals span all four dimensions of governance (2.7):

  • Human rights are negotiated moral values (4.2.4), partly reinforced by legal means (5.4.7); they also provide a valuable aspect of political legitimacy (6.3.7).
  • The “economic and social advancement” requires the use of economic power to help developing countries (3.5.8), using funds transferred to the UN in the form of membership contributions.
  • Its international security role is partly legal, where Security Council Resolutions are considered to be legally binding, and partly political, where it can use its influence to act as an arbitrator. Its status as a law-giver, though, has been politicised (5.3.6.1).

Its “main organs”, listed on its website, are the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council (no longer active), the International Court of Justice, and the UN Secretariat.

It also has “many affiliated programmes, funds, and specialized agencies, all with their own membership, leadership, and budget”; several of these are referred to separately in this book: the World Bank, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for example.

The character of the UN is political: representatives of the member countries, acting on behalf of their populations, negotiate with each other to make decisions which affect all the dimensions of international governance.

Its organisational structure recognised the balance of power after the Second World War.  The Security Council was given most of the power, and the five Permanent Members (America, Britain, China, France and Russia: the P5) were each given a veto, to reflect the reality of military power.  They were each too big to be pushed around and they wouldn’t have accepted a system which would try to do that.

This structure made it possible to set up the UN, but in practice there have been problems in the way it operates – as described below (6.6.6.2).

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