Is the UN capable to manage global affairs?

 Ambassador Vladimir Drobnjak, Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev, and Ambassador Mohamed Khaled Khiari
Monday, September 11, 2017

On Wednesday, September 6, just two weeks shy of President Trump’s schedule to address the United Nations General Assembly, and in the face of the UN reforms proposed by Mr. Trump during the last week of August, the MacMillan Center hosted this year’s first round table of the European Studies Council’s Global Governance Series. Organized by Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev, the roundtable featured Ambassador Vladimir DrobnjakPermanent Representative of the Republic of Croatia to the United Nations and Ambassador Mohamed Khaled KhiariPermanent Representative of Tunisia to the United Nations. The UN ambassadors discussed two pertinent questions: whether the United Nations is able to manage global affairs and why reforms of the UN are needed. Ambassador Drobnjak is a co-chair of the working group in revitalization of the General Assembly; and Ambassador Khiari is a co-chair of the working group for the Security Council reform, “indeed, the most, challenging and problematic job.” Given the speakers’ valuable experience in driving the reform process in the different bodies of the United Nations, Amb. Sergeyev invited them to share their thoughts on the matter of the reform of the United Nations.

Opening the session, Ambassador Drobnjak proceeded by addressing the very heart of the matter—whether the United Nations is capable of managing global affairs. “My shortest answer [to this question] would be ‘yes,’ but it has to reform constantly and reform is not a single act, but a constant evolution,” stated Amb. Drobnjak. Looking back at the time of establishment of the UN and posing the question about the proof of the organization’s worthiness, Amb. Drobnjak pointed out, that the answer depends upon the definition of the United Nations primary goals. According to him, if the primary goal is limited to just the maintenance of international peace and security, then one can say, that the UN has fallen short of expectations on more than one occasion. “But when we take the United Nations global role in all its aspects, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the UN has been remarkably successful.”

The intergovernmental nature of this 193-member-state organization means that there are many moving pieces—pieces that interact by helping each other and sometimes by blocking each other. “But there is one immovable piece, which has been in place since the day one and it is the five members of the Security Council, the frame for any reform in the organization,” shared Amb. Drobnjak. The General Assembly and the Security Council are the two most important parts of the UN machinery. The paradox lies in the fact that these parts are as much in competition as they are in cooperation. The United Nations General Assembly, with its universal membership and one-member-state/one-vote rule, is the most democratic body in the world. On the other hand, the Security Council, with its veto power, is the least democratic body of the international order. “And put together they comprise the heart and soul of the United Nations.”

According to Amb. Drobnjak, the Security Council­–as the most spoken about body of the UN–is often taken as the main point of departure when evaluating the efficiency of the UN. Although not perfect, the Council has more than once played a decisive role in stopping wars, authorizing the use of force, and peacekeeping missions. Amb. Drobnjak took the Syrian conflict as an example of evaluation of the Council’s efficiency. “The war is still going on,” he stated, “but on the other hand, the UN has played an irreplaceable role in providing humanitarian assistance and helping refugees.” According to him, it means that: “a) the UN is more than the Security Council and b) while far from being perfect, the Security Council is still a crucial part of the international peace and security mission.”

Thus, he added, when evaluating the UN, the peace-and-security approach needs to be abandoned; instead, the three-pillar approach needs to be embraced because the UN rests on such three pillars as peace and security, development, and human rights. Amb. Drobnjak emphasized that the UN is a very complex system and it has evolved significantly since 1945. “Yes, it still is incapable of solving all the problems in the world; but it is solving more problems than it is given credit for,” he stated.

Offering his remarks, Amb. Khiari also spoke about the necessity of reforming the UN. He emphasized that despite the fact that the UN was created to prevent a third world war and not to deal with global affairs, today the UN is looked at in the context of current political landscape and security challenges. Amb. Khiari, too, is of the opinion the UN needs to be reformed–to be made capable to deal with issues that have direct peace and security implications, such as asymmetrical warfare, migrant and refugee crisis, and xenophobia. He pointed out that no significant UN reform is possible without the Security Council. The Security Council is the only international body that has the legal right to authorize an armed force against a nation state or non-state actors; it is the single international body vested with power to adopt resolutions binding on all UN member states. “And this is why the Security Council should be representative, responsive, effective, and efficient,” said Amb. Khiari.

While Security Council reform has been on the agenda of the general assembly for many years, Amb. Khiari noted that long-standing differences in perception of the nature of the needed reform have prevented the negotiations from coming to any fruitful results. Amb. Khiari’s believes that the questions that need to be addressed are category of membership (permanent or non-permanent), veto power, original representation, size of enlargement, and, the most challenging one, the question of the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly.

Amb. Khiari enumerated several reasons for the stalemate in the area of the UN reform. First of all it is doubtful that the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly can be solved by reforming and renovating the Council and, second, the belief that any comprehensive reform is unlikely in a short term. “But we do not give up; the process is still going on and we are doing everything possible to bring about the change,” declared Mr. Khiari.

The roundtable concluded that the UN is far from perfect, and yet it is indispensible. In order to be efficient, the organization needs to adapt to new global realities, which in turn can be achieved through constructive revitalization of this multinational body.

Written by Kamila Orlova, 2018 MA Candidate, European and Russian Studies, Yale University.