How to Keep From Overselling or Underestimating the United Nations
Mark P. Lagon and David Shorr
Stanley Foundation program officer David Shorr and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Mark Lagon resist both the skeptics and boosters of the United Nations by pointing toward appropriate expectations for the world body, and other intergovernmental forums. They counter the perception of the United Nations as primarily an instrument of international law, but also stress the importance of politics and diplomacy within international organizations for the reinforcement of a rules-based order. The so-called “court of world opinion” is not actually a court. At the same time, though, the international norms that emerge from the political (and sometimes legal) process are critical to the promotion of peace, freedom, and prosperity.
The authors examine the emerging concept of the sovereignty of national governments as a responsibility and the current state of the norm of noninterference in internal affairs of UN member states. National governments are the “owners” of international organizations such as the United Nations, and their political will is the animating force of any collective action. Yet the UN Charter also promise the citizens of the world’s nations that its ideals will be felt in their day-to-day lives, and governments must be accountable for the treatment of their own people, particularly when it comes to the most severe abuses. New mechanisms and norms such as the Human Rights Council and the responsibility to protect were developed with this in mind.
Since the United Nations is a creature of its member states, their expectations for the world body effectively establish its possibilities and limits. The world’s intergovernmental bodies offer mechanisms to set agendas, agree on fundamental approaches, decide on courses of action, and implement programs to deal with the entire range of international problems. The world community needs vehicles for actions on which they can agree, but they have to muster the political will to agree in the first place. The authors pinpoint the political dysfunctions of the United Nations and offer recommendations for how they can be corrected.
This document is part of the Stanley Foundation's "Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide" series.
Director of Communications: The director of communications, a senior professional at the Stanley Foundation, is responsible for all aspects of the foundation’s external communications, from general brand to specific material production.
Program Officer, Media: The Stanley Foundation seeks a program officer to join its Policy Programming Department. The chosen candidate will work with the foundation’s leadership team and staff to plan, implement, and assess the impact of the foundation’s media programming in pursuit of our mission, vision, and organizational goals.
Policy Program Officer, Nuclear Security: The Stanley Foundation seeks a program officer to plan, implement, and assess the impact of the foundation’s nuclear security policy programming.
Policy Program Officer, Human Protection: The Stanley Foundation seeks a program officer to plan, implement, and assess the impact of the foundation’s human protection policy programming.
The latest issue of Courier features an investigation of a 2007 break-in at a South African nuclear storage facility that still unnerves many officials and experts. It also considers the architecture for climate action that needs to be built ahead of this year's global gathering in Paris. Another article looks at our annual global youth conference that brings students together to discuss global issues. Finally, two teachers share how a travel award offers unique professional development.
Our bimonthly newsletter is filled with resources to keep you up to date with our work at the Stanley Foundation. Each edition includes news about recent publications and stories as well as features our people and partners.
You will also find many extras, from upcoming events to multimedia resources. Sign up for the latest to stay engaged on key global issues.
The Stanley Foundation publishes policy briefs, analytical articles, and reports on a number of international issues. To reduce our carbon footprint and cut waste, we almost exclusively, use electronic distribution for our publications. Sign up to receive our resources via e-mail.
|Stanley Foundation Annual Conferences
The Stanley Foundation holds two annual conferences, UN Issues and the Strategy for Peace Conference. These bring together experts from the public and private sectors to meet in a distraction-free setting and candidly exchange ideas on pressing foreign policy challenges.
Divided into roundtable talks, the cutting-edge discussions are intended to inspire group consensus and shared recommendations to push forward the debate on the foundation’s key policy areas.
|Nuclear Security Video
The Stanley Foundation produced a 13-minute video looking at what needs to be done to stop terrorist groups from acquiring enough fissile material to make a bomb. The foundation talked with over a dozen diverse and distinguished experts from the Nuclear Security Governance Experts Group and the Fissile Materials Working Group to see how today's patchwork of voluntary arrangements can be forged into a long-lasting system. Watch the video.
|Watch and Learn
Stanley Foundation events, talks, video reports, and segments from our Now Showing event-in-a-box series can now be viewed on YouTube. To receive regular updates on our video posts, please subscribe today.