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.
In the newest issue of Courier, our editor takes on Godzilla to find out what the fictional prehistoric monster can teach us about our collective fight to solve common global problems. Keith Porter writes about the challenges that global governance faces in the future.
We also have a sobering look at the Central African Republic, a piece on India’s climate change policy, and an interview about genocide prevention. Lastly, an investigative news nonprofit takes a deep dive into Japan's controversial plutonium-reprocessing plant.
|New Video on Nuclear Security
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.
Our bimonthly newsletter looks at a Latin America network to stop mass atrocities as well as a seminar for journalists aimed at demystifying nuclear lingo. We also have a slideshow of our annual Investigation U. summer camp for students.
In the latest, you’ll find many extras—from upcoming events to multimedia resources. Sign up now
This Now Showing event-in-a-box toolkit Before the Killing Begins: The Politics of Mass Violence considers how early preventive strategies by governments and the international community should build much-needed capacities within countries, and make it harder for leaders to resort to violence. It aims to encourage discussion of how future efforts might better protect populations under threat, giving new resolve to the promise of never again. Sign Up.
The Stanley Foundation publishes policy briefs, analytical articles, and reports on a number of international issues.
|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.