IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Reforming the United Nations

As you might know, the United Nations was created to “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”. However, at the same time it is based on the sovereign equality of states. Therefore, it is not clear the organization can really achieve its prime objective as currently designed. As the Charter explains, the Security Council has responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, but the five permanent members of the Council (do you know who they are?) have what is popularly known as the “veto”, so no decisions can be taken against their will. This was probably a good idea in some ways, because it would be hard to imagine any Security Council “peace enforcement” action being very effective against the United States, Russia or China and even against either Britain or France (though that might not be totally impossible).

However, today, after decolonization, the end of the Cold War and many other important events, the whole Charter has definitely started to show its age (there are actually references to “enemy powers”), and reform has been talked about more and more. Here is the official U.N. page of the subject. If you scroll to the bottom of the page, you will see that the list of areas needing reform is quite long, and, to say the least, very challenging.

The Global Policy Forum‘s page on this subject starts with: “The UN needs reform. On that everyone agrees. But there is sharp disagreement on what kind of reform is needed and for what purpose.” And there lies the “rub”. As Roland Robertson the sociologist (and one of the first people to write about globalization, btw) once said, the world is united but not integrated. It seems to me making a more relevant and (at least to some degree) more powerful global organization is essential to really guarantee international peace and security and to have any chance at all of saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war.

However, there is still much work to be done to bring this about. As I have said before, I think one important part of a solution to this problem lies in education. Currently, students graduate from high school with only a minimal understanding of what the U.N. is, how it works, and what needs to be done to make it more effective; and few really acquire the values and perspective necessary to function as responsible world citizens. An alternative is the evolving field of Peace Education, and many organizations and institutes are working on curricula that highlight issues related to world order as well as conflict resolution skills. We’ll get back to peace education, but in the meantime here is a U.N. site that lays out a rudimentary curriculum. Did you learn that in school? I don’t remember that I did.


October 21, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,


  1. i completely agree about the need to reform the UN security council

    from what i remember there are 5 permanent seats and like 6 or 7? rotating seats (2 year terms) that number might be wrong, but the point is, how can you expect such a stratified power structure to produce results that the world will be happy with?

    the security council is essentially like if 2 parents and there two children formed a house council. everyone got a vote, but if either of the parents voted no, than that’s it. too bad even if the other three said yes…

    unfortunately given the interconnectedness of these nations economies, i cannot see any of them making meaningful reform of the structure..

    Comment by douglaskev | October 26, 2008 | Reply

  2. You are correct. The structure is cumbersome and inequitable. In fact, it was conceived as a mix of the 19th century Concert of Power, and some vague conception of authoritative world organization. The people who created it were, after all, not so very advanced in their thinking. This is another reason why reform is important. That, however, doesn’t make it any easier for those who have “privilege” in the current system to give that privilege up.

    Comment by igbarb19 | October 26, 2008 | Reply

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