What is the likely future of the UN

International security policy

Sven Bernhard Gareis

Prof. Dr. Sven Bernhard Gareis has been German Deputy Dean at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen since 2011. Since 2007 he has been teaching international politics at the Institute for Political Science at the Westphalian Wilhelms University in Münster with a focus on international organizations, German and European security policy and Chinese politics. He designed this issue and coordinated its creation. Contact: [email protected]

The UN, born out of the desire to maintain peace, is the only organization whose principles and goals are universally recognized. In addition to practically all countries in the world, it also offers international civil society a forum for cooperation and exchange. But their creative power is limited by state self-interests and claims to sovereignty.

The UN has had troops in Haiti since 2004. The stabilization mission (MINU-STAH) is supposed to guarantee security and stability and supervise the building of a new, democratically elected government. Here blue helmet soldiers from Uruguay. (& copy picture alliance / blickwinkel / Blinkcatcher)

In view of the increasingly global consequences of conflicts, economic crises, underdevelopment and environmental degradation, the UN remains an indispensable world organization, the possibilities of which, however, are insufficiently exploited by its member states.

From the Ukraine crisis and its effects on the coexistence of states and peoples, the civil wars in Syria and Libya, the spread of the so-called Islamic State, the destruction of states by terrorist groups in Somalia, Nigeria or Mali to the serious underdevelopment in many countries Africa and Asia up to the spread of infectious diseases such as avian flu, AIDS or Ebola: Even a superficial look at the security world map of 2015 shows that risks and threats in the globalized world no longer stop at national borders and that dealing with them is increasingly international Cooperation is required. The most important global forum for this is formed by the United Nations (United Nations Organization - UNO, UN) - an organization with many possibilities, but also one where opinions differ.

In the UN, 193 states have come together to keep world peace and to guarantee humane living conditions for a world population of more than 7.5 billion people. Even if you do not belong to Kosovo and Palestine for the time being and the Vatican will continue to play its traditional role as an "active non-member", the UN can be described as the only organization that can claim the universal validity of its principles and goals. Since the end of the Second World War, its charter, which is often referred to as the "world constitution", has formed the basis of a new international legal order that is not only supposed to ban war and violence from international relations. In fact, in the seven decades of its existence, the organization has been given numerous other responsibilities and functions, from safeguarding human rights to social and economic development to protecting the environment and the climate. For a long time now, it is no longer just the states, but increasingly the individual and "human security" that are the focus of their work. Against this background, advocates of the UN plead for a further strengthening of its role in international politics.

At the same time, however, the UN is also and above all a community of states that place great value on their sovereign rights and are opposed to excessive interference in their internal affairs. So they were and are not ready to give the UN its own instruments and means of power. All decisions and thus all options for action of the organization are almost entirely in the hands of the member states, especially the great powers. Their self-interests collide time and again with the collective norms and mechanisms of the UN. The political practice of the United Nations, which is based on the search for consensus or compromise between (formally) equal states, is therefore often difficult and slow. Critical voices therefore accuse the organization of helplessness and failure in the face of world problems.

What is undisputed, however, is that the UN, with all its strengths and weaknesses, is a unique institution in many respects and of considerable importance for the development of international relations. It specifies norms and values ​​on which the actions of the individual states should be based.

Basic structure of the United Nations

The heart of the United Nations is made up of its six main organs, whose composition, competences and powers are anchored in the Charter among themselves and vis-à-vis the member states: the General Assembly has all 193 members on the basis of the "one state - one vote" principle. However, resolutions of the General Assembly that go beyond the internal structure of the organization have no binding effect on the world of states.

This is different with the Security Council, the most powerful of the main organs. The five permanent members (China, France, Great Britain, Russia and the USA) and ten non-permanent members can make very far-reaching and, above all, legally binding decisions to ensure peace, which all states must comply with and implement. In addition, due to their veto right, the permanent members enjoy a special supremacy that clearly distinguishes them from the other member states.

The Economic and Social Council, which consists of 54 countries (for which the German abbreviation for Economic and Social Council, ECOSOC, has become a standard), deals with issues of economic, social and humanitarian development worldwide on behalf of the General Assembly.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is a state court that can negotiate and decide international disputes between countries. However, the parties to the dispute must agree to their case being referred to the ICJ. At the same time, the IGH makes a significant contribution to the interpretation and further development of international law with its legal opinions.

The secretariat, headed by the general secretary (since 2007 the South Korean Ban Ki-moon), is primarily an administrative body. It has no decision-making powers of its own, but acts primarily on behalf of the General Assembly and the Security Council.

Originally responsible for controlling the exercise of state trusteeship over certain territories, the Trusteeship Council ceased its work on November 1, 1994 after the last trust territory was granted independence (Palau 1994). In 2005 the member states decided to dissolve it.

Five main organs are located at the UN headquarters in New York, the ICJ has its seat in The Hague. The secretariat also has branches in Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna.

The charter also gives the main organs the opportunity to create their own subsidiary and special organs, as they have done with the UNICEF children's aid organization, the UNDP development program, the UNEP environmental program, the WFP world food program and numerous other institutions. However, the UN can also enter into cooperative relationships with other organizations or actors. It therefore maintains close connections through ECOSOC to 15 specialized organizations (e.g. the International Labor Organization ILO, the World Health Organization WHO, the Organization for Industrial Development UNIDO or the Universal Postal Union UPU) as well as to more than 3,000 non-governmental organizations.

The result is a complex system that on the one hand is difficult to coordinate, but on the other hand has repeatedly adapted flexibly to new tasks and has developed a unique set of universal competencies with which it can face the challenges of the globalized world.