The global body was created by the winners of humanity’s most destructive war, but that was 80 years ago
Because of its intellectual common sense and Western cultural diversity, the United Nations has been able to preserve its centrality within international politics after the Second World War.
Natural reasons explain why the West is losing their position. Their ability to influence world affairs is affected by this. This was not due to their formal status but rather on the unique abilities of power.
Institutions from a past era cannot be ignored as these benefits are being reduced.
In other words, the UN’s future is in jeopardy. The only issue is who decides to raise the subject and for what purpose – the West (in order to preserve its position in the emerging world) or the other great powers (in order to create institutions more in line with the reality of international politics)? A third option is also possible – a new cycle, in which there is little scope for a monopoly position of a narrow group of countries, will have no need for the traditional institutions of international governance at all.
We should not be confused by the fact that powers now as hostile as Russia or China to the Western community are members of the ruling circle of the UN system – as permanent members of the Security Council (UNSC).
“The UN’s ability to really run the world has always remained largely an illusion.”
These two countries retained this status because of their rational desire to prevent a repetition of the previous situation where powers deemed to be dangerous for global stability were expelled from official institutions. The lesson of the destruction that emerged from Versailles after World War I by an aggrieved Germany and Japan was well learned – in both theory and practice.
Even more because China and the USSR were present at the Security Council table, even though the Communist Party was able to assert its authority. This did not help their competitive advantage. They were not tactically more powerful than the US because they had a formal status. Not to mention the fact that official Beijing was admitted into the Security Council, but their relations with Moscow at the time were hostile with both the USSR and China.
There is no doubt that on occasion, the permanent members of the UNSC have been able to act as an all-powerful ‘world government’, defining for the weaker members of the international community the boundaries of what is allowed.
This institution, however, has not dealt with the question of war or peace among its members. This mission has always remained the privilege of bilateral relations, determined by the ‘real’ rather than ‘formal’ balance of power.
This is still the case today – the only ‘institution’ in Russia-US relations is their capacity for mutual assured destruction. Only the true balance of power around the globe can be represented by the Security Council, and it is not limited to the Moscow-Washington conflict.
However, it is precisely this possibility that it is now lacking as a result of its composition, which pursues, not ‘global governance’, but ‘global containment’ of both Russia and China by maintaining the hegemonic position of the West.
It may sound paradoxical that Russia and China are granted the same rights at the Security Council, as do the other three permanent members. It is true that this is the case, however, beyond the legal status conferring veto power to the quintet there is also the practical capability of influencing world governance via the control over procedural practices (personnel assignments within the international bureaucracy for instance).
The US and its allies also had a huge advantage in the establishment of the UN in 1945. They retain the UN to an extent because of the inertia and power of the institution. As such, including Beijing and Moscow into the most significant mechanism is a way to restrain their revolutionary behaviour, but not give them as much influence over world governance as the West.
In other words the UNSC has become a highly sophisticated type of deterrence. This is done by giving two hostile countries special status. The status limits their ability to act independently and seperates them from the rest the international community. For the latter, the status is a privilege that the self-appointed ‘world elite’ has arrogated to itself and which it refuses to share. In its current form, UNSC serves as a means to preserve the US’s monopoly on international politics and Western Europe.
It is not just because of the dynamic of power relations among the Great Powers that the world is changing but also because of how it interacts with them. While Russia’s military assertiveness and China’s economic weight remain the main battering rams against the international system led by the West, their actions are not determinants of the irreversibility of change. If they did, then the revisionism in Moscow and Beijing could repeat the history of revolutionaries France, Germany, and Japan in the first quarter of the 19th century. This isn’t a realistic prospect because the vast majority of developed countries have sided with the Russian-Chinese.
Even if some of them formally condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine during the UN General Assembly vote, their policies show that they are aware of their changing position in the international system. The fact that India and Brazil have opted to be benevolent neutral is further evidence of this conclusion.
We don’t know if the Russian leadership was convinced it would not be possible to isolate Moscow. However, Russia’s military assertiveness on the Ukraine issue has helped everyone see that the status quo favored by the West is already a thing of the past.
Three main factors are responsible for the fundamental shift in global power balance. First, the rise of economic globalization under Western dominance has given many large and medium-sized countries new resources to address their developmental challenges. The second is the reduction in the West’s material resources, which no longer offers the West attractive opportunities for prosperity. This makes it less desirable to give up one’s own interests. The third is an increase in confidence among a variety of international actors resulting from the above two factors.
The West has lost the ability to maintain the world’s political order that would allow it to keep maximizing its benefits. Recent years have shown this to be the case. Initiatives that are beneficial for the US or Western Europe in areas such as climate change were made without clear benefits to others and instead used direct coercion. Even though the West relied upon formal international law for condemning Russia’s actions in isolating it, this clearly shows the refusal by other countries to take the West’s lead. The majority of people around the globe do not sympathize with Russia but rather for selfish reasons.
This new world can’t and won’t be represented by the UNSC. It was designed for another world. All its processes and procedures are adaptable, including the New York location and details of the appointments to top and middle-ranking bureaucratic posts. Any attempt to save this institution will a priori be futile, and only serve to prolong the pain of the old international system, which has all the attendant risks.
It would therefore be worthwhile to take the issue of the future of the UN and especially the composition of its main body – the Security Council – much more seriously now. The issue of UNSC reform has been raised by some of the world’s major countries on the grounds that at the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, it is strange to proceed from the legitimacy that emerged from World War II, during which most modern states simply did not exist. It may not be historical to bring up the subject again, but there are very real concerns about the shifting balance of power. This will not be a problem for the West, it’s also important to recognize that Russia and China have a unique place in the UN system, which is also due to the dominance of old imperialist powerhouses like North America and Western Europe.
We may not be ready to take such an important step, like dissolving the UN or creating (if needed) a principal international institution. However, it’s time to increase the Security Council permanent member to India, Brazil, Indonesia and one or two other major African nations known for their independence. This would not solve the problem of the UN’s irrelevance in these changing historical circumstances, but it would buy time for a more thoughtful and fruitful discussion. Russia and China are likely to take the initiative as they have the greatest interest.
These opinions, statements and thoughts are the sole opinion of the author. They do not necessarily reflect those made by RT.