Rocked by scandal and divided by the smoldering enmities unleashed by the Iraq war, the United Nations faces its most critical hour. The secretary general and other leaders have offered their recipes for reform; in The Future of the United Nations, Joshua Muravchik argues that only far more radical reforms can salvage the UN as a useful institution.
The central cause of the UN’s failure, Muravchik says, is that it was structured as a proto world government, with the power to make “law” and enforce peace. Member states were asked to yield a measure of their independence in return for the protections that the UN would offer them. But Muravchik shows that this global “social contract” was a dead letter from the start, because the protections were illusory.
Initially, this failure was traced to the Cold War. But in more than fifteen years since the end of the Cold War, the UN has functioned little better, proving that there is a deeper flaw in its architecture.
If the world has been more peaceful since World War Two it is due to the farsighted international policies of the United States, not the peacekeeping of the UN. Today, fearful or jealous of America’s unique superpower status, some countries promote the UN as a counterweight to the United States. If they succeed, says Muravchik, the world will become a more dangerous place, especially for its most vulnerable citizens.
Instead of elevating the discredited political functions of the UN, as most other reform proposals aim to do, Muravchik offers a completely different formula for change: Boost the humanitarian work of the UN, and reemphasize its role as a place where sovereign nations can exchange ideas and form coalitions in the face of common concerns, while stripping it of the pretensions of world government.