Evolution and reform in the UN

This past weekend, Wilfrid Laurier University had the privilege of hosting the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS) Annual Meeting. On the concluding day of the conference, June 4, international viewers were fortunate to have a peek into a series of webcasts broadcast from the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) as a part of the conference. The first webcast of the “Multiple Multilateralisms” duo focused on United Nations (UN) and G20 evolution, relevancy and reform.

One of the issues long-contested within the UN has been the expansion or reorganization of its outdated Security Council. According to discussant Sam Daws, an academic from the University of Oxford, an expansion of the Council to better reflect the global reality would not necessarily ensure success.

“One concern about any future expansion of the council is that it would jeopardize its delicate balance of power and representation by over-representing the developing world,” Daws argued.

The system is currently criticized for its steeply titled balance of power, one which clearly favours developed countries.

Daws also acknowledged that an expansion of the Council could potentially limit the occasionally necessary decisions to involve members in military intervention.

“It’s hard to conclude that an expanded council … would either protect civilians more or decrease the likelihood of unilateral action by states outside of the council,” he contended. Due to the expense and resource commitment of military action, this may be important to consider when adding more developing nations to the Council.

Barry Carin, a CIGI senior fellow, focused his attention more on the process involved in the often ineffective UN council meetings. Displaying photographs from meetings in various countries, he said, “We have to realize that nothing really can happen at that meeting with fifty people around the table for a short period of time unless there is very extensive, highly professional preparation.”

With so many voices needing to be heard, it is possible that a greater focus for meetings may be necessary to improve effectiveness. Carin suggested meeting in smaller groups in order to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness.

CIGI senior fellow Gregory Chin seemed more optimistic about the potential of the G20 due to the potential for continual transformation through the unification of rising powers. Chin noted that the emerging group appears highly aware of their influence, as “they are conscious that by working together they can exert leverage.” He gave the examples of India and Singapore, among others, as countries that have used their increasing status to evoke change. However, in his own research, Chin has also found that the desire for reform is inconsistent.

“The question of how far and how do these rising powers want to change the system, this is still an ongoing debate,” he commented. “At times they want to work with the system and at times they want to push beyond.”

While international governance organizations are constantly subjected to doubt and criticism, the general consensus appeared that despite their many flaws, the world is better with, than without them. Discussions will undoubtedly continue for many years to come contesting similar themes of practicality, applicability and possibility, in hopes that eventually, an ideal solution will be found.