Posted by: mensab | December 28, 2007

Some Contradictions in the United Nations’ (UN) Evolution and Reforms

Has the UN lived up to the mandates and demands of its founding fathers since its birth in 1945? The first lecture in the series of Sir Marrack Goulding enumerates these mandates and demands; namely, to prevent any more wars, ensure fundamental human rights, respect treaties and international law, promote social progress and improve the quality of life, be tolerant and live together in peace, maintain international peace and security, refrain from using armed force except in the common interest, and promote the economic and social advancement of all of us. After 62 years in existence, the UN has been through crises and successes on the exercise of its mandates and fulfillment of the demands set in the Charter.

The second lecture in the series is aptly entitled, “The UN since 1945: Evolution and Reform.” At first, it talks about the failures of the UN which drew a great deal of criticisms. One example that was cited was the Democratic Republic of Congo or at that time simply “Congo.” From all sides of the conflict, the UN was the recipients of harsh and valid criticisms.

“The Belgian Government criticized the UN for not protecting its citizens; other Western countries criticized the UN for allowing some very nasty mercenaries to join the ranks of, and often lead, local militias; the supporters of the radical leader Patrice Lumumba criticized the UN for, as they put it, allowing their hero to be assassinated; the Congolese government criticized the UN for not preventing the secession of the mineral-rich province of Katanga, under the leadership of Moise Tshombe; Tshombe criticized the UN for trying to prevent his secession; the missionaries criticized the UN for the misbehaviour of its troops and what they considered to be an act of aggression; and so on.”

Despite of these criticisms and failures, the UN was able to survive and remains highly regarded. The second lecture provides two reasons why this is so; firstly, the UN had successes in other endeavors such as negotiating and bringing peace in Arab-Israel war in 1948, French-British-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956, withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola, independence of Namibia in 1990, civil wars in Central America in 1990s, and war and election in Cambodia in 1992. In all these good news, the UN had a hand. Secondly, the UN codified international laws and reminded the Member-states to respect and abide by these laws. The two reasons were made possible by the evolution and reforms of the UN through the years.

In this short paper, the said evolution and reforms of the UN are examined if they are indeed living up to the mandates and demands of the world. In order to do so, this paper looks at the UN today vis-à-vis the world today. Then, it proceeds to point out some contradictions in the said evolution concept and reforms in view of the mandates and demands of the world.

UN today

Barash (2000) states that “when considering the UN, it is important to recognize what it is not: It is not a world government, since its members retain their sovereignty” (p. 114). It is an aggregation of governments and not a government in itself. Although at times it functions as a government, it certainly lacks some of the functions and powers of a government, such as the power to tax (its funds come from contributions of Member-states), constituency since its members are governments and not the people, law-making that will be binding to all Members-states, and the “teeth” to discipline its members for violating its decisions and the Charter. Article 6 of the Charter provides a sort of disciplinary mechanism in case of persistent violations; however so far, it has not been applied to any Member-states in spite of blatant violations of the Charter by some Member-states like the US-led “coalition of the willing” when they used force to invade Iraq, a sovereign Member-state.

In the last part of the preamble of the UN Charter, it clearly presents who created this international organization.

Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.

Thus, the preamble simply affirms that the “states and governments are the only important actors” in the UN (Kennedy, 2006, p. 206). That is why it is very difficult to apply Article 6 which can mean expulsion to an important actor/s in the organization.

In the 2006 Report of the Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Mandating and Delivering: Analysis and recommendations to facilitate the review of mandates, it was one of the many initiatives for reforms in the UN under the leadership of Annan. It sought to inventory the mandates emanating from the resolutions of various bodies and councils in the UN. It identified the following problems; “burdensome reporting requirements,” “overlap between and within organs,” “an unwieldy and duplicative architecture for implementation,” and “gap between mandates and resources.” The identification of problems can be interpreted as an admission of failures. However, it is also an expression of resolve for a better UN to effectively live up to its mandates.

The UN is under a new Secretary-General in the person of Ban Ki-moon who took over early this year. In his 2007 Address to the General Assembly for its 62nd session, he recognized the need for reform because the overall theme of his speech was “A Stronger UN for a Better World.” He said that “transforming the way the UN does business – shifting our focus to emphasize results rather than bureaucratic process – will take patience, perseverance and courage.” Indeed, the challenges facing the UN are tremendous. For examples, it has to deal with Darfur crisis, Kosovo status, Iraq instability, Iran nuclear ambition, Myanmar democratization, just to name a few.

The UN website indicates that the organization has deployed 80,000 troops for peacekeeping missions, an increase from about 20,000 troops nine years ago. It also discloses that the “overall financial resources managed by the Secretariat have doubled to $18 billion.” With enormous challenges and limited resources, the UN can only do so much.

The world today

The world is getting more complex and challenging for the UN which is mandated to maintain international peace and security. Conflicts abound, human rights abuses perpetuate, poverty is widespread, climate change displaces millions of people, terrorism threatens, and among all other things that need actions from a stronger UN to better the world.

The 2004 Report of High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change describes the world’s state.

“Sixty years [since 1945], we know all too well that the biggest security threats we face now, and in the decades ahead, go far beyond States waging aggressive war. They extend to poverty, infectious disease and environmental degradation; war and violence within States; the spread and possible use of nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons; terrorism; and transnational organized crime. The threats are from non-State actors as well as States, and to human security as well as State security” (cited in ²Goulding 2007, p. 6)

In particular, the Darfur crisis remains a crisis sparingly attended. Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced and thousands die because of the conflict. Peacekeeping operations are yet to be finalized as to the composition of forces and logistics. It is very unfortunate and tragic that our world today still experiences such a horrendous situation.

Contradictions in the evolution and reform
Goulding (cited in Barash 2000) discusses about the evolution of peacekeeping from the time of Cold War. He says that “the word evolution implies a comparatively leisurely process in which, by trial and error, organisms develop more efficient ways of responding to a changing environment” (p. 115). Then he cites the sudden and significant increase in the number of troops deployed for peacekeeping missions. For him, this is not evolutionary process, rather a “forced development of peacekeeping” (p. 115).

I would agree to Sir Goulding that it is not evolution. And evolution is even not an appropriate and good word for UN in relation to the world. What I know about evolution is that the organisms change over time to adapt to and survive the hostile environment. In the surface, evolution may be the appropriate concept to describe the changes in the UN to be able to adapt to its environment. So in evolution, the environment exerts influence over an organism. For the UN, I think it should be the other way around. It should be UN that exerts influence over the world, and not the world influencing the UN. This is if the UN wants to be true to its mandate as the hope for peace.

It is often said that the only constant in this world is change. It is true that the world is rapidly changing. The UN can not simply watch the world changing and act accordingly. To be effective, reforms have to be instituted. I could imagine as it is now that the UN will always be a step or two late in action without necessary reforms. That’s why the 2004 Report of the High-level Panel advises the UN and its Security Council “to be more proactive and acquire greater credibility, legitimacy and representation” (cited in ²Goulding, 2007, p. 6). Kennedy (2006) echoes this advice and recognizes the issues of governance, democracy, representation, and voices of the people inside the UN (p. 206). For instance, the veto power of any permanent members of the SC is undemocratic. How can any of the five members take hostage of the whole world?

Will the Members-states agree on the reforms put forward to them for adoption in the UN? Will they see that these reforms are for them and international peace and security? The contradiction here is that everybody wants reforms, but when reforms have been proposed, they tend to resist them or sit on them. Reforms in the UN are still painstakingly pursued with less and discouraging results in peacekeeping and much less in peacebuilding missions.


The world is changing and so the UN too. After 62 years, the UN has acted and not acted on issues with regards to its mandates to the world. The UN should not evolve, rather it is the world that should evolve around UN. The reforms recommended by the Panel should be taken a look and considered for adoption and implementation if the UN desires to be purposeful and meaningful to the body it wants to serve.

In the nine lectures by Sir Marrack Goulding, the level of frustration and disappointment to the UN has risen dramatically in the class. I believe it is due to our high regard and faith on the promise of the UN to do what is mandated of it; that is to maintain international peace and security, among other things. Indeed, the UN remains our hope for peace in the world in spite of some contradictions in its “evolution” and reforms.


Ban Ki-moon. (2007). A Stronger UN for a Better World. An Address to the 62nd General
Assembly in New York, USA.

Barash, David. (2000). Approaches to Peace: A Reader in Peace Studies. (D. Barash,
Ed.). New York: Oxford University Press

¹Goulding, Marrack. (2007). United Nations Charter: What did the Founding Fathers
want? And how much have they got of what they wanted? First Lecture in a Lecture Series at the University for Peace, Costa Rica.

²________. (2007). The UN since 1945: Evolution and Reform. Second Lecture in a
Lecture Series at the University for Peace, Costa Rica.

Kennedy, Paul. (2006). The Parliament of Man: The United Nations and the Quest for
World Government. London: Allen Lane.

United Nations. Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the International Court of
Justice. New York



  1. Quite informative article.

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