The United Nations, arguably, is the highest achievement in global governance so far in the institutional history of mankind.
After seven decades of existence, the UN can be viewed as made up of two contrasting parts: one of which has been largely beneficial, while the other has proved to be much less so. The valuable part consists of the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and the many related UN agencies that have become indispensable to the functioning of the global order and the lives of all the world’s citizens. The promotion and protection of human rights, how we use network connectivity and internet protocols, the way in which we deal with pandemics, and how we fly from one corner of the earth to the other are all largely the fruits of the efforts of, respectively, the General Assembly and its sponsored human rights covenants, the International Telecommunication Union, the World Health Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization. These are just a few examples of what makes the UN system an integral part of our interdependent global lives.
The second, much less successful, aspect of the UN is the Security Council, charged with maintaining “international peace and security” and, under international law, the ultimate authority in respect of conflict resolution. It is also, by intention of its founders, the exclusive global organ mandated to employ coercive measures (military or non-military sanctions). However, the P5-dominated SC has failed in its mission, and failed miserably. After more than 70 years – spanning the earlier wars in Korea and Vietnam to the more recent conflicts in parts of Africa, and in Ukraine and Syria – the SC’s global security regime has witnessed hundreds of armed conflicts with tens of millions of dead, tens of millions more injured or displaced, and many trillions of dollars wasted on armaments and conflict-associated economic losses.
In resolving conflicts, the Security Council has essentially two modes of operation: intervention or inaction. On the few occasions where a member of the P5 has not wielded its veto – such as in respect of the First Gulf War in Iraq in the early 1990s, or in authorizing coercive action in Libya in 2011, essentially for regime change – to the far too frequent cases of the P5 having exercised their implied or explicit vetoes, the SC regime has largely failed. The catastrophic humanitarian situation in Syria, involving many states and non-state actors, is the latest example of such SC inaction.
This section on UN Law and Global Security, is largely concerned with not only the illusive UN reform topics but also research and policy recommendations in democratization and constitutionalization of the UN, a transformed UN, where global citizens are represented and their rights are promoted and protected.
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