The Challenge facing the United Nations  
For many years the greatest challenge facing the UN was simply to be noticed.  Year in year out things happened that the Big Powers, especially the United States, did not want considered, let alone dealt with, by the U.N.  Thus the war in Vietnam, one of the most urgent and disastrous episodes in the last 50 years, was not even discussed by the Security Council. Nor was this a unique instance: many crises were ignored, either because they could not be resolved by the U.N. or because the nuclear powers wished to avoid examination of their own responsibility for particular actions.

The root of many failures of the U.N. lies in the schizophrenia exhibited in the Charter.  This gives the world political body the responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security but does so after founding the organization on the membership of sovereign states.  That is to say upon the individual power-structures which are recognised because of their right and power to wage war.  These are incompatible.  The Charter bans the use of armed force but every member bases its right to exist upon that capacity.

Equally, the Charter proclaims the right and duties of 'we the peoples' - fully democratic in theory - but in practice it gives no powers to the people or to their elected representatives.  Instead, the organization 'a trade-union of governments', is in the hands of  governments and these may be dictatorships or oligarchies.  And finally, having declared the equality of all member-states, the Charter then endows five of these, which nowadays happen to be nuclear-wielding, with additional powers.  Totally schizoid.

So, the challenge now facing the United Nations is to turn democratic theory into practice and make itself truly responsive to the needs and wishes of the people of the world.  The first of these needs is to establish the end to wars that in 1945 the Preamble to the Charter declared was the aim but which has proved the greatest political failure of the United Nations.  While the social and welfare arm, constituted by the Specialized Agencies, has often been highly successful, dealing with violence has not.  Each year some three wars have broken out and if world war has been avoided, it is hard to be sure the U.N. has had much to do with that important and positive fact.  Instead, we are still in peril of just such an outcome;  and a  world stocked with enough nuclear weapons to kill everyone and everything on the planet  a score of times over denies any suggestion of success in the ending of war.  Instead, after 50 years, we now have a system of American world government that overbears us all.  Witness the Gulf War and the decade-long bombing of Iraq.  We have a crude and ineffective world government that must be changed.  Other nations will not accept it indefinitely.

So the United Nations must democratise in order to fulfil its mandate and become consistent with its chief purpose.  The challenge is to transform the U.N. into a proper democratic system of global governance.  Fortunately, we have to hand the most important component installed since the original foundation of the U.N. itself.  With the forthcoming ratification of the International Criminal Court there will be put in place one of the essential building-blocks of a truly effective system of world governance.  It is symbolic of reluctance of the U.S. government to relinquish its self-appointed task of global policeman that the administration of George Bush has done its level best to sabotage the setting-up of the Court.

When the United Nations finally recognises its task of bringing about this new global dispensation there will be several more particular institutions to be installed and working.  One will be a way of ensuring and supervising national disarmament sufficient to make peacekeeping principally a matter of policing and not of fighting.  That will need to be completely non-national, not reliant, as at present, upon the rag-and-bobtail assemblies of contingents sent - and sometimes withdrawn - at the whim of nation-state governments.  This is not so far even seriously being attempted.

A further need will be some form of independent financing for United National purposes.  Fortunately, there is now serious discussion of one possible source of funding.  This, known as the Tobin Tax, is a proposal to take a very small bite out of the enormous sums of money transferred across frontiers daily or more often nightly between the markets and banks of the five continents.  After several years of tentative discussion, there is growing support, despite opposition, from financiers, for some such method of collecting money for international purposes.  Other further reforms will be necessary but the essential is to recognise, particularly at the present time, that our world needs law, not war, and that unless we institute a system based on law we shall have to suffer that alternative. 

The challenge facing the United Nations is how to reform itself in order to do what Europe has shown can be done, unite and end war as a means of settling

John Roberts   10/01
(retired history professor now in southern England)
NOTE -   This series of World Letters presents an individual world citizen
viewpoint that may also suit world federalists and other activists for peace and human unity. 
You are welcome to use material here for sending to others who may be  interested.    If you
have received this World Letter from a friend and would like to receive others, please request  to
< >
    Please note that two web-sites so far contain World Letters.  The World 
Citizen Foundation ( ) is planning to
put all the  200 plus World Letters on its web-site and  on
     ( ) World  News and
Vanguard Online offers an edited selection.