The urgent need for fundamental reform of the United Nations, part I: The original purposes of the UN

 

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The Charter of the United Nations: Its intentions and purposes were clear, and well understood after two devastating world wars.

The United Nations can be considered the organisational ‘set-up’ of our current international order.

In a series of articles, I discuss the United Nations: Its purposes, the establishment of the United Nations and the process of social integration and expansion that preceded it, the urgent need for fundamental reform of the United Nations, and how this reform could be accomplished.

I will also explain that superficial reforms – which do not address the fundamental unbalance in the System – will cause a systemic crisis, as happened two times during the 20th Century.

Such a systemic crisis will cause a situation the United Nations is – according to its own purposes – supposed to prevent.

In the first article I discuss the purposes of the United Nations.

The purposes of the United Nations are explained in Article 1 of the United Nations Charter:

The Purposes of the United Nations are:

  1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
  2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
  3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
  4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

In the preamble of the Charter the motives for the establishment of the United Nations are explained:

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED

  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

AND FOR THESE ENDS

  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS

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.

The Charter of the United Nations was signed on 26 June 1945, in San Francisco, at the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, and came into force on 24 October 1945. The Statute of the International Court of Justice is an integral part of the Charter.

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Still on speaking terms and convinced of a common cause: Signing of the Charter of the United Nations in San Fransisco, 26 June 1945.

The United Nations was an initiative of the (then) president of the United States F.D.R. Roosevelt. The Atlantic Charter preceded the United Nations.

“The Atlantic Charter was a pivotal policy statement issued during World War II on 14 August 1941, which defined the Allied goals for the postwar world. The leaders of the United Kingdom and the United States drafted the work and all the Allies of World War II later confirmed it. The Charter stated the ideal goals of the war – no territorial aggrandizement; no territorial changes made against the wishes of the people, self-determination; restoration of self-government to those deprived of it; reduction of trade restrictions; global cooperation to secure better economic and social conditions for all; freedom from fear and want; freedom of the seas; and abandonment of the use of force, as well as disarmament of aggressor nations. Adherents of the Atlantic Charter signed the Declaration by United Nations on 1 January 1942, which became the basis for the modern United Nations” (Source).

The Atlantic Charter set goals for the postwar world and inspired many of the international agreements that shaped the world thereafter. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the postwar independence of European colonies, and much more are derived from the Atlantic Charter.

Presently – about 72 years after its creation-  the UN – the international order – is confronted with a series of escalating issues, high tensions, and a lack of consensus: The UN – it seems – is about to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.

The current president of the United States – Trump – has abandoned the purposes of the United Nations in his unilateral and disruptive actions, and is actively undermining international cooperation. Several states – including North Korea and Iran – openly challenge and defy the United States, and challenge its dominant position. The permanent members of the Security Council  (the United States, but also Russia and China) interpret the charter as they see fit, and further undermine the UN’s already damaged legitimacy and credibility.

To better understand what actually is ‘going on’ – and what urgent actions are now required – I discuss in the next part of this series how – and why – international orders are established, and what purposes they fulfil from a system’s perspective.