For use as a primary text in Political Science courses on International Organization, International Institutions, Global Governance, or the United Nations. Can also be used as supplementary readings in all of these courses, plus courses in International Relations.
United Nations Politics takes a unique approach that focuses on the politics — that is, the persistent and mostly singular emphasis that all member states place on the pursuit of national political, economic, cultural and ideological interests — of UN affairs.
The project began as an effort to research and write a ten-year-later sequel to The Challenge of Relevance written by Puchala and Coate in 1989. This earlier volume was an assessment of the United Nations and its operations in the late eighties. United Nations Politics builds from a series of some 200 interviews conducted at the UN and in various member-state missions between 2000 and 2005. Among other things , these interviews revealed that the existing English-language literature on the UN fails to take into appropriate account the dynamics and the impacts of the internal and external political contexts within which the UN operates. This book directly addresses this shortcoming in the academic literature.
United Nations Politics:
International Organization in a Divided World
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1: The United Nations at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century
The United Nations in a New Age of Insecurity
Taking Politics Seriously
The Contours of UN Politics
A Changed Landscape for UN Politics
Outline of the Study
Chapter 2: The Evolution of an Institutional Form
Recreating World Order Anglo-American Style
Taking the Edge Off of Anarchy
Making the World Safe for Global Capitalism
Assembling the Pieces and Creating the UN
The Origins of Politics at the United Nations
Chapter 3: The UN Charter and Beyond
Commitment and Capacity in the United Nations Charter
The Maintenance of International Peace and Security
International Economic, Social and Humanitarian Problems
Human Rights and Basic Freedoms
The Equal Rights and Self-Determination of Peoples
Structural Reconfiguration and Institutional Erosion
The Ascendance of the Security Council
The Decline of the General Assembly
The Marginalization of the Economic and Social Council
The Tip of the Explanatory Iceberg
Chapter 4: The United Nations: The Last Bastion of Sovereignty?
The Last Bastion of Sovereignty?
Some Contending Manifestos
Battling Across Many Fronts
The Political Situation Surrounding NGOs
National Sovereignty at the United Nations
Chapter 5: In Search of Leadership
Who is Leading at the UN Today?
The European Union and “Effective Multilateralism”
The Group of 77 and the General Assembly
Constrained Multilateral Leadership
Chapter 6: The Politics of Culture
The United Nations and Human Rights
Universalism Under Siege: The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights
Preparing for the Vienna Conference
A Dialogue Among Civilizations: The Continuing Politics of Culture at the UN
The Politics of Culture
Chapter 7: Peacekeeping: Paper, Preparation and Politics
The Brahimi Report
The Reform of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations
The Commitment Gap
Chapter 8: Development and its Discontents
Structural Contexts of UN Development Politics
Convoluted Norms and Restrained Institutional Forms
The Politics of Development in a New Perspective
Dead End or New Beginning?
Chapter 9: Reconsidering the United Nations
The New Reform Agenda
Reassessing the United Nations
Adapting to the Twenty-First Century
Democratizing International Institutions
Incorporating International Civil Society
How do you draw your students into the text?
United Nations Politics is not written in conventional “textbook” style, i.e., compendiums of facts, dry description and tedious explanation. Nor is it stocked with social science jargon, with pretentious excursions into methodology or with allusions to “theories” about this, that or the other thing. The book contains everything that a textbook for learning about the UN should contain – the history of the organization, its structure, its processes and its impacts upon the world. Instructors can easily put together a classroom lecture series that complements the book. Rather, the book is composed as a sequence of interpretative essays. Each chapter is deliberately designed to initiate discussion and to provoke debate. Students – and instructors as well – may wish to disagree with our arguments or otherwise reinterpret our interpretations, and this is all to the good. Learning comes from critically interacting with texts. Interaction proceeds most readily when texts are accessible, and critical interaction proceeds most readily when texts are lively and authors’ standpoints are clear. This text is lively and our standpoints are eminently clear.
A focus on politics at the United Nations. Because of the focus on politics, this text can account for the possibilities and pitfalls of things like UN reform. Because most academic scholarship focuses on evolving and unusual arrangements for global governance, one might expect that institutional development is inevitable. By focusing on UN politics rather than institutionalism, this account can explain the disappointments of UN reform but it also realistically shows what politics can achieve, as the story about decolonization in the book demonstrates.
Which topics are most important for you to cover?
The play of world politics and the under-performance of the UN. This is the main theme of the book, presented in Chapter 1 and illustrated in Chps 3-9.
The history and philosophy of the founding of the United Nations and the erosion of original ideals over time. The UN was originally a “Northern” and “Western” institution, founded by Americans and Europeans, that functions rather feebly today in a “Southern” and “non-Western” world. Chapter 2 tells this story.
The design and the promise of the Charter and the transformation of the Chartered organs and institutions. The Charter endows the United Nations with considerable capacity to act, up to and including the supranational prerogatives vested in the Security Council. But few of the UN’s deliberative organs perform in Charter-prescribed ways, and the reasons for this stem largely from the reality that member states do not want the organs to perform in Charter-prescribed ways. Chapter 3 tells this story.
The defense of national sovereignty as a leitmotif of UN politics. While sovereignty may be in retreat globally (and certainly in the scholarly literature) this is not the case at the United Nations, where affirmations of sovereignty and insistence upon its immunities and prerogatives are predictable responses to any issues where the intervention of the “international community” may be involved. Transforming issues of substance into issues of sovereignty blunts the UN’s capacity to act. This story is told in Chapter 4.
The crisis of leadership continues at the UN. If the label “leadership vacuum” at the UN is too harsh, “leadership vacancy” might be closer to reality. The bloc structure of internal UN politics has dissipated over time for a variety of reasons, and at present, countries and coalitions willing to lead in international policy making are disqualified because they are politically unacceptable. A certain mythology surrounds the office and person of the Secretary-General, but myth does not amount to allowing the SG to lead in policy making. The story of the leadership vacancy and its implications is told in Chapter 5,
The major fault lines of world politics and their reflections in UN politics. Today, the world is divided politically along a North-South axis and a West-non-West axis, and while these cleavages tend often to be somewhat less prominent outside the UN, they are dramatically prominent within. Almost all issues taken up by the United Nations are framed as either debates between the rich peoples and the poor peoples of the world or debates between peoples who share the Western cultural tradition and those who do not. UN politics are largely about development and culture, and many of the players in these political games look upon them as zero-sum. Chapters 6 and 8 tell these stories.
United Nations peacekeeping is not exactly the same thing as keeping the peace. Arguably, keeping the peace is the most important mission assigned to the United Nations by its Charter. Yet, in the post-Cold War era at least, UN accomplishments in preventing violent conflict and halting it have been limited. The criticism directed at the international organization, however, has been mostly misplaced, as the key to understanding many of the organization’s supposed failures lies not in recognizing the administrative inefficacy of the Secretariat but in comprehending the objectives and interactions of member governments before and during peacekeeping missions. The politics of United Nations peacekeeping are examined in Chapter 7.
The facts and fictions of United Nations reform. From nearly the very beginnings of the United Nations there has unfolded, and persisted, a dialogue of “reform.” The dialogue continues today as committees, councils and commissions are created to coordinate the committees, councils and commissions that were created during the last dash toward reform. But real reforms in the direction of equitable representation and greater empowerment remain elusive for a variety of reasons. Chapter 9 tells the story of UN reform and offers recommendations that if heeded could improve the United Nations.