Currently, the world faces a number of pressing challenges, which is why people look to the United Nations (UN) as an institution capable of resolving existing issues in global health, security, and environmental protection. The initial reason behind the creation of the UN has been an undeniable need of a legitimate power with an authority to put an end to military conflicts.1 In addition, it could be argued that encouraging public healthcare policies worldwide and promoting globalization were some of the other formal tasks of the UN.2 Thus, a dual relationship between a newly formed organization and the international community was formed.
The activities of the United Nations were determined by the dimensions and dynamic tendencies of the global system of sovereign states. At the same time, it is impossible to overestimate the UN’s ability to impact the current geopolitical arena. However, although it has had a long history of accomplishing regional peace and protecting human rights, the institution’s role in the international systemic environment seems unclear. In the light of the organization’s recent “inability to act to end the protracted crises that have driven untold human misery – including the forced displacement of an unprecedented 65.6 million people,”3 the UN’s legitimacy is undermined. It is evident that the majority of its decisions and activities are dictated by the interests of its most powerful members, including the Great Powers.
The United Nations coordinates collective efforts of various sovereign states towards global causes, which is not only admirable but also crucial for the progress of modern civilization. The international institution is responsible for regulating power dynamics in a rapidly-changing political environment, acting as the main source of legitimization, as well as contributing to the promotion of human rights and liberties. The UN needs the resources from influential and powerful states such as members of the European Union or the United States in order to fund a variety of initiatives, including counterterrorism operations, peacekeeping campaigns, and enforcement of sanctions. Moreover, delivering aid to poor countries, putting an end to humanitarian crises, and providing shelter to a growing number of refugees requires cooperation of multiple nations, which is why the United Nations is not a fully independent organization.
It would be rash to assume that the UN needs the help of sovereign states rather than relying on legitimization provided by the institution. There are many benefits to being a member of the organization, including the influence it gives to each nation in the global decision-making process. Each participant acquires an opportunity to participate in maintaining international peace, resolving social and economic issues, and promoting basic human rights. It is evident that the United States, for example, needed the UN to engage in successful peacekeeping operations in El Salvador, Kosovo, Mozambique, and other war-torn territories.4 Unfortunately, some nations hold more power and can, in fact, abuse it to sway important decisions in their favor, while hiding behind the UN’s reputation. No country is willing to shoulder all the burdens of and take full responsibility for military de-escalation of violent conflicts in certain parts of the world. The United Nations can serve as an umbrella for a powerful state by officially proclaiming its attempts at peacekeeping legitimate. In addition, the institution coordinates the efforts and resources of a variety of countries, which results in sufficient funding for pursuing peace and security.
Some may argue that a multilateral world of today forces countries to cooperate in order to solve global issues, which justifies the creation of such an organization as the United Nations in 1945. However, it is apparent that members enjoy certain privileges and benefits of being a part of the UN. The institution needs the resources of sovereign states, while each participant uses the size and influence of the UN to legitimize its actions and promote its own interests on a global scale. Thus, the relationship between the United Nations and the international community is that of interdependence.
As a governing authority, the United Nations needs to have a high level of legitimacy, at least among states, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other geopolitical institutions capable of undermining its decisions. Basic procedures, rules, and structures of an organization must resonate with the beliefs of both its members and external constituents. The legitimacy of a particular institution can be defined as “the degree to which its relevant public generally regards its features and behavior as desirable, correct or appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs and definitions.”5 Some may argue that the legitimacy of the UN has drifted over time due to its inability to adapt to the needs of the modern international community.
Three reasons for the United Nations’ intrinsic legitimacy are as follows: the norm of sovereign equality, the relative success in fulfilling its primary goals, as well as the official legitimation of the institution at the San Francisco conference. The main source for the Security Council’s procedural6 validity is the one-state, one-vote rule, which assures of the UN’s fairness. Founding7 legitimacy of the United Nations was established back in 1945 at the deliberative Conference on International Organization in San Francisco. As for performance-based8 validity of the UN, its achievements in accomplishing the objectives defined in 1945 serve as solid proof of the institution’s efficiency. The phrase “relative success” is most suitable in this context since it is apparent that the UN has sometimes failed to ensure peace or protection of human rights.
The United Nations is facing a challenge of remaining valid and trustworthy in the eyes of its members as well as numerous non-state actors. The primary source of the institution’s structural illegitimacy is the veto power of the five nations, which the Security Council approved of back in 1945. Although the UN argues that it supports the concept of equality between sovereign states, the veto privilege given to Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, and the United States contradicts these proclamations. While such a rule made sense in the political climate of the twentieth century, it is apparent that now it simply undermines the organization’s legitimacy by limiting the UN’s activities.
Another factor that contributes to negative perceptions of the UN is overrepresentation of certain states in the Security Council. The fact that “the executive board for the UN on peace and security (…) is clearly over-represented [by Europe] and other regions are correspondingly under-represented”9 undermines the institution’s legitimacy. An organization built on the notions of globalization and multilateralism cannot afford to keep such a structure.
The third reason for the UN’s growing illegitimacy is the influence certain states have on the organization’s decisions and activities. It is crucial to examine the institution’s failures to fulfill its goals, which can be used as substantial proof of the Security Council being untrustworthy. For instance, the Guardian reported that “officials have admitted that certain UN reports are edited by permanent members before delivery to the security council.”10 Hence, the lack of collective action or even discussion regarding Chechnya, Rwanda,11 and the South China Sea is the result of the military issues in these countries being ignored due to the conflict of interests which arises between the UN and its most powerful members.12 Therefore, the impact some members have on the Security Council’s agenda and activities is a serious institutional weakness, which undermines the UN’s precarious and fragile legitimacy.
The existence of such an organization as the United Nations is a phenomenon which may be considered a threat to state sovereignty, which is arguably an anarchic concept. Applying a religious approach, the Christian worldview, for instance, acknowledges that citizenship is “a matter of stewardship13” for every believer, which is why it is important to be knowledgeable about politics. The Bible emphasizes the importance of a government, which is approved by God, in maintaining a just society.14 Thus, if the world government functions prioritizing peace, it has the right to be. However, such a global institution is at a higher risk of insurgency and possible civil wars, which contradicts Christian ideals of a better world. World governance through an organization such as the UN cannot be justified as a “more perfect union.” While the existence of one global authority can lead to better cooperation and resolution of some of the world’s most pressing issues, it could never accomplish world peace. Global governance would emphasize the power and influence gap between leading regions (former China, the U.S., or Europe) and developing nations. Thus, the world government would result in unavoidable tensions and destructive power dynamics.
Clark, Helen. “The UN Is Failing – States Must Back Off and Give Its Leader the Power to Act.” The Guardian, 2017. Web.
Closson, David. Biblical Principles for Political Engagement: Worldview, Issues, and Voting, 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: Family Research Council. n.d.
De Coning, Cedric. “Principled Peacekeeping Works.” 2020. Web.
Lakin, Samantha. “Lessons from the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Rwanda, 25 Years after the Genocide It Failed to Stop.” The Conversation, 2019. Web.
Ross, Carne. “The UN Is Failing. Is It Heading the Way of the League of Nations?” The Guardian, 2016. Web.
Stephen, Matthew D. “Legitimacy Deficits of International Organizations: Design, Drift, and Decoupling at the UN Security Council.” Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 31, no. 1, (2018): 96-121. Web.
- Cedric De Coning, “Principled Peacekeeping Works,” 2020. Web.
- Helen Clark, “The UN Is Failing – States Must Back Off and Give Its Leader the Power to Act,” The Guardian, 2017. Web.
- De Coning, “Principled Peacekeeping Works”
- Matthew D. Stephen, “Legitimacy Deficits of International Organizations: Design, Drift, and Decoupling at the UN Security Council,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 31, no. 1 (2018): 99. Web.
- Ibid., 98.
- Stephen, “Legitimacy Deficits of International Organizations: Design, Drift, and Decoupling at the UN Security Council,” 98.
- Ibid., 96.
- Clark, “The UN Is Failing – States Must Back Off and Give Its Leader the Power to Act”
- Carne Ross, “The UN Is Failing. Is It Heading the Way of the League of Nations?” The Guardian, 2016. Web.
- Samantha Lakin, “Lessons from the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Rwanda, 25 Years after the Genocide It Failed to Stop,” The Conversation, 2019. Web.
- Ross, “The UN Is Failing. Is It Heading the Way of the League of Nations?”
- David Closson, Biblical Principles for Political Engagement: Worldview, Issues, and Voting, 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C.: Family Research Council), 5.
- Ibid., 6.