The book What’s Wrong with the United Nations and How to Fix It, written by Thomas Wiess, analyses the functions of the United Nations (UN), focusing on its pitfalls over the years. The author introduces the UN through the book and further displays his agenda for change based on its prior activities. The first part of the book covers problems facing the UN while the second part proposes possible solutions. It targets individuals dealing with international relations and foreign policy due to its in-depth analysis of the organization’s role on a global scale. The book’s underlying themes include the disconnect caused by the Westphalian paradigm, the mistrust between the North and the South, managerial problems in its internal structure, and the deteriorating quality of its staff.
The author’s discussion of the fable of “The Blind Men and the Elephant” shows the problems associated with differences in perceptions. This connotation reflects on the inability of the blind men to agree on the proper definition of the elephant. The UN being a global organization represents a variety of governments, each with significantly unique backgrounds. Therefore, the issues affecting it can be viewed from different angles dependent on the analytical lenses used. As a result, addressing the challenges to improve the UN’s operations becomes a hard task based on the numerous differences and inaccuracies in its representation. The contests in all spheres of the world, including scholars, governments, journalists and NGOs, show the overarching problem in human beings when analyzing this problem (Weiss 11). However, Weiss tries to offer his views based on his experiences as a former employee and a researcher with vast experience in dissecting it. Consequently, he openly points out the UN’s evident problems, worsened by an interconnected world, thus highlighting its inability to cope.
Part one of the book dissects the complications facing the UN to provide a better understanding of the deep-rooted issues. First, the Westphalian paradigm focuses on sovereignty that each member state tries to guard closely. However, the transnational nature of global problems such as global warming, refugee problems, and security makes the UN unable to respond adequately. Second, political theatrics caused by the North-South divide causes mistrust amongst nations. This means that rich countries, comprising the five permanent members, have veto powers that affect decision making, with each only committed to serving its interests (“The Problem with the UN Veto Power”). As a result, the organization becomes distracted from solving critical issues due to such inefficiencies. Third, managerial problems caused by overlapping and ambiguous roles cause internal feuds with agencies fighting for their self-interests rather than the greater good. Thus, the lack of coordination in the UN shows the impact of the longstanding turf wars on its operations. Finally, Weiss explains that the quality of staff has continually deteriorated, leading to lackluster performance. The politicization of recruitments, therefore, affects the competency of its international staff.
In chapter four, the author talks about the overwhelming bureaucracy and the subpar performance of the leadership. This portrays the most critical problem facing the UN since its ability to offer guidance and support worldwide depends on proper management and control structures. According to the author, the staff’s capability has continuously deteriorated, leading to poor decision-making (Weiss 137). Furthermore, the recruitment process also entails politicization preventing experienced leaders from assuming substantive posts (Weiss 135). With a significant portion of the budget covering employee costs, the secretariat plays an essential function and can work efficiently if supported by member states. However, such bureaucracy prevents the autonomy of the individuals occupying leadership positions, leading to their low input into discussions concerning advocacy, implementation processes, and monitoring of operations.
Accordingly, chapter eight further seeks to offer solutions to the problem affecting the international civil service. First, the author reiterates that recruitment plays the most significant role in the reinvigoration of staff. Additionally, the current leadership structure also contains ambiguous roles that affect its efficacy (“What’s going on with UN Reform?”). Therefore, employment should be based on competency rather than geographical positioning and other justifications that previously placed people in UN positions (Weiss 240). With improved staffing, it becomes possible to align the organization’s needs with the overall qualities of appropriate representation and independence. Apart from that, gender mainstreaming can also ensure better representation of women in the UN at senior levels. Despite the passing of resolution 1325, an assessment in 2006 showed their under-representation in senior ranks and decision making at the institution (Weiss 286). Moreover, the organization also requires intellectuals with the capacity to strengthen its institutional capacity and develop new and innovative ideas. This ensures that creative thinkers can go beyond the bureaucracy to push for better planning, measure performance, and increase accountability.
In his conclusion, Weiss focuses on global governance and the role of international organizations in the future. Therefore, while people recognize the UN as an essential tool in addressing international problems in a multilateral environment, the need for changes can further align its roles and mandate as required. Issues such as drugs, terrorism, AIDS, and global warming, will continue to plague the world without proper interventions by world leadership (Weiss 277). However, the author is still optimistic about the UN’s prospects and global governance based on the belief that human beings can overcome problems by rationally organizing themselves. The idea of unified control forms a necessary tool for analyzing future perspectives by adapting and modifying state systems on a larger scale. The liberalism theory best aligns with the authors thinking that the world is structured under norms and institutions aimed at restraining the powers of states (Karns et al. 45). Only support and efforts from liberal states can thus achieve international cooperation goals on a global scale by ensuring mutually beneficial agreements.
Therefore, Weiss’s book discusses the problems facing the UN, after which he proposes viable solutions to them. As mentioned, the underlying issues include the disconnect caused by the Westphalian paradigm, the mistrust between the North and the South, internal managerial problems, and its staff’s deteriorating quality. The solutions to the organizational issues include redefining national interests, overcoming the North-South issues, prescriptions for structural issues, and the organization’s reinvigoration. The overwhelming bureaucracy and the underwhelming performance of the leadership represent the most significant pitfall for the UN. Hence, adopting appropriate recruiting methods will further enable qualified and competent people to occupy positions, improving staff composition. Furthermore, gender mainstreaming and the use of intellectuals can also bolster the composition of its international civil service. With voluntary action by both people and states, common issues can receive the required attention they deserve to alleviate them. The organization’s future lies in the realization of the need for an overarching government that can work independently.
Karns, Margaret, et al. International Organizations: The Politics and Processes of Global Governance. 3rd ed., Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2015.
“The Problem with the UN Veto Power.” YouTube, uploaded by NowThis World, 2018, Web.
Weiss, Thomas. What’s Wrong with the United Nations and How to Fix It. 3rd ed., John Wiley and Sons, 2016.
“What’s Going on with UN Reform?” YouTube, uploaded by Devex, 2020, Web.