The United Nations (UN) is an organisation that was established after the Second World War. Article one of The Charter of the UN states its original four purposes and principles. The first, is to maintain international peace and security; the second is to develop friendly relations among nations based on equality; the third is to achieve international cooperation in solving problems that are of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian nature and the fourth purpose is to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in accordance with the above stated purposes and principles (1948).
As can be seen the original purpose of the UN was not to become a world government but to act as more of a mediator among nations and ensure that the world never saw a conflict as devastating as that of the Second and First world Wars again. However as time progresses organisations adapt and change to developments occurring in the world. The UN has evolved with time and so will depart from its original purposes and principles. Realists would argue that the anarchic system on which the world operates on is the best way as it allows for states to pursue their own interests; this would result, however, in an unequal world where countries would be at the mercy of the richer and more powerful nations.
To understand whether or not the UN has the ability to become a world government it must first be understood what a government is and its different features and forms. Heywood (2002) identifies the three branches of government as the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. It can be argued that the UN possesses all three of these branches of government.
Firstly, the executive can be identified as the Security Council (UNSC) as it deals with the day to day running of the UN and also makes the quick decisions that the general assembly is unable to do because of the large number of states who sit there (Whittaker, 1997).
The legislature can be drawn from a number of sources. Its main embodiment is the General Assembly which ‘may recommend measures for the peaceful adjustment of a situation’ (UN Charter, 1948). The other sources of legislation that emerge from the UN are from its commissions, ad hoc bodies and standing committees who present recommendations to the UNSC to be ratified (Whittaker, 1997).
The other branch of government is the judiciary. In the UN it is represented as the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In the international context a court will serve a different role to that of a national or domestic court. Evans (1998) identifies two purposes of the ICJ: settling disputes between states and giving advisory opinions. In the international context the ICJ serves the purposes it should: acting as a mediator amongst states and giving advice. Punishment of crimes should be left to domestic governments; Human Rights abuses are dealt with by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and so there is no need for the ICJ to be dealing with human rights abuses.
As can be seen the UN has all three branches of government so it could be argued that the UN is an international government as it stands. There are, however, some obstacles to the UN becoming a world government. Firstly a great deal of reform would be needed to accommodate for the changes that have occurred in international relations since 1948.
The UNSC represents how outdated the UN is by the composition of its permanent members. Both France and Britain are not as influential actors as they were after the Second World War. The process of decolonisation and membership of the EU has restricted their influence compared to what it was in 1948.
Although the UN is in need of reform, there are several factors which work in its favour as a system of world government. Firstly, no other International Non-Governmental Organisation (INGO) has such a large membership as the UN. This vast membership allows the UN to have an influence, and in some cases a binding influence, that other INGOs do not have due to its large membership.
In comparison to other organisations, the UN appears to have a largely equal membership as well as equal representation. For example, all members of the General Assembly have one vote each and can only have up to five representatives. The cyclical nature of the non-permanent members of the UNSC means that all nations have an opportunity to be part of the executive of the UN. Also, if a country is involved with a dispute, it is allowed to appoint a judge to the ICJ to make the trial equal and fair.
Although the UN has some factors in its favour relating to the prospect of a world government, there are several which are against it. Returning to the UNSC, it is not representative of the world as it currently stands. Given the fact that, within the next century, both China and India are predicted to obtain superpower status it would be unfair that the USA and China are on the Security Council but India will not be, also the interests of South America, Australasia and Africa are not represented in the permanent members of the Security Council, yet Europe has two representatives. This would lead to some questioning the equality and representation that the UN is supposed to provide as in international institution.
Like all international institutions, the UN suffers from under funding and as a result is not effective as it could be (Whittaker, 1997). In order for the UN to achieve better funding, it could perhaps make a mandatory requirement of members that they have to make a sufficient contribution compared to the state of their economies. For example, those countries which are developed and industrialised could give a certain percentage of their Gross National Product (GNP), whereas the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and heavily indebted countries could obtain concessions on their contributions to the UN budget.
Although the UN has the ability to create ‘international legislature’, enforcing legislation is very difficult in comparison. One reason for this is that there is no ‘international police force’ to ensure that countries accept and adhere to legislation passed. The other reason for this is that the UN operates on the international convention of sovereignty, i.e. each state ultimately maintains power over what its actions are and cannot be ‘told’ what to do by other states or entities. By trying to enforce legislation the UN would also be contradicting its own principles and objectives: if the UN exercised military force it would be creating conflict and warfare which it intended to prevent after the Second World War, it would also be disrespecting sovereignty; finally the resolutions passed would be open to interpretation from both those on the UNSC and to those who it applied to.
Another point to consider would be that of the lack of a UN ‘army’, although as aforementioned the UN would never use unnecessary force; a permanent army would work in the UN’s favour for peacekeeping, peacemaking and ‘policing’ duties, such as those performed in Kosovo.
The UN is a creation of the western liberal democracies after the Second World War; as a result it is dominated by them; the USA, UK and France are all permanent members of the UNSC, and is built in the framework of a liberal democracy (Zolo,1997). This has led to the criticism that the UN is also dominated by the USA as it provides the majority of funding for the UN. If the UN is to be a truly world government, it will have to adjust to represent the cultures and differences found in non-western cultures, their styles of political participation and ideologies.
As can be seen there are many difficulties faced by the UN in the modern world if it is to become a world government. The existence of other independent INGOs may hinder or aid the UN in becoming a world government.
The system upon which the majority of the world operates is free trade. The existence of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) as mediators and international money ‘lenders’ may lead many down the path that these organisations hold the true power in the world theatre (Dicken, 1998).
Foot (2003) highlights the point that in order for countries to be members of the WTO they must alter the domestic law. This provides a significant advantage, as the UN does not have the ability to do this. Stiglitz (2002) also highlights the point that both the WB and IMF produce Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) in order for a country to receive financial aid from the international community. SAPs are requirements that the IMF and WB make in order for a country to receive financial aid, in general it means that a country must liberalise its markets, remove external trade barriers such as tariffs and privatise its national industries.
As can be seen, the WTO, IMF and WB all have more control and power over their members than the UN currently commands. The European Union (EU) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) also command significant power over their members, the EU more than NAFTA, so perhaps if the UN is to be effective as a world government it will have to cooperate and in conjunction with the above organisations.
As aforementioned, the UN does struggle as a result from not having a permanent army. In order to solve this, it could perhaps draw from the largest military organisation that currently exists in the world, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). NATO, arguably, proved its competence in enforcing human rights in Kosovo, and so could apply its co-ordination and organisation for the UN in other instances. Although NATO could act as an ‘army’ for the UN the same problem of domination by the West arises and so many non-western countries would not approve of using NATO as an army for the UN.
In conclusion, if the UN is to become a world government, a vast reform of its structure and representation would be needed if countries were to take it as a serious actor on the world stage. These reforms would have to include an overhaul of the current UNSC to accommodate for the upcoming superpower of India (China is already represented). Also Africa, Australasia, South America, the Middle East and the rest of Far Eastern Asia would need representation for the UNSC to be a fair institution.
At the moment, the tri-partite organisation of the IMF, WB and WTO could act as a world government due to its ability to affect domestic law. If the UN wanted to be effective as a world government it may have to work in conjunction with the IMF, WB and WTO. The creation of an effective UN army and a well structured funding program would also be needed if it were to effectively govern the world.
Baylis, J. and Smith, S., 2001, The Globalisation of World Politics, United States, Oxford University Press
Dicken, P., 1998, Global Shift: Transforming the World Economy, London, Paul Chapman Publishing
Evans, G. and Newnham, J., 1998, Dictionary of International Relations, London, Penguin
Foot, R., Gaddis, J. ; Hurrell, A., Order and Justice in International Relations, United States, Oxford University Press
Heywood, A., 2002, Politics: Second Edition, Hampshire, Palgrave
Hughes, B., 1999, International Futures: Choices in the Face of Uncertainty, USA, Westview Press
Jackson, R., Sï¿½renson, G., 2003, Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches, Oxford, Oxford University Press
Stiglitz, J., 2002, Globalisation and its Discontents, London, Penguin
Unknown, 1948, Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the International Court of Justice, New York, Department of Public Information
Whittaker, D., 1997, United Nations in the Contemporary World, London, Routledge
Zolo, D., 1997, Cosmopolis: Prospects for World Government, USA, Blackwell Publishers Inc.