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Are We Still Upholding the Values the UN Initiated?

May 21 , 2015
  • Wu Zhenglong

    Senior Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

The year 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the victory of World War II and the founding of the United Nations. In commemoration of these important events, it is natural for the international community to assess how the international order, forged in the aftermath of World War II, has impacted post-war international relations and global economy and what kind of international order the international community needs to build.

Needless to say, the international order has historically changed the destiny of mankind. It has facilitated the disintegration of global colonialism, the end of the Cold War, preserved overall peace in the world, and fostered economic interconnectedness and interdependence. Peace, development and win-win cooperation have become the prevailing trend of our times. Countries are now better positioned to uphold general stability in the world and seek common development.

On the other hand, however, we have also seen that multiple crises develop into crucial challenges and threats to international peace and security. For instance, violent clashes between government and opposition in Ukraine led to breakdown in relations between Russia and the West. Turmoil in the Middle East and rise of the Islamic State has contributed to disintegrating orders in the region. Territorial disputes simmer in East Asia due to interference from outside the region. Since the global financial crisis, the world economy has concluded the period of high growth and ushered in a new era of “mediocrity.”

Some people, therefore, claim that the international order is “collapsing,” and we are witnessing an era of “disorder.” As the Munich Security Report 2015 indicates, “our collective ability to solve problems has decreased, and major institutions of global security governance have been weakened. This leaves the world with a huge gulf between demand for and supply of international governance”.

What shall we do with the international order? Are we going to tear it down and set up a new one? Or shall we push on with its reinforcement and reform and make it more adaptable to the changes in international landscape? I would agree with the second approach, believing that the international order should keep pace with the times and it is utterly wrong to “throw out the baby with the bath water” simply because of some flaws of today’s international order.

Currently these flaws mainly manifest in following areas.

First, the violation of the basic norms of the UN Charter is the most powerful source of world disorder. Many of the on-going crises are triggered by cold-war mentality, bloc politics, hegemonism, power politics and “neo-interventionism.” They have seriously degraded the ability of global governance institutions to provide better and effective solutions.

In fact, the basic principles enshrined in the Charter, such as sovereign equality, non-interference in internal affairs, peaceful settlements of dispute, and no use of force “are the sole generally recognized basis of what exists of a world order.”

Although they were formulated 70 years ago, they have remained relevant. And they should enjoy precedence in the overall system of international law and norms, rather than so-called concepts of “human rights above sovereignty” or “responsibility to protect,” which have been proved destabilizing in the international system.

Second, the existing multilateral framework does not fit in with the realities of the 21th century. Following the end of the Cold War, history has not come to an end, as Francis Fukuyama claimed. Actually, the world has entered the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world. With the rise of emerging economies, the global power has shifted to developing countries and undergone a structural change.

As a result, multilateral institutions have failed to reflect the current global power structure and the vast number of developing countries, including small and medium-sized countries, is underrepresented in the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and their rights of discourse and decision-making in these institutions are severely limited.

With regard to global security, financial, and trade governances, they have in most cases had different approaches with the developed countries. Their aspirations for greater say in these institutions have hardly been met.

Third, the international governance systems lag behind the times. Now, mankind faces other new sources of disorder—most notably such non-traditional security threats as terrorism, cybersecurity, climate change and pandemics—whereas international governances in these domains are far from adequate.

For instance, while certain anti-terrorism norms have been formed through adoptions of the United Nations’ resolutions on combating terrorism, double standards on this issue have hampered international cooperation and eradication of its breeding grounds. In spite of the fact that China-U.S. Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation issued last November has to some extent paved the way for a strong agreement to be signed by world’ nations this year, a regulatory mechanism on climate change is still in the pipeline. And as far as cyber and space security are concerned, no efforts have ever been made to establish norms or mechanism in these areas.

Fourth, any plan to overhaul the international governance meets resistance. For example, IMF reform plan on quotas adopted in 2010 is still stuck in the US Congress and cannot be put into effect.

To tackle with these flaws, it is essential to establish a fair and rational international order which meets the needs of development of the times. That order will help to bring about a world more at peace, more prosperous, and more adept at meeting the challenges it faces than it was in the post-Cold War era.

The only way to reach the goal is to reinforce and reform the current international order. We should bring into full play the UN’s centrality and realize the democratization of international relations, legalization of international governance and rationalization of international organizations.

Henry Kissinger emphasizes that “world order cannot be achieved by any one country acting alone.” As the biggest developing country and the most developed country, China and the United States may hold different views on democracy and human rights, but share a common interest in building a fair and rational international order, as demonstrated by their joint efforts to cope with climate change and nuclear proliferation and avoid conflicts and confrontation.

As part of endeavor to forge a new type of major country relationship between China and the United States, there is a lot that the two countries can do together to reinforce and reform the international order. As Obama said in his joint press conference with Xi Jinping last November, “When we work together, it’s good for the United States, it’s good for China, and it is good for the world.”

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