UN PROJECT EVALUATION
FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE CONCEPT OF INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC GOODS
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF RESEARCH ADVANCEMENT
In this brief memorandum, the contribution of multilateral organizations to international public goods, is placed within the context of the state of multilateralism and global institutions in the 21st century.
I. Multilateralism and Global Institutions: Means and Ends
"The United Nations warrants neither the naive idolatry nor the casual
dismissivness with which it is conventionally treated."
In the early years of the 21st century, the United Nations, which symbolizes the organized international community, is an international inter-governmental organization that lacks sovereignty. This is true for all the other organizations in the United Nations System that form part of the governance of the organized international community, i.e. "global governance". The base upon which global governance is built is the Westphalian system of state sovereignty. "Global governance", not to be confused with world government, is the sum of the many ways in which the international community manages its common affairs and the processes through which diverse interests are accommodated and cooperative action taken on the international level. Together, these elements constitute a guiding mechanism to help the states and peoples of the world in their striving toward a secure and healthy environment on the planet Earth which they co-inhabit.
We are now engaged in what can be called a "grand debate" over how the world is to cope with the political turbulence and uncertainty in this era of globalizing and fragmenting contradictions. The contentious question in this debate is: Are the United Nations and multilateral institutions ends in themselves or essentially means to an end at the command and disposal of the many sovereign states that created them. The "means" proponents oppose expansion of the authority of multilateral institutions which they see as diluting state sovereignty. To them, multilateral institutions are tools to be used by sovereign states in pursuit of their national interests, which includes working with fellow sovereign states in pursuit of common interests. The wherewithal to implement these common interests comes from the voluntary contribution of resources and the formation of willing coalitions of sovereign states to carry out action decisions. The "ends" proponents advocate reinforcing, if not expanding, the role of multilateral institutions in global governance by giving them the basis to act independently and with dispatch, in a sense weaning them away from the Westphalian norm. Numerous suggestions that would give the United Nations power of the purse have surfaced from time to time (i.e. the Tobin Tax on foreign exchange transactions, borrowing authority) to actuate this goal. To the "ends " proponents, the goal is the emergence of supra-national institutions, notably a Secretary-General with power to act independently.
During its more than half-century of existence, the United Nations Organization has gone through various phases: the first, focused on peace, peacekeeping and disarmament issues, within the context of the Cold War; the second, still within the Cold War context, marked by the expansion of the UN membership as a result of decolonization, changing its nature from a North dominated organization to one with a strong role for the peoples of the South; the third, the ascendance of social and economic issues, such as economic and human development manifested in placing "human security" on a par with "the maintenance of international peace" as the raison d'etre of the UN system and holding a series of multilateral global conferences on specific social issues, i.e. population, the environment, the status of women, social development and human rights. Over the course of this period, a truly comprehensive set of universal multilateral institutions constituting the United Nations System has emerged. In contrast to the international organizations that preceded it - the League of Nations and the handful of international functional agencies - the evolving United Nations system reflected the growing global interdependence and recognition of the existence of universal economic and social rights and needs subsumed under the concept of "human security." Even during the dark days of the Cold War, which impeded the enhancement of international cooperation, the world witnessed the steady growth of multilateral institutions and programs as the original UN Charter skeletal outline of a cooperative world system were given shape and form through various declarations, conventions, international conferences, new agencies and development programs. To a certain extent, the anarchical international system of sovereign states, already circumscribed by traditional international law in a few select areas, was being further modified by the encroachment of the new multilateral institutions into the domestic jurisdiction of states. However, the Cold-War did not leave the world conflict-free but with a new set of almost intractable problems UN peacekeeping, the role of regional organizations, the problems of failed states, human rights, human security, state sovereignty, the global economy, and many more. In the face of a spate of unprecedented conflicts erupting in parts of the world where pent up tensions were no longer being held at bay by the heavy hand of the Cold War order.
Yet, in the early 1990s, the world seemed to be on the threshold of a truly new world order with the United Nations and its Secretary-General playing a central role in it. It appeared that a momentum towards a stronger and more effective United Nations was set into motion by the combination of heightened interdependence, increasing globalization, diluted state sovereignty, the collective repudiation of Iraqi aggression against Kuwait, the movement towards conflict resolution in Namibia, Cambodia, Central America, Mozambique, Haiti and Angola by the United Nations. A shift in the UN agenda was evident. Social and economic issues gained in prominence as is evidenced when the Summit Security Council meeting of January 1992, declared that "non-military sources of instability in the economic, social, humanitarian and ecological fields" were also "threats to peace and security." The new state of affairs was aptly summed up by Javier Perez de Cuellar when on turning over the Secretary-Generalship to his successor, he said "the Organization was no longer on the sidelines, but at the hub of world affairs." Concurrently, the burgeoning of an international or global civil society bringing in NGOs as important actors in shaping the international agenda has led to talk of the emergence of a "new diplomacy" that fills the gaps left by the weakening of sovereignty under the pressures coming from the consequences of globalization and interdependence. The monopoly of governments and inter-governmental organizations in determining public policy was being challenged by the rising voices and increasingly effective actions of NGOs. Secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed the emergence of a "new diplomacy", declaring in his Report to the Millennium Summit, "global affairs are no longer the exclusive province of foreign ministries, nor are states the sole source of solutions for our small planet's many problems... The more complex the problem at hand -- whether negotiating on landmines, setting limits to emissions that contribute to global warming, or creating and International Criminal Court -- the more likely we are to find non-governmental organizations, private sector institutions and multilateral agencies working with sovereign states to find consensus solutions." The UN-organized quasi-parliamentary world conferences beginning with the Rio Conference on Environment and Development (1992) followed by the conferences on Human Rights (Vienna -1993), Population (Cairo - 1994), Social Development (Copenhagen - 1995), Status of Women (Beijing - 1995), and Human Settlements/Habitat II (Istanbul -1996) attended by thousands of accredited NGO representatives who influenced the outcome of these conferences set the stage for NGOs to assume an unprecedented public role in shaping the outcome of the meetings.
Conditions have changed since 1945. Membership of the organization has grown from 51 to 190. Certain organs, like the Trusteeship Council, have outlived their usefulness; another principal organ, the Economic and Social Council has been found wanting in carrying out its basic coordinative function; duplication and redundancy have crept in between the United Nations and some specialized agencies as well as among General Assembly committees and its subsidiary bodies; and the Security Council has been criticized for not being representative of the changes in UN membership and the lack of transparency of its operations. Security has also taken on new meanings, as attested to by the above statement issued by the 1992 Security Council Summit. The scope of UN activities has been broadened far beyond the original intent. The world has appreciably changed and from many quarters has come the call to rethink the premises and structure of the United Nations, to bring them up to date. Serious students of the United Nations have always been aware that the organization, born at a unique moment in world history, would need to be changed to keep up with changing circumstances.
The end of the Cold War was hailed by many as the beginning of a new era of international cooperation with the United Nations System providing the organizing structure. "The United Nations was at long last in a position to function as it was originally designed" was heralded in many circles, but often by many who had no real understanding of the precise original structure of the Charter. Thus, to some, the "We the peoples" of the lofty general ideals of the preamble took on extraordinary meaning, reading into it a mandate for the introduction of a vast array of social and economic developmental programs while disregarding the Charter's clear restriction on encroachments by the UN on the sovereignty of its member states.
Following the exhibition of a notable spirit of cooperation among the permanent members of the Security Council during the Iraq-Kuwait Crisis of 1991 and the Gulf War and the unprecedented Security Council Summit of January 1992, it appeared that a "new world order" was in the making. The Security Council turned to the new Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali asking him to provide them with his "recommendations on ways of strengthening ... the capacity of the United Nations for preventive diplomacy, for peacemaking and peace-keeping ... [and] of making more effective Secretariat planning and operations ..." The Secretary-General responded with his An Agenda for Peace which underlined the United Nations responsibility for peacemaking and peace enforcement that go far beyond the traditional UN peacekeeping that developed during the Cold War years. It also included recommendations that called for the establishment of rapid deployment "peace enforcement units" on a permanent basis "under the command of the Secretary-General" to "respond to outright aggression, imminent or actual." These proposals by the Secretary-General were in keeping with the spirit, if not the exact letter, of Articles 43 through 47 of the Charter.
Taken together with the evolving United Nations responsibilities in the economic and social spheres evident in the operations of the UNDP, the World Bank and the IMF, these suggestions point to an enhanced role for the United Nations not merely in influencing world affairs but actually in running them. Add to these the proposals to make the Secretary-General more autonomous in fiscal affairs, either through borrowing or some variant of the Tobin tax, the "means" advocates found encouragement in this turn of affairs.
The multilateralism momentum that was building up gave rise to the general feeling that the world was at the threshold of a new era of international cooperation under the aegis of the United Nations. But then came East Timor, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, the Congo, Sierre Leone and the momentum bubble was burst. As the international community was confronted by a growing spate of civil wars, environmental deterioration issues, humanitarian crises, non-state terrorism, and numerous other disturbing problems, the states of the world - large and small for differing reasons - were reluctant to see a more autonomous world body impinge on their sovereignty. The fact that Boutros-Ghali's Agenda for Peace is clear testament that the momentum for a revitalized and more autonomous United Nations had been halted.
II. Understanding the contribution of multilateral institutions to the establishment and superintendence of international public goods.
Organized societies need structures and institutions to promote the common good. The concept of public goods, domestic (national) and international, has arisen within societies in response to the demands of mutual interdependence which obligate its members to cooperate in institutions or mechanisms designed to enhance the welfare of the general public. Public goods deliver services which individual and private groups cannot or should not provide themselves.
The major distinction between domestic public goods and international public goods lies in their respective governing mechanisms. In the case of the former, it is the exercise of sovereign authority within the territorial state by their governments and the political process within them that ensures the delivery of these services, i.e. building and defending roads, providing and ensuring water resources, schools and hospitals, facilitating the exchange of private goods and services, and ensuring internal and external security. In the case of the latter, there is no overall sovereign authority to harness the resources necessary to establish international public goods. Instead, there is the "international community" which UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called "embryonic" and Sadako Ogata noted exists "only as a potential source of power."
A subtle manifestation of the debate over "means and ends" of multilateralism is to be noted in the recent use of the term"global public goods" interchangeably with " international public goods". UNDP has published a study of "International Cooperation in the 21st Century" under the title Global Public Goods (1999). More recently at the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development the creation of a "New international task force on global public goods" whose task is to "enhance the provision of international public goods" was announced. There is a distinction between international public goods and global public goods. The notion of global public goods logically implies a global political entity with global governmental authority, whereas international public goods retains the Westphalian mold. Be that as it may, lacking the authority of a sovereign power, it is remarkable that the international community is able to provide international public goods. Actually, the members-states and the array of inter-governmental institutions have responded to the needs generated by growing interdependence by voluntarily establishing institutions to provide services across national frontiers.
The need for international public goods has increased exponentially in the world since the end of World War II due to the technological and information revolutions which has given rise to the one world global village notion and to the globalization phenomenon. But, it is not a new phenomenon in international life. Over many centuries, mutual interest precipitated sovereign states to create mechanisms to facilitate their interactions. A most notable example of this is the slow evolution of international law to deal with the most basic attributes of inter-state transactions. In the 19th century, the scientific and industrial revolutions spawned the creation of a host of public international unions, such as the Universal Postal Union, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, the Wireless Telegraph Union and many more, all of which became firmly established despite the absence of an international sovereign authority. In each of these instances, national sovereignty was subordinated to the higher multilateral authority in recognition that the common good was being served. This represents a willing joining together of sovereign states for a common goal. The sovereign states recognized that separately they could nor provide a postal service that crossed boundaries or regulate telegraphic communications. The point being stressed here is that there has long existed an international common will to meet a specific need by forming an international institution to provide for the smooth delivery of a necessary public good. What is true about the universal postal system is also true about other international public goods mechanisms - be they for the maintenance of peace and the peaceful settlement of disputes, establishing an orderly system for regulating air traffic or dealing with refugees, health, food, atomic energy, outer space, environment and economic development - they all require a common will. Since we are not dealing with the exercise of supranational authority but with international or multilateral institutions, which lack coercive power due to the principle of sovereign equality of states, each of these international public goods mechanisms depends on a coalition of the willing.
The success in the delivery of international public goods by each of the disparate multilateral institutions within the United Nations system is dependent on the willingness of sovereign states to support their specific activities. The more technological and functional an operation, the stronger is the likelihood that a strong willing coalition will be forged to sustain its activities, i.e. Universal Postal Union (UPU), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Telecommunications Union (ITU). In fact, once the coalition has been formed to establish these organizations, their delivery of international public goods is to all intents and purposes automatic. Each member state pays its agreed to contribution quota and the central executive board and secretariat see to it that the international public goods are delivered. These instruments of international public goods can be viewed as practically wielding sovereignty in their domains. The story is quite different in the more political domains of peace operations, the broadened concept of human security to encompass the growing problems of socio-economic inequity, poverty, environmental degradation, population pressures, and human rights deprivation. Shaping supportive coalitions is anything but automatic. They have to be painstakingly negotiated. Embarkment on each of these and similar operations requires intense political give and take before a proper coalition of willing partners is found. Who will pay? Who will provide human and physical resources? How will sensitivities of sovereign parties be met? In all the discussions, the guiding principle for most countries is whether this matter is in their national interest. Few nations are prepared to buy the notion that the enrichment of multilateralism is an end in itself. But there are those who see in multilateralism - including the support of international public goods providers - as being both in their selfish national interest and in the more disinterested mutual interest of the members of the international community.
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