Global Policy Forum

UN and World Security in the Next Millennium



Nigeria Post Express, Lagos
September 27, 1999

The United Nations Organisation was put together in 1945, at the end of the Second World War, to protect world peace and security. Its effectiveness as a collective security system rested on the assumption that the collective might of the entire United Nations System would be enough to deter aggression on a member state. That was the time the world was bi-polar in its power structure, and no one nation could conceivably muster enough power to unilaterally dare the United Nations. The United Nations also relied on respect for the national sovereignty of its individual members because it is also basically an inter-governmental organisation, and no government joins an organisation that risks trampling on its national sovereignty.

But the world of the 1990s have changed in ways that have challenged some of the fundamental assumptions of the United Nations. First, the collapse of the Soviet Union changed that world into a unipolar system, and in this unipolar world, the only superpower, the United States of America, can neutralise the collective might of the United Nations. This basic change has undermined the most fundamental assumption of the UN collective security system. Second, the principle of respect for national sovereignty is being undermined both by the unipolar structure and the new doctrine of humanitarian intervention. The doctrine of humanitarian intervention can be evoked against any nation's plea of national or territorial sovereignty just as the unipolar structure of the world makes both the United Nations as a body as well the sovereignty of any individual nation vulnerable to the unilateral action of the one nation that is sitting atop of the unipolar structure.

Kosovo was a special dramatisation of this new reality. The United Nations suffered a diminution of its effectiveness by the unilateralism of a regional power which enjoyed the support of the only superpower of our time. At the same time Yugoslavia had her sovereignty violated by the same section of the international community who pleaded humanitarian intervention as justification for their action.

The question now is how can the United Nations regain relevance as the world moves into the next millennium? The unipolar world has dealt a fundamental blow to the United Nations as a collective security system, and unless a way is found to restrain the propensity to unilateralism of the only present superpower, the United Nations may be shunted aside into a second rate position in the matter of protecting world peace and security in the next millennium. By the same token, all nations who find their sovereignty violated with the connivance or cooperation of the United Nations are bound to begin to lose faith in the protection which membership of UN hitherto offered all nations of the world. This must mean diminished relevance of the UN in the next millennium. Unless a way is found to reimpose respect for the principles that the UN stand for or reformulate them to conform with the new unfolding reality, the United Nations will progressively lose effectiveness as an instrument for world peace and security in the next millennium.

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