What exactly is the United Nations and, for that matter, why is there still a United Nations at all? How has it managed to survive over time, from 1945 down to the present—given its long record of underperformance, frequent outright failure, and even more frequent irrelevance?
On the United Nations’ core issues—collective peace and security, development, and universal human values and rights—its record is mediocre, unless one counts sheer institutional persistence as enough. And that record is particularly poor concerning the issue from which the collective sprang in 1945: international peace and security through the collective itself. Why, then, has not the ruthless evolutionary logic of history pruned it as a failed institutional sapling in a relentlessly competitive forest, as the League was pruned?
The United Nations consists of deep contradictions. More exactly, the United Nations consists of antinomies—profound, connected opposites that are “baked into” the institution’s structure, history, incentives, and motivations. The United Nations is an independent institution with independent global claims to govern; the United Nations is a mere instrumentality of the member states. The United Nations is an institution based around the sovereign equality of states participating in a universal institution; the United Nations is committed to certain values and yet, at least in principle, there are standards to be met by states as a condition of joining and participating.
The United Nations is the talking shop of the nations; the United Nations is a genuinely shared society of the world and not just the meeting ground of states’ politics. The United Nations is merely the humble servant of its states-party; the United Nations is an independent governmental actor directly representing the “peoples” of the world. The secretary-general is merely the ministerial servant of the member states of the United Nations; the secretary-general is something approaching, albeit weakly, the “president” of the world. The United Nations is about global governance; yet it is said to be governance without a global government.
The rhetoric that surrounds the United Nations, the rhetoric that gives us the persistent ideal of “The Parliament of Man,” has this constant and peculiar trope. It is always looking beyond the dismal present day of the United Nations to the glorious transcendental future of global governance, always on offer, but always on offer tomorrow. Call it “UN platonism.” Or maybe call it—the non-falsifiable idea of the United Nations. It amounts to an infatuation with “global governance” as an ideal platonic form.
Future possibilities hold the present hostage, and so every failure must finally be excused. No matter what the question, the answer is somehow always a greater and deeper commitment to the United Nations. It has to be reckoned a non-falsifiable faith, not a reasoned judgment.
Pic - " Living with the UN: American Responsibilities and International Order"