Hands of a guy on laptop keyboard

Understanding United Nations reform. Ten theoretical clues: (10) Reform by concepts

05 June 2015
Despite apparently insurmountable difficulties, a constitutional reform cannot be ruled out ad infinitum. Sooner or later a slight revision of the Charter, as painful as it may be, will make its way    Despite apparently insurmountable difficulties, a constitutional reform cannot be ruled out ad infinitum. Sooner or later a slight revision of the Charter, as painful as it may be, will make its way as an ultimate expression of the UN reform. While waiting for that auspicious moment, a reform both profound and with a substantial impact can be achieved by operating with innovative concepts. Indeed, in time, institutions can transform the concepts that have guided their own existence. Moreover, very often the concepts can bypass institutional developments per se. It is what has happened and will happen in the normal dynamics of the UN evolution. The first such conceptual innovation was the peace-keeping operations which became effective in early years of the organisation, without any specific basis in the language of the Charter. Concepts like human development, human security, responsibility to protect, and others, came to change the basic philosophy of the UN represented by mere development (seen as quantitative economic growth), security (seen as a state’s security and raison d’État), or the untouchable principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. The new concepts represent a necessary response to the need to go deeper into evaluating the results of the governance, while bringing to the fore pluralism of benchmarks and criteria of assessment. Such contributions have a reformative direction as powerful as one triggered by possible radical transformations of the UN structures and working mechanisms. They offer new directions and subtle means of action, and sometimes they can change the very substance of some overarching UN goals. Reforming the concepts constitutes a credible alternative to reforming the forms. It creates and operationalises ground-breaking ideas that can change the world without changing the Charter or the current intergovernmental structure of power. Such strategy of reform is within the existing authority of the organisation, on the one hand, and of the member states, on the other. Seen from this perspective, restructuring institutions and mechanisms can become a mere subordinate process. Focusing on the content and on the goals of the organisation is the key for a meaningful collective reform, rather than yielding before the stumbling blocks of institutional inertia. This assertion is all the more valid when there are more and more individual member states to please, compared to the existing situation at the time of the UN’s foundation. Petru Dumitriu   [Editor’s note: To learn more on the United Nations and multilateral diplomacy, join our Multilateral diplomacy course.]

Subscribe to Diplo's Blog