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Understanding United Nations reform. Ten theoretical clues: (7) Multilateralism and ‘invisible hands’

03 April 2015

Empowering the United Nations (UN) to exert more influence in handling the manifestations of globalisation is a direction per se for a reformative drive. Certainly the difficulties of doing so cannot be underestimated because, at international level, there is no equivalent of the decision-making leverage available at national level. The UN is called to fill the vacuum left by the lack of an institution with enough authority to mend the deficiencies of the current international system. But to do so, the UN system needs to be supported with trust and resources.

If the justified concerns with about the social and political consequences of globalisation are not tackled in a profound manner, one that is different from the convenient references to the benefits of non-intervention and deregulation, the developing countries and other actors will be increasingly unwilling to accept prescriptions promoting the current model of development.

The excesses and marginalising effects of globalisation are real. Their impact on global equilibriums transcends the faculty of objective assessment by governments, taken individually, or by international financial institutions. Very often, the latter cannot overcome their tendency to plea pro domo for the preservation of their policies and control.

Partial solutions are not sufficient. Polarisation leads to instability and conflicts. What is needed is an integrative perspective and simultaneous tackling of all those consequences. Only the UN can have such approach in a comprehensive and impartial manner, by use of its comparative advantages: universal vocation (geographic and thematic) and global legitimacy.

In other words, managing economic globalisation cannot be left at the mercy of ‘invisible hands’, limited either to their private forms, the transnational companies, or their undemocratic forms, represented by small groups of states or narrow groups of interests. The main vulnerable element of the current version of global capitalism is the exclusion of some social categories and countries from the benefits of economic growth.

Without a serious political and intellectual opposition, global capitalism cannot contradict itself. Consequently it is not stimulated to accept a global social contract. The reform of the UN system should favour those directions and institutional developments that allow a democratic debate in which development strategies are anchored in the respect of law and the soft norms of international justice.

Petru Dumitriu

[Editor’s note: To learn more on the United Nations and multilateral diplomacy, join our Multilateral diplomacy course.]

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