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Understanding United Nations reform. Ten theoretical clues: (8) Delivering global public goods

Published on 05 May 2015
Updated on 05 April 2024

The United Nations (UN) has been almost permanently undergoing moments or processes of reform. Even so, the organisation has not exhausted its possibilities to adapt to new challenges. Reformative attempts, as complete or unfinished they may have been, will remain always insufficient and only partially motivated.

Full motivation and comprehensive reform cannot be achieved without clarifying two essential pre-requisites. The first is to assess if there is enough will to determine profound institutional changes. The second is to agree on the nature of the global institutions which are needed by the world in the era of globalisation. The very credibility and efficiency of the organisation depend on the precise definition of its viable functions and its limits.

For example, delivering global public goods can be a robust option for specifying the scope of global governance. If such a concept takes clear shape and is accepted unambiguously by the international community, then delivering global public goods could well be a benchmark for any reformative efforts.

There are enough reasons to justify normative or institutional action to that purpose. National law applies to individuals and companies registered in their territories.  As a result of globalisation, the economic space goes beyond the geographic one. One cannot say the same about institutions and regulations. For example, for a company it may be strictly impossible to exploit child labour in its country of origin. Yet, the same company can do exactly that in a foreign country that has a more permissive legislation or less rule of law.

One of the specificities of contemporary globalisation is that the decline in the power of national governments is not followed by a proportionate increase in international cooperation. The result is that domestic governance is more and more dependent on external factors, while global governance remains insufficient.

Bringing to the fore the concept of global public goods represents a mission statement that is more user friendly for the national interest than, say, the recognition of the expiration of the old principles of national sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs.

Entrusting the UN fully and explicitly with such role and giving it the necessary legal means, financial resources, and political trust to carry it out, is a necessary step which, in the long term, will produce positive consequences and incentives for all states.

Petru Dumitriu

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

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