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Understanding United Nations reform. Ten theoretical clues: (9) Constitutional reform?

Published on 19 May 2015
Updated on 05 April 2024

The idea of a new ‘global constitution’, albeit useful theoretically, should not necessarily be the core stake of reformative visions. Betting excessively on such a direction would trigger a perilous dissatisfaction in the event of failure and divert energies from more feasible goals in the shorter term. The United Nations (UN) represents admittedly the maximum of power the international community can allow to an organisation of global competence, at this historic juncture. Therefore, what is necessary is perhaps not an institutional surplus, but extra functionality.

The goals stated in the UN Charter are certainly comprehensive enough and sufficient as a legal basis. So are the existing rules of procedure on the functions and competences of various UN organs. Yet, this observation does not imply that the working methods they entail are the only and exclusive alternatives. They can be complemented by others, as a means of permanent adaptation to the dynamics of reality and in view of accumulated experience. The UN has proved to be an entity which, in terms of institutional resources at least, is equipped to keep up with the responsibility entrusted to it, including with respect to the constitutional dimension.

However, there is one major shortcoming that could be solved by way of constitutional changes, which comes from a different interpretation of the current legal framework:  the lack of an organic synthesis between economic and social issues on the one hand, and security issues on the other, with respect to the mandate and the means for action, as well as the nature of decisions taken (obligatory or just policy recommendations). Certainly, a more compact approach would require redefining the common interest of mankind, so that the UN could aim at an efficient focus on global issues.

A reform heading to a new role of the UN in development would be welcome, but not sufficient. If we deem, and many do, that the power wielded by the International Monetary Fund or the World Trade Organization over the world’s economy, on which the UN has no bearing, is part of the problem, then the UN Charter is not the only Constitution that needs changes. The UN reform must be harmonised with a possible reform of Bretton-Woods institutions.

Petru Dumitriu

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