Why do nations need public order

UN and human rights

Lothar Brock

To person

Dr. phil., born 1939; Senior Professor of Political Science at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main; Associate scientist at the Leibniz Institute Hessian Foundation for Peace and Conflict Research, Baseler Strasse 27–31, 60329 Frankfurt / M. [email protected]

The United Nations was founded to free humanity from the scourge of war. Today, more than 70 years later, we are confronted with ever new, dangerously escalating international tensions and conflicts, as well as with transnational terrorism that is increasingly threatening people's everyday lives. The United Nations was founded to increase the general welfare of mankind. Today, more than 70 years later, we are confronted with a persistent welfare gap between and within states, triggering huge migratory flows, which in turn are accompanied by new social tensions and conflicts. The United Nations was founded to promote and protect human rights. Today, more than 70 years later, there are even in liberal democracies tendencies towards political radicalization that call into question fundamental democratic values.

If so, what do we need the United Nations for? Do we even need them? The answer can only be: We need them more than ever - not in spite of, but because of, the deplorable developments of the present. Even its harshest critics find it difficult to imagine a world without the United Nations, even if the organization can do and achieve a lot less than the UN Charter dictates. We do not know whether without them "a third world war would probably have happened" [1]. Nor can we say with certainty how much worse the world in general would have been without the United Nations. But we know that if they didn't exist, they would have to be invented today.

From the idea of ​​a League of Nations to the UN system

The United Nations, said Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in June 2015 at the 35th Evangelical Church Congress in Stuttgart, "may not be the seat of world reason", but "the smartest thing that we have produced after two world wars and 80 million deaths" . [2] He said it in the presence of the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who with his reform policy for the United Nations had given the cosmopolitan hopes of the liberal part of the world public considerable impetus in the 1990s. These hopes, which center on the creation of an "appropriately institutionalized world order" (Jürgen Habermas) after the end of the East-West conflict, have meanwhile been disappointed in many ways. From a historical perspective, however, it is by no means imperative to give them up in the face of ever new setbacks on the way to world peace. [3]

One of the sources from which hope for more peaceful world conditions is drawn to this day are the writings of Immanuel Kant, namely his reflections "On Eternal Peace". [4] Kant postulated that, for reasons of reason, states could ask each other to refrain from using force. But he did not believe that it would be enough to try to convince the rulers that it was in their own interest not to go to war. Rather, he advocated the creation of institutions that would guide politics on the path of reason. In Kant's intellectual edifice, this included a republican constitution that did not leave the decision on war and peace to the princes, a League of Nations that strengthen cooperative versus confrontational behavior, and a cosmopolitan (legal) order that gave all people equal participation in the goods of the World would make possible.

With these ideas, Kant was way ahead of his time. But in the course of the 19th century developments emerged in which elements of the Kantian peace plan became recognizable. This applies in particular to the formation of the first international organizations, the invention of international humanitarian law and the increasing questioning of the unrestricted right to war that states have exercised (liberum ius ad bellum). This tendency, which manifested itself at the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, was supported by civil society peace movements that advocated a world without war from a bourgeois (also Christian) and socialist point of view.

However, these attempts to overcome the prevailing militarism and chauvinism proved too weak to contain the escalation of the conflicts emanating from Europe. But they were strong enough to inspire the creation of the first general international organization after the First World War, whose task it was to replace the alliance policy and secret diplomacy of the prewar period, which had been blamed for the war, with a permanent collective peacekeeping system.

The establishment of the League of Nations represented a far-reaching innovation in the sense of the Kantian peace plan, but its peacemaking potential was only rudimentary. The League of Nations initially remained caught in the turmoil of post-war politics and later had to assert itself in an anti-Enlightenment world in which fascism and Stalinism set the tone. He finally fell victim to the disputes they sparked, but the idea of ​​a League of Nations remained effective: as early as the Second World War, the USA and Great Britain developed a plan to create a new world organization that should be able to regulate post-war conditions.

The founding of the United Nations in 1945 was not driven by cosmopolitan insights, but by the efforts of the main actors (initially the USA and Great Britain, later also the Soviet Union) to create a post-war order in which their own interests could come into play. Despite the war coalition, there were considerable conflicts between these interests. They concerned not only the relationship between the two Western powers with the Soviet Union, but also the relationship between the Western powers among themselves. [5] In this respect, the founding of the United Nations, like that of the League of Nations, could be seen as a continuation of a timeless power politics in a new historical context.

The decisive factor, however, was that the USA and Great Britain did not reject the League of Nations idea, despite the experiences of the interwar period, but instead regarded the implementation of this idea in the form of the United Nations as in their own interest and were able to convince the Soviet Union of this. Of course, this meant that the concrete form that the United Nations assumed was decisively shaped by the constellation of interests within the war alliance. This fact found its expression in the establishment of a Security Council with five permanent members ("P5"), who granted themselves a right of veto, whereby the inclusion of France and China in this privileged group was for their part an expression of a calculation of interests, especially of the USA and Great Britain, and by no means emerged from considerations of an appropriate representation of the world of states.

The form in which the great powers asserted their interests in founding the United Nations is on the one hand a birth defect of the organization. On the other hand, the arrangement that the victorious powers agreed upon in 1945 was a prerequisite for its founding at all came. Apart from that, the development of the organization was in no way determined by the interests of the victorious powers of the Second World War. Rather, despite the East-West conflict, this development developed a momentum of its own that was hardly anticipated by the founding states.

Unlike the League of Nations, the United Nations was conceived from the outset as a universal organization. All states that committed themselves to the goals of the United Nations (initially with the exception of the "enemy states") [6] had the opportunity to be admitted by resolution of the UN General Assembly. This proved to be extremely significant due to the dissolution of the colonial empires in the 1950s and 1960s. As a result of decolonization and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the number of UN member states rose from 50 and 51 founding members respectively (Poland was not present when the UN Charter was signed) to 193.

This fundamentally changed the composition of the General Assembly. The originally given majority in favor of the West quickly crumbled. The General Assembly could not and cannot pass resolutions binding the member states, but it does play a role in legitimizing the policies pursued by the individual states and in turn contributes to the further development of the normative framework of this policy. In this respect, the change in the majority structure was also important for the great powers.

A second fact that has spurred the development of the United Nations is that the organization, as the core of a "working" peace system (working peace system) was designed. This concept followed on from what is known as functionalism in research on international relations, whose representatives believed that peace was not primarily a "top-down" (top-down), but "from bottom to top" (bottom-up) must come about, i.e. through a constantly expanding cooperation in solving specific transnational problems. Such a cooperation has indeed come about in the course of the globalization of all areas of life. The UN has become a UN community or a UN system. This system does not constitute a world government, but is an expression of the need to govern the world without a world government (global governance). [7] This is a task the difficulty of which can hardly be overestimated.