Despite the failed League of Nations, neither governments nor analysts considered a return to the world of 1913 a viable option. If that had been the case, Allied governments might have insisted on Spartan educational methods to prepare their populations for the next war; or reciprocal mass atrocities perpetrated against the Germans; or bombing Moscow as an encore to Nagasaki. Something fundamental had changed.
That no such retribution occurred should be puzzling; to win and yet not to seek revenge and to plant the seeds for the next war was not an approach much in evidence in history, save in limited form after 1815. The post-World War II peace was not supposed to reflect a Metternich-like management of nationalisms, however, but cooperation among friends and rivals.
Identifying the conditions under which multilateralism’s appeal from 1942 to 1945 overcame the recalcitrance of states to collaborate results in two queries: Must the next generation of multilateral organizations arise as a result of unnecessary and unspeakable tragedies — as the UN did from the ashes of World War II or the Congress of Vienna from the Napoleonic Wars? Or could stronger institutions result from learning lessons about how best to address felt needs that clearly do not respect borders?
The 1940s should give us the courage to formulate more ambitious visions about improving future world orders. In the second half of the second decade of the 21st century, addressing transboundary and collective-action problems requires refurbishing or creating more muscular intergovernmental organizations with wider scope, more resources and additional democratic authority.
Too much current scholarly and diplomatic energy is devoted to elucidating the global sprawl of networks and informal institutions, and too little is given to the requirements for strengthened intergovernmental organizations, most especially the UN. The contrast is stark between good-enough global governance and the approach and operations of the wartime UN — namely a misplaced enthusiasm for ad hoc pluralism rather than for systematic multilateralism. There are many potential and valuable partners in today’s variable architecture of global governance, but their limitations should be obvious as well.
Without more robust multilateralism, especially in the form of universal organizations like those launched during and after World War II, states and their citizens will not reap the benefits of trade and globalization, discover nonviolent ways to meet security challenges or alleviate poverty and environmental degradation.
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PassBlue- a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, CUNY Graduate Center
Author: Thomas G. Weiss
*This articleoriginally appeared on PassBlue, and is granted permission to be republished on MUNPlanet.
Cover Image: [Meeting of Commission I, General Provisions, Committee 1 on Preamble, Purposes and Principles; Henri Rolin (Belgium), Chairman. 4 May 1945. UN Photo/Lundquist, via UN Photo, Flickr]
What is your opinion on the origins and future of the United Nations? How the context of the Second World War and the views from 70 years ago informed the world organization, and what can be some of the lessons and principles used for thinking about the future of the UN?