What is the main role of international institutions? Political, financial and humanitarian perspectives

Essay 2015 16 Pages

Politics - International Politics - General and Theories


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. What is the main role of international institutions?
2.1 Political perspective: example UN
2.2 Financial perspective: example IMF
2.3 Humanitarian perspective: example WHO


1. Introduction

International institutions can be defined as “behavioural regularities associated with a set of rules, norms and routines” ( llegret and Dulbecco, 2002, p. 174) which can either have a formal or informal character. On account of this broad definition international institutions appear in several different forms, such as international organisations as well as international treaties (cf. Max-Planck-Institut, 2015), with divergent conceptual designs, missions and tasks.

For this reason, the main objective of this essay is to answer the question what the main role of international institutions is.

In order to answer the central question the author will only focus on international

institutions in terms of international organisations as an extensive analysis of all forms of international institutions would go beyond the scope of this essay.

The main part of this work will be introduced with a brief overview of the basic concept of global governance.

Subsequently, the central question will be discussed by using three examples of international organisations which correspond to three different perspectives on the problem. These perspectives consist of the political perspective with the United Nations as an example, the financial perspective with the example of the International Monetary Fund and the humanitarian perspective using the World Health Organisation as an example.

Throughout the essay each example follows a certain structure. Firstly, each organisation will be briefly introduced by defining it, clarifying why and by whom it was founded and what its conceptual design and organisational structure are. Secondly, the author will analyse what the main activities, functions and roles of each organisation are and present a critical assessment regarding the roles, work or functioning of the respective organisation afterwards. Lastly, a short outlook concerning the possible future development and position of the international organisations in question will be given. The main findings of the analysis will then be summarised and presented in the conclusion of this essay.

2. What is the main role of international institutions?

First of all, it is very important to mention that the underlying concept of international institutions is global governance. Although no explicit, standardised definition of global governance exists according to Finkelstein (1995, p. 369) global governance can be defined as governing international relations without a sovereign authority.

This broad definition allows for an adequate degree of flexibility regarding the scope, reach, formality, institutionalisation and the different actors of global governance which is indispensable in order to comprehend global governance in all its different forms. The need for global governance emerged on account of the internationalisation of problems previously considered as local or domestic, the interdependencies and the interconnections between states which developed over the years (cf. Finkelstein, 1995). Therefore, global governance should cover overlapping international functions such as information creation and exchange; a regulatory and normative function with the formulation and promulgation of principles; the promotion of cooperation, consensus and common conflict resolution; the allocation of resources; the provision of technical assistance, humanitarian aid and development as well as the maintenance of peace and order (cf. Finkelstein, 1995, pp. 370- 371).

Consequently, the concept of global governance will be one leitmotif throughout the essay as the international organisations presented originate from it.

2.1 Political perspective: example UN

The United Nations (UN) or United Nations Organisation (UNO) is an international organisation which was founded in 1945 with the intention to guarantee and maintain international peace and security. The main bodies of the UN are the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice and the UN Secretariat. Moreover, the UNO is characterised by the so-called “UN-system” which comprises the UNO itself as well as affiliated programmes, funds and specialised agencies. Specialised agencies are autonomous organisations cooperating with the UN based on negotiated agreements (cf. United Nations, n.d. a). What the UN does is to address issues confronting humanity such as peace and security, human rights, humanitarian and health emergencies. In addition, the UN should not only provide a forum, allowing its members to communicate, cooperate and also negotiate with one another, but also provide mechanisms which enable governments to cooperate in problem-solving and to reach a consensus (cf. United Nations, n.d. c). Therefore, the main tasks the UN performs are firstly to maintain international peace and security, including conflict prevention, appeasement of existing conflicts, peacekeeping and the consolidation of peace which are the primary responsibilities of the Security Council. Secondly, the UN is also in charge of promoting a sustainable economic development which leads to a higher social well-being and fosters prosperity. Besides, other guiding principles of the UN are to protect human rights - as for example by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 - as well as to uphold international law, for instance by multilateral treaties or by the work of the Security Council. The last main task of the United Nations is to deliver and coordinate humanitarian aid, for example in case of a natural disaster (cf. United Nations, n.d. d). So, according to Bertrand (1995), the main missions of the UN as an international institution can be summarised by the establishment of permanent cooperation between the representatives of its member states in order to deal with global problems, the development of world peace, the global establishment of democracy and human rights, the ensuring of a stable world economy and the control of all global problems and difficulties in order to integrate the world’s issues and interests into the institution.

However, the UN has problems to fulfil these missions since, on the one hand, it does not implement any serious cooperation between its members owing to the fact that the different UN bodies are mostly dominated and controlled by great powers as it is for example the case in the Security Council. Moreover, as Bertrand (1995, pp. 357-358) points out, the General Assembly is mainly misused as an instrument to confront the propaganda of its members. On the other hand, the UN additionally fails to appease or prevent conflicts effectively as reality demonstrates with the occurrence of numerous, ubiquitous conflicts and wars since the UN was founded. Hence, it can be said that the collective security system, on which the peacekeeping and appeasement by the UN are based, does not work. Another shortcoming is that the current UN system has only limited influence on global economy, except for structural policies by the IMF and World Bank. Therefore, it does not ensure exchange stability, neither prevents severe destabilising crises nor transfers resources from wealthier to poorer countries in order to counteract inequality and promote economic development. Besides, it is quite contradicting that one of the main missions of the UN is to establish democracy on a global level if the UN itself lacks democracy in terms of a democratic representation of peoples, minorities and civil society. Another deficit is that the UN’s organisational structure does not respond adequately to the current global needs. This means that even though the world has become more globalised, except for the UN-Secretary General, there are no positions in the UN which represent the interests of the whole international community adequately since political positions are mainly restricted to a national level (cf. Bertrand, 1995).

As Reisman (1993) emphasises the UN additionally undergoes a constitutional crisis because some parts of the UN - for instance the Security Council - have become more powerful and effective than others and than originally intended. On the one hand, this situation leads to an imbalance within the UN system. On the other hand, the heterogeneous member states have developed complex international interdependencies which require more cooperation. The author now focuses on the Security Council in order to depict the constitutional crisis more clearly.

One problem contributing directly to the asymmetry between the UN bodies is that the

maintenance of peace and security was defined as primary basis for all the other objectives of the UN Charter. For this reason, the Security Council, which is in charge of this function, was assigned a superior position. This is problematic since only the permanent members of the Security Council have veto power so that the distribution of powers within the Security Council can hardly be considered as equal (cf. Reisman, 1993). Related to this aspect is the issue that the interests of more powerful or larger members, such as the permanent ones, dominate not only common interests but also the ones of smaller, less powerful members (cf. Reisman, 1993; cf. Bertrand, 1995). Moreover, the Security Council has become less transparent and more complex as it has developed smaller entities, “mini councils” (Reisman, 1995, p. 85), which meet and decide both secretly and separately (cf. Reisman, 1995). Due to the deficits and problems mentioned people are discouraged about the

functioning and effectiveness of the UN as the growing scepticism and criticism concerning the institution imply. Consequently, it is no surprise that different ideas to reform the UN have emerged since it was founded.

The author will explain the two main approaches to reform namely the conservative and the radical approach. The conservative approach only considers limited reforms, meaning that although the existing system and structure as such are not questioned there is the belief that they can be enhanced. One essential document for the current peacekeeping policy - the “ genda for Peace” by Boutros Ghali - emerged from the conservative approach (cf Bertrand, 1995, p. 352). Nevertheless, the traditional approach to conflict prevention, which means that the conflicting parties meet and discuss together, can be considered as illusionary as this approach has never succeeded in practice (cf. Bertrand, 1995). In contrast to the conservative approach the radical approach questions the concept of collective security and proposes a complete restructuration of the current UN system. Although this approach is relatively new and is not based on a complete theoretical framework it develops rapidly.

However, currently a successful UN reform is not possible because a majority vote of two thirds of the UN members, including the permanent five states of the Security Council, would be necessary. It can be concluded that achieving a positive result and a consensus regarding a reform on such a large scale would be very unlikely as the support for even minor changes, such as an enlargement of the Security Council, is lacking (cf. Bertrand, 1995, p. 355).



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Title: What is the main role of international institutions? Political, financial and humanitarian perspectives