Many heavy hitters showed up to speak at the United Nations this week. But the speech that got the most attention was that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who employed a cartoon picture of a bomb to warn the world that Iran was fast on its way to becoming a nuclear power.
Even if Netanyahu made a memorable case to the U.N., however, the question is whether it will make any difference. In the view of Bloomberg Businessweek, “empty seats” bore “mute testimony to the world body’s waning significance.” Businessweek also lamented the U.N.’s “paralysis on sore subjects such as Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Syria’s rebellion, North Korea’s errant rocket launches and Palestinian statehood.”
Peter Drucker saw the U.N., in part, as a paradox. Its founders, he maintained, were not really global in mindset. Instead, he explained, some Americans were eager to shunt foreign affairs to “an automatic, self-governing, perfect mechanism” in the form of the U.N. So-called internationalists like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. were, in Drucker’s opinion, really isolationists who hoped “that the United Nations would make the world ‘safe,’ thereby enabling America to return to its own business” at home.
Of course, things didn’t work out that way. The world grew smaller, and its problems grew closer. As such (and as we’ve noted), Drucker asserted that transnational cooperation to address the most serious threats—environmental pollution, terrorism, nuclear proliferation—was essential.
To some extent, the U.N. has proved itself useful in this respect. “The turning point may indeed have been the Gulf War, and especially the decision to entrust the destruction of Iraq’s terror weapons (nuclear, chemical, and biological) to agencies of the United Nations rather than to have this task carried out by the victorious U.S. Army,” Drucker noted in Post-Capitalist Society.
But in other ways, the U.N. has fallen short, and Drucker believed that what we really need are stronger institutions built for a new age. “The design of the necessary agencies is still ahead of us,” Drucker wrote. “The development of transnational institutions, the decision as to spheres in which they can act, their constitution, their powers, their relationship to national governments and their financing . . . are still far off.”
When it comes to transnational threats, is the United Nations the best institution through which to organize transnational cooperation? If not, what would be preferable?