The United Nations remains one of the most well-known pillars of international relations, dominating many conceptions of what exactly the international system consists of. Despite this, the exact concepts present within the United Nations legal framework can often appear nebulous and daunting, consisting of a plethora of interworking parts and countless moving actors. As a result, this 101 series therefore aims to simplify the concept of the United Nations and its connection to international law. It first begins with a chronological history of how international law, specifically within the context of the United Nations, was formed and eventually adopted by states in the system. The series also includes a brief explanation of the main lawmaking bodies of the United Nations, along with methods of how to interpret and put the law into practice. By analyzing enforcement mechanisms for states in the system, the 101 series ends with a case review of the most well-known cases within the United Nations canon and a hypothetical look into the future as to the relevancy of UN law. It is the aim of this series to provide the reader with a foundation from which many dimensions of international law can be better understood, along with a critical lens to analyze many facets of the international system within this context of the United Nations' deep connection to the law. United Nations and the Law 101 is therefore divided into six chapters: 1. United Nations and the Law 101: A Chronological History
6. United Nations and the Law 101: Future Implications
United Nations and the Law 101: Future Implications
Previous articles in this United Nations and the Law 101 series have analyzed the implications of the current UN system, ranging from describing the complicated and interwoven nature of the lawmaking process to how such laws are enforced. Despite the importance of the current status of UN jurisprudence, the future of the UN and its subsequent impact on international law still remains a pertinent question for legal scholars. In an uncertain period of global pandemic and rising interstate conflict, the last article aims to provide a brief literature review on the philosophical underpinnings behind the future of the UN and subsequent recommendations for a more equitable and just world system.
A series of papers published by an independent team of advisors to ECOSOC (the UN’s economic and social council responsible for sustainable development) provides recommendations in the context of future UN development. Identifying key challenges that the UN system currently faces, these advisors propose a broad series of recommendations and changes that would re-prioritize and specify functions for Member States, “[allowing] greater clarity and specificity about the mandates of agencies, funds, and programs . . . [to] bridge existing gaps and avoid costly overlaps” (The Future we Want, n.d., p. 4). However, it remains clear that the UN remains a highly fragmented entity, thereby constraining future action for both sustainable development and legal jurisprudence. Perhaps the independent advisors’ most underscored recommendation was that of “a global strategic framework” integrating the work of various UN entities with collective action problems currently on the world stage today (The Future we Want, n.d., p. 4). On a fundamental level, the advisors recognized the disparate needs of various UN member states and the subsequent inputs at both state and regional levels as to the next step forward.
Various UN agencies share this sentiment for clearer mandates and more centralized frameworks regarding the future of the international organization. The current Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres, promoted a serious revision of the organization at a recent General Assembly meeting. Specifically, he recommended the institutionalization of a “Summit of the Future,” which would subsequently address investments in peace-building and new methods for conflict prevention (United Nations, 2021). With the ultimate goal of inclusive multilateralism, Guterres called for meetings between current heads of state and various UN agencies such as ECOSOC. In the recently released “Our Common Agenda” report, both Guterres and various UN agencies call for “the core values of the UN to be reaffirmed, whilst acknowledging that the foundations of the Organization need to be reshaped to better reflect today’s world” through a more participatory and inclusive approach of a people-centered policy (United Nations, 2021).
Our Common Agenda
Launched in September 2021, the “Our Common Agenda” report falls on the eve of the UN’s seventy-fifth anniversary as a forward-looking vision of the next twenty-five years in the organization (United Nations Foundation, 2021). As mentioned previously, this report calls for an inclusive multilateral approach to tackling the UN’s most pressing issues - with four broad areas of interest (Our Common Agenda, 2021). First, a renewed social contract in which the private sector and civil society work together to rebuild trust in individual aims. Second, solidarity with young and future generations by enhancing quality education aims to provide youth in the international community the opportunity to enact their voice and actively participate in both international politics and its legal dimensions. Third, urgent action to facilitate international economic transactions and global public goods in the form of governance arrangements is warranted. Finally, the plan calls for a modernized UN which can tackle the present problems of the twenty-first century. Twelve key proposals designed to help achieve sustainable development goals supplement the recommendations. Specifically, the proposals include a promise to “abide by international law and ensure justice” through actions such as comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, the end of statelessness, and a developed road map to further implement international law (Our Common Agenda, 2021).
Response to Covid-19 Criticism
Analyzing international law in the UN through the context of current crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic and increasing interstate conflicts of recent months, much criticism contends that the organization has not done enough to combat such woes. In particular, many argue that there does not exist a comprehensive legal framework that adequately addresses the individualized needs of member states. Though many independent authorities and future-facing agendas have proposed ideas and recommendations for the future, such implementation is a different story. Inclusive multilateralism, in which member states play a larger role in the discussion process, is the predominant method forward as discussed by Guterres and “Our Common Agenda”.
This brief literature review of the current discussions regarding action plans for the UN, though critical of an exclusive environment with high degrees of fragmentation, remains optimistic. It remains to be seen whether the twelve key proposals of the common agenda proposal will be adequately fulfilled, and to what extent international law finds itself interlinked with such policies. Looking forward, causes of concern such as heightened isolationism among major world powers and continued public health crises such as Covid-19 may set the stage for how both the UN and international law will continue to develop in the future. Such crises may lead to a decreased focus in the tenets of maintaining international cooperation and development, as world powers struggle to invest their resources in a myriad of issues at their feet. However, if a serious undertaking of the common agenda proposal is to be attempted, a certain degree of modernization to the UN remains hopeful on the horizon.
The Future we Want: The UN System we Need. ECOSOC Dialogue on the longer-term positioning of the United Nations development system. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.un.org/ecosoc/sites/www.un.org.ecosoc/files/files/en/qcpr/2022/2022-UNSDG-Chair-Report-on-DCO-Advanced-unedited-version.pdf United Nations. (2021). Our common agenda. United Nations: Common Agenda. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/common-agenda
United Nations. (2021). The Future of International Cooperation: Time to think big, urges Guterres . UN News. Retrieved from https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/09/1099522 United Nations Foundation. (n.d.). Our common agenda. United Nations Foundation. Retrieved October 14, 2022, from https://unfoundation.org/our-common-agenda/
Cover Image: UN News (n.d.). [Image]. United Nations News. Retrieved from: https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/09/1099522 Figure 1: Kaizer, F. (n.d.). Food distribution during the coronavirus pandemic in Bangladesh. [Image]. United Nations News. Retrieved from: https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/09/1099522
Figure 2: UNICEF (n.d.). Girls from an indigenous community read outdoors at Ban Pho Primary School in Bac Han District in remote Lao Cai Province, Viet Nam. [Image]. United Nations News. Retrieved from: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/01/1056382