1945's Lesson: 'Good Enough' global governance ain't good enough.

Author:Plesch, Dan
Position:THE GLOBAL FORUM - Essay

The seventieth anniversary of the signing and entry into force of the UN Charter should call attention to the 1942-1945 United Nations Alliance that gave rise to the world body and the underpinnings of contemporary global governance. However, no longer are wars the only threats to international order. The growing list of intractable problems ranges from climate change and migration to pandemics and terrorism.

What remains unchanged after seven decades is that the policy authority and resources necessary for tackling such problems remain vested in individual states rather than collectively in intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). The fundamental disconnect between a growing number of global challenges and the current inadequate structures for international problem solving and decisionmaking helps to explain occasional, tactical, and shortterm local views and responses instead of sustained, strategic, and longerrun global perspectives and actions.

The rediscovery of the wartime United Nations contradicts the conventional wisdom that liberalism was abandoned to confront the Nazis and imperial Japan; it asserts that the ideals of Immanuel Kant were found to be essential to the Hobbesian objective of state survival. The attendant historio-graphical question is why the wartime UN has disappeared from academic and policy consciousness. For those who examine primary sources, this UN is in the pages of the US government's Foreign Relations of the United States of that time as well as mainstream international relations journals, newspapers, and minutes of town-hall meetings.

When governments decide to use intergovernmental organizations, they work. The wartime actions of the UN's founders suggest that contemporary global governance often is a second-best surrogate for their more robust multilateralism and IGOs. If global problems require global solutions, they also require strengthened intergovernmental organizations, especially those of the UN system.

This proposition flies in the face of an infatuation with problem solving by anything other than IGOs. A decade ago, Anne-Marie Slaughter viewed networks of various types rather than actual organizations as the key variable in problem solving. (1) More recently, Dan Drezner and Stewart Patrick have proposed living with the sum of alternative arrangements and dismissed the universal membership United Nations largely as hopeless and hapless. Apparently, we can aspire to only a variegated institutional sprawl--or "good-enough global governance." (2)

Alas, that is not and will not be adequate without a revitalized United Nations as an integral component of international society. Skepticism about UN capacity is certainly justified, but we are kidding ourselves about the potential of plurilateralisms and minilateralisms--what the Human Development Report 2013 hopes somehow will constitute a lattice of "coherent pluralism." (3)

Political leaders and civil society actors struggling in the midst of World War II thought otherwise. The Declaration by United Nations of January 1942 and the Atlantic Charter of August 1941 committed the Allies to multilateralism not only to fight fascism in the short term, but also over the longer term to maintain international peace and security and to foster postwar economic and social stability.

Revisiting 1945's Forgotten Insights

The rediscovery of the lost or the suppressed is a recurring theme in literature, mythology, and history from the Renaissance to Western popular fiction since World War II--Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Star Wars. The UN at war provides another startling illustration from its founding on 1 January 1942, some three and a half years before the 26 June 1945 signing of the Charter in San Francisco.

"We mean business in this war in a political and humanitarian sense just as surely as we mean business in a military sense." (4) Such was US president Franklin D. Roosevelt's message in November 1943, when he addressed a White House conference that created the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) that would dispense 1 percent of national income to liberated states from their more fortunate allies to replace industrial equipment, infrastructure, and livestock as well as to stop epidemics and help survivors.

From 1942 the UN Information Office spread the ideas of foreigners to domestic audiences, the reverse of the idea that public diplomacy is about projecting national ideas abroad. The Food and Agriculture...

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