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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .


The Future of the United Nations System: Potential for the Twenty-first Century
Edited by Chadwick F Alger

(Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 1998)
450pp. Index. Pb.: 23.00; ISBN 92-808-0973-3.



This is a readable, innovative and forward-looking book. Its title sounds stale, partly because several other books have used it in the past few years. However, the approach which the authors, all of them peace researchers, have taken, is illuminating.

The book's twelve chapters have been divided into four parts dealing with what peace researchers call 'negative peace' and 'positive peace'. The first part, which explains how to overcome and prevent violence, fits the definition of negative peace, while parts 2, 3 and 4 look at positive peace, namely creating economic and social structures that sustain human fulfilment; sharing and protecting the global commons; and peace education. Negative peace generally refers to measures that are taken to end conflicts or remove obstacles to peace, while negative peace refers to the programmes that help to build peaceful relations among peoples and states.

The first part addresses non-offensive defence, arms control, disarmament, and the conversion of military-related industries into civil-related plants. It also discusses different approaches to UN peacekeeping, enforcement measures, humanitarian intervention and coping with intra-state conflicts. There is nothing new about the themes addressed by the five chapters in this section, but the approaches the authors have adopted are refreshing.

The second part of the book addresses peace building, focusing especially on moral and ethical issues. It, for instance, explains the institutionalisation of human rights, the advancement of women's interests, and the generation of the political will for the protection of the rights of refugees. This is followed by part three, which discusses approaches to ecological security and communications in the future UN system. The final part of the book concentrates on the UN's role in peace education.

None of the chapters specifically addresses ethnic conflicts per se, but the majority of the book is devoted to addressing the creation of conditions that would render such conflicts irrelevant. Perhaps in keeping with the peace researchers' desire to emphasize 'positive peace', most of the book is about peace-building and peace education, and only marginally about the management of ethnic conflicts.

Scholars of peace research and perhaps some sections of the UN will find this book useful. The book caters for liberals, but, as the authors would probably expect, realists would dismiss it as utopian.


Samuel M. Makinda,
Murdoch University, Australia




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