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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


Reforming the United Nations: The Quiet Revolution
Joachim Müller (ed.)

The Hague and London: Kluwer Law International, 2001
948pp. Hb.: 275 EUR,; ISBN 90-411-1644-3

The reform of the United Nations remains prominent on the international agenda. Since the Korean Crisis in the early 1950s, reform proposals have always concerned the role the United Nations ought to play in international relations. What countries expect the United Nations to be determines their attitude towards the organisation. Typically unilaterally-oriented countries are mostly interested in enhancing the organisation's efficiency. Countries committed to multilateralism aim at fostering the United Nations as the forum par excellence for international cooperation and conflict resolution. There is, however, consensus on the need for the United Nations.

For almost a decade now, Joachim Müller, a long-serving UN official, has documented reforms of, and reform proposals for, the United Nations. The present volume presents current and past issues related to reform approaches. Yet, Müller's emphasis is on recent developments. Relying on primary sources, Müller synthesises all reform initiatives undertaken since 1996. Part I of this, the fourth volume of Reforming the United Nations, describes the efforts made since the 1950s. Part II (Resolutions) and III (Documents) provide a chronological documentation of newer initiatives.

Changes in the organisation and administration of the United Nations do not require a modification of the Charter. The decision-making process is nonetheless lengthy and complicated. Proposals for a change of the Charter, and thereby the nature of the United Nations, fail on a regular basis. But, as Joachim Müller's historical review shows, reform proposals are not without influence on international cooperation. International setting and the attitude towards the United Nations are interwoven. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw a period of declining belief in multilateralism. The world seemed too diverse for cooperation. In the early 1980s, proposals for fundamental reform addressed urgent problems dividing the international stage: the accelerating nuclear arms race (Palme-Commission: "Common Security - A Programme for Disarmament); inequality between industrialised and developing countries (The Brandt-Commission: "North-South - A Programme for Survival"); and, environment and development (Brundtland-Commission: "Our Common Future"). As the example of Agenda 21 shows, reforms have - while not materialising as hoped - enabled international cooperation to extend beyond the area of security.

After 1989, the proposed new world order revived an internationalist approach towards the United Nations. But enthusiasm was short-lived. In the face of numerous regional and interstate conflicts, the United Nations seemed to shift toward acting as only a semi-potent organ of conflict resolution expertise. The organisation's finances have always been weak, but seldom on the brink of insolvency, as it was the case in the mid-1990s, when the United States denied the United Nations further contributions and debt-payments because of reforms that had not been undertaken. So aggressive was the tone that Secretary General Kofi Annan immediately called for a fundamental reform in the organisation of the body. Member states viewed with approval Annan's dedication to transparency, responsive and consultative management, and budget discipline. The reform agenda of the Secretary-General was agreed by the member states. The ongoing quiet, yet fundamental, revolution of the United Nations began.

Müller's volume is a reference set providing policy-makers, researchers and the interested public with a well organised and efficient tool for discussing the future of the United Nations.

Kristin Vorpahl - graduate student in International Relations at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International

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