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Thomas Weiss’ What’s Wrong with the United Nations and How to Fix it Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Aug 30th, 2021

Introduction

Weiss is a commonplace figure in the global scene if his authorship on matters concerning global institutions is anything to go by. What is wrong with the United Nations and how to fix it is not Weiss’ premier on the subject of the UN. He has written other volumes on the same such as UN Voices: the struggle for development and social justice, as well as the UN and the changing world politics.

However, this volume stands aloof in its approach to tackling the inefficiencies of the international body. The book employs a problem-solution approach in identifying what ails in the UN and offers remedies as what can be done to salvage the situation.

Organization of the book

Weiss organizes the book into two parts. The first part diagnoses what is wrong with the UN, and the second provides some prognoses for fixing the problem. The aim of Part One of the book, titled, ‘Diagnosing the ills’ is to spell out in four chapters the four main shortcomings of the United Nations (Weiss 2009 p.1-169).

Illustrations in each chapter detail one or more salient examples from the world body’s three substantive areas of work: international peace and security; human rights; and sustainable development. Weiss maintains this subject template throughout his work, although the reader will find different illustrations for each of the main areas of work within every chapter.

Summary of the book

As stated earlier, Weiss opts to take problem-solution approach in this volume with the first part of his work dedicated to tackling the challenges that the UN is encountering.

He asserts that the problems that the international body is facing are due to poor international leadership especially given that most states are bound to advance their interests. Weiss believes that the solution to the current challenges facing the UN will not be solved by performing a miracle but cites examples of how they can be overcome through various instances (Weiss 2009 p. 155).

He holds that it is feasible to change global organizations like the UN if people rely on hope rather than their own wisdom to do so. The fifth chapter of the book, which is the first in its second part titled ‘Redefining national interests’ begins with spotty progress that has been made in recasting interests in terms of international responsibility and good global citizenship.

Particularly, this chapter examines closely the emergence of the ‘responsibility to protect’ and other human rights norms that are making inroads in the fortress of state sovereignty (Evans 2008).

Weiss looks at the numerous efforts, some successful and some not, to centralize authority and coordinate responses among UN agencies in ‘Truly delivering as one’. He also discusses alternative strategies for funding the UN’s budget (Weiss 2009 p. 173-190).

In the concluding chapter ‘Reinvigorating the international civil service’, Weiss highlights the need to rediscover the idealistic notions of the international civil service (Weiss 2009 p. 191-214).

The theme of the book

In the entire book, the underlying argument posited by Weiss is simple and direct. He states that national sovereignty is the underlying organizing stipulation of the United Nations. Since World War II, revolutionary change and the new demands of a global world have steadily reduced the relevance and importance of national sovereignty in most areas of human activity (Puchala 2007).

At the United Nations, however, national sovereignty is as strong, or stronger, than ever. Weiss states that in order to prove this, there is no need to look further, but should examine the obstacles that confront the UN in dealing with conflicts in the developing countries (Weiss 2009 p. 107).

He adds that the history of the UN has been, among other things, a continuous and often unsuccessful effort to find a working balance between national sovereignty, on the other hand, and international responsibility and effective action on the other.

If global warming, terrorism, and nuclear proliferation are serious threats – as they surely are – we simply cannot limp along indefinitely with the current, severely limited generation of international organizations (Jolly, Emmerij, & George 2009).

In order to devise and to rally support for serious reform, it is important that the current working of the United Nations be far better understood than now than is now the case (Fasulo 2009).

Weiss provides a clear and highly readable account of the main activities of the organization, as well as brilliant analysis of its contemporary operations and problems. Weiss examines the relationship between the secretariat and intergovernmental bodies, both in the UN itself and in the UN system of specialized agencies and special programs.

Conclusion

In a bold and original conclusion, Weiss proceeds to outline the need to go further than the present stage of international ‘governance’, which has manifestly too many anomalies to provide an adequate response to the kind of problems the human race now faces (Weiss 2009 p. 192).

This is a bracing departure from the timidity and circumlocution on such subjects often induced by the jeremiads of our contemporary breed of neo-super-nationalists (Kennedy 2007). One cannot doubt the timely publication of this volume especially at a time when the international organization is in perpetual crisis (Ryan 2000).

As such, the volume will be appropriate to all those who are in the academic fraternity, as well as decision makers with keen interests in the politics of the globe. In addition, the book will also prove to be handy to anyone who has an interest in the future of the UN and that of international cooperation in general.

Bibliography

Evans G. 2008. The responsibility to protect: ending mass atrocity crimes once and for all. London: Brooks Institution Press. 349 p.

Fasulo L. 2009. An insider’s guide to the UN. New York : Yale University Press. 262 p.

Jolly R, Emmerij L, and George O. 2009. UN ideas that changed the world. Indiana: Indiana University Press. 310 p.

Kennedy P. 2007. The parliament of man: the past, present, and future of the United Nations. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing. 384 p.

Puchala DJ. 2007. United Nations politics: international organization in a divided world. New York: Pearson Prentice Hall. 246 p.

Ryan S. 2000. The United Nations and international politics. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 209 p.

Weiss TG. 2009. What is wrong with the United Nations and how to fix it? Cambridge: Polity. 292 p.

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