Is the U.N. still relevant?

The United Nations is a relevant institution that needs an update.
  • Transcript


Question: Is the U.N. still relevant?

Shashi Tharoor: Well I think it’s both relevant and irrelevant. It’s relevant in many ways as . . . as a body which . . . which pulls together every country on earth to pursue common objectives. In an interdependent world – in our globalizing world – it’s a global institution, and the one universal global institution. Every country, the moment it, you know, puts up its flag of independence wants to join the U.N. And that, I think, is the U.N.’s greatest strength. It’s irrelevant in a certain sense that . . . Well in . . . in two senses. One is that it’s irrelevant to the . . . in terms of its ability to prevent big, strong powers from doing what they want. The U.S. wants to go into Iraq. It goes to the U.N., it doesn’t get a blessing but it goes ahead anyway, and there’s nothing the U.N. can do about it. To that degree it’s true. But then I used to argue when I was at the U.N. at that time that that merely proves the U.N. was doing its job. It . . . You know, it discussed the issue and the U.N. failed to agree, which is only one way of doing its job. And that’s . . . that’s right. But at the same time it also proves that the U.N. is irrelevant to the war, but will one day be relevant to the ensuing peace. And I still hope that will turn out to be the case. The second way in which the U.N. is in danger of irrelevance is that a lot of its institutional membership is reflective of the geo-political realities of 1945 and not of 2007. So you’ve got the Security Council and its five permanent members; but the composition of that Council really reflects the world pattern at the end of the Second World War. You know the five victorious allies gave themselves the permanent seats. The non-permanent seats still show a disproportionate number of European countries. Today’s world is . . . is overwhelmingly not European. Europe with five percent of the world’s population has 33 percent of the seats on the Security Council. Countries like Britain and France have a veto in the Security Council, while Germany, and Japan, and China, and India, and Brazil, and South Africa don’t. So how do you make the institution more reflective of the world of today than of the world in which it was created? Until that’s done, and done I hope in the . . . in the . . . in the imaginable future, there is a real danger of the U.N. being seen as irrelevant by those who are left out of it.

Recorded on: 9/18/07