'This post-war, rules-based system of ours cannot be assumed to have a long-term future. It is not naturally self-sustaining. In history, orders are not naturally self-sustaining.'
Kevin Rudd, President, Asia Society Policy Institute; Prime Minister of Australia (2013; 2007–10)
'We need the United Nations as a guarantor of international law and rights. But it needs more capability to make decisions.'
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Founder and Chairman, Rasmussen Global; Secretary General, NATO (2009-14); Prime Minister of Denmark (2001-09)
Key discussion points
The UN system is running out of time to reform. Central structures like the Security Council grow more anachronistic by the year, and the inability to reform key pillars could eventually undermine the organization as a whole. Decision-making effectiveness varies from agency to agency. As organizations like the WHO struggle with their mandates, their ability to implement decisions depends heavily on NGOs and other non-state actors, making global governance uneven.
The UN system fails as a security provider. Similar to its reliance on NGOs in other areas, the UN remains too reliant on regional security organizations like NATO. The disjunction between the two organizations, such as over the interpretation of the mandate for the Libya intervention in 2011, can do more harm than good for the UN's legitimacy. The UN is no longer in a position to take decisive action to maintain peace and justice as it did in Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia. This suggests that the whole concept of responsibility to protect is disintegrating. The situation in Syria further highlights the lack of a functioning international security order.
Liberal democracy cannot be taken for granted. After a long period of growth for democracy around the world following the end of the Cold War, there has been a decline in overall freedom around the world over the past decade, as measured by Freedom House. Moreover, liberal democracy's association with the current global order means the weakening of international institutions can undermine both. The UN may need a 'democratic caucus' to support democracy.
Dialogue remains essential. Despite rising tensions, Russia and the West still face the shared challenges of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. They were able to work together effectively to control chemical weapons in Syria; they can do more together. It is therefore important to keep Russia at the table, for example in the Council of Europe. Dialogue alone will not solve problems, but the fora must be kept open, and the UN is part of the framework that instils the habit of dialogue between states.
A global retreat by the US would be immensely damaging to world order. A series of poor foreign policy decisions has weakened the US on the world stage, and America's domestic politics still flirt with isolationism. But for all the talk of multilateralism, the post-war order continues to be underpinned by American power. A significant reduction in America's global role would introduce a void that is not easily filled.
Global governance is not self-sustaining. The tendency of the international system remains towards entropy and anarchy. An established, relatively long-running global order is an historical anomaly is not self-sustaining unless nation-states make it so. If national governments, which retain the ultimate decision making power, do not take the important and difficult decisions to renew the global system, global order could suffer 'death by a thousand cuts'.