International Affairs
6 November 2015 , Volume 91, Number 6

The 70th anniversary of the signing and entry into force of the United Nations Charter provides a good moment to revisit the conditions under which Allied governments decided to establish the second generation of intergovernmental organization.



Thomas G. Weiss


The wartime commitments to defeating fascism and multilateralism made the establishment of the world organization a logical outgrowth of the wartime origins and the best guarantee of peace and prosperity. Ironically, the ideals of Immanuel Kant were found to be essential to the Hobbesian objective of state survival; multilateralism was a powerful strategy and not merely liberal window-dressing. That historical backdrop is complemented by two largely invisible variables from that time—the role of ideas and of non-state actors—which have since been driving change in the world organization. A future research agenda suggests ways to lift the UN from its current doldrums. Many of the debates and operational activities in the United Nations beginning in the 1970s reflected two topics—interdependence and the proliferation of actors—which profoundly affected what, since the 1990s, we have come to call ‘global governance’. On the positive side, these preoccupations helped us move towards a better understanding of a very complex world. On the downside, they also tend to celebrate unduly the ability of non-state actors and ignore the crucial role of intergovernmental organizations.