About the Book

In a time of growing disenchantment with global institutions and the open liberal values they embody, we risk reversing significant gains made in international cooperation and retreating to nationalism and bilateral relations. Yet today’s challenges transcend national borders and demand effective global governance.

This short introduction to the United Nations analyses the organization as it is today, and how it can be transformed to respond to its critics. Combining essential information about its history and workings with practical proposals of how it can be strengthened, Trent and Schnurr examine what needs to be done, but also how we can actually move toward the required reforms.

This book is written for a new generation of changemakers—a generation seeking better institutions that reflect the realities of the 21st century and that can act collectively in the interest of all.

Order the book online: https://cup.columbia.edu/book/towards-a-united-nations-renaissance/9783847407119


“This book makes clear why this is such an important cause for our time. And its focus on mobilizing young people to the cause is a worthy recommendation.”
Lloyd Axworthy, Past President, University of Winnipeg, former Foreign Minister of Canada

“A concise, crystal clear, superbly informed explanation of how the United Nations works – and why it matters.”
– Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law, University of British Columbia

“Trent and Schnurr provide a persuasive and user-friendly introduction for a new generation of change-makers.”
– Thomas G. Weiss, Presidential Professor of Political Science, The CUNY Graduate Center, Past President International Studies Association

We begin the primer on a positive note, by recognizing the incredible progress made over the last century in achieving the unthinkable and how this gives us hope for global governance, despite the immense challenges ahead. We present the dilemma of facing global challenges in a world of outdated institutions, and the resulting deficit in effective global governance. The UN’s many achievements are listed, alongside its failures and shortcomings. We look at the importance of engaging and empowering youth to transform our world.

Chapter 1 — Evolving International Organizations: the UN Past and Present
From the Concert of Europe to the League of Nations to the United Nations, the chapter begins with a history of international cooperation efforts and what they teach us about international organizations, governance, sovereignty and power relations. An overview of the UN is then provided, from the six principal organs to the Secretary-General, UN budgets, the UN system, and other international actors. Throughout, readers are provided with the tools for critical and analytical thinking about the current structure and how it might be improved.

Chapter 2 — Peace and Security: Fixing the Security Council
The Security Council’s functions and activities are explored, along with an analysis of its strengths and weaknesses in the context of current security threats such as terrorism, nuclear weapons and intrastate conflict. We discuss issues of decision-making, representation and participation. The UN’s role in peacekeeping (as well as peacemaking and peacebuilding) is presented. In considering the future of the Security Council and possible reforms, we look at how composition and veto power affect legitimacy, fairness and effectiveness.

Chapter 3 — Social and Economic Development
We observe how the notion of development has evolved, and how early efforts were followed by a rapid expansion of development-related work. From the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals, we consider how the development landscape has changed and how the new set of goals reflects current realities, priorities, and pressures. Looking ahead, we discuss partnering in a new era of development cooperation, and the roles of the private sector, civil society, innovation and technology. We look at whether the UN is prepared, covering issues such as streamlining the UN development system, business practices, prioritizing, and reforming the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Chapter 4 — Promoting and Protecting Human Rights
Beginning with the basics, we introduce international human rights law, contradicting interpretations and the tremendous cost of violations. We then reflect on the UN’s record in upholding human rights by looking at the Commission on Human Rights, the Human Rights Council, the Office of the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Criminal Court, Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and human security, and protection of migrants and refugees. We end by considering various reform proposals – both big and small – and weighing the likelihood of achieving change.

Chapter 5 — Workable Global Institutions: How to Get from Here to There?
The concluding chapter is dedicated to exploring proposals for transforming the UN and practical steps for achieving change. It begins by summarizing lessons learnt on understanding world institutions, followed by a review of recent literature on revamping the UN. It goes on to outline nine popular reform ideas, from improving the principal organs to strengthening the human rights apparatus and establishing R2P criteria. Finally, we look at how to build a movement for reform, by identifying potential allies (and blockers), creating smart coalitions of likeminded actors, building public support through a marketing campaign, and transforming public support into political pressure.