In the decade after the end of the cold war




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CAPABILITY THEORY AND THE UNITED NATIONS

IN THE DECADE AFTER THE END OF THE COLD WAR


By Dr. Mark Anderson and Dr. Jack E. Vincent


Introduction


The United Nations, and its various parts, is the one international body created in the


post-World War II era by the international community to support dialogue and


communication amongst nations. Mechanisms were created for the peaceful resolution of


disputes so as to maintain “international peace and security”.1 In addition, the use of


force, sanctioned by the international community, to maintain “international peace and


security” was created and put into force under Chapter 7 dealing with the rights and


duties of the Security Council under Article 42 of the Charter of the United Nations.2


A theoretical foundation for the relationship between nations can first be found amongst


the way one person relates to another person since nations are made up individuals.


Hobbes’ “state of nature depicts a state of anarchy that is most disagreeable.


Thomas Hobbes famously argues in Leviathan (1651) that the state of nature is a

state of “warre, as is of every man, against every man”. In such a condition, man

not only lives in “continuall feare, and danger of violent death” but even his

potentially short life is utterly miserable because without security there is no

industry, agriculture, commerce, science or arts. In sum, the life of man is

“solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short” (Hobbes 1991: ch 13, 88-893


Scholars of international relations debate the reasons why people or nations fight with


one another. Hobbes lists three reasons for conflict.


In chapter 13 of Leviathan Hobbes summarizes his explanation of conflict in

state of nature as follows: “So that in the nature of man, we find three principal

causes of quarrel. First, Competition; Secondly, Diffiedence; Thirdly, Glory.

The first, maketh men invade for Gain; the second, for Safety, and the Third,

For Reputation.” (ch13, 88)4


A sovereign world government is not present as the nation-state system created after the


Treaty of Westphalia still exists today. Yes, there are many international bodies that


work together in economic, social, monetary policy, and trade policy, and


peacekeeping efforts.5 The world is much smaller place today and the world economy is


much more integrated than ever before. There are regional organizations like the


European Union that integrates the economies, legal systems, currency6, and the rights of


many nations and peoples of Europe together.


With the creation of the United Nations and the five permanent members of the Security


Council that have the “double” veto to make sure that the major powers retain their


sovereignty in their foreign and domestic affairs, one can see that the world is far from


having true world government. One critique of the United Nations is that it does not


solve conflict situations per se. It is only when the nations involved in an international


dispute which turns into armed conflict calculate that peace, or rather a short respite from


armed conflict is beneficial to the national interest are international peacekeepers allowed


to enter. In other words, the cost of continuing the armed conflict is too high for both


sides and that is when the UN peacekeepers can intervene.


Scholars of international relations, with proper statistical modeling, will be able to predict


how nations, and the UN delegates of various types of nations, vote in bodies such as the


General Assembly. Attitudes of those UN delegates to bodies such as the Security


Council, the General Assembly, and the Secretariat can be measured over time and


studied. Differences between more capable nations, in terms of wealth and power, and


less capable nations in voting behavior in the General Assembly and/or attitudes about


various UN organs can be measured and analyzed. Such subjects as how those UN


organs are structured and how much power those organs have, how nations are selected


for those bodies, and what type of voting system (weighted or not; permanent member


with veto power v. non-permanent member without veto) are all issues where differences


can occur and sharp contrasts can be drawn between various groups in dynamic and


static terms.


Being able to predict how nations (from the attitudes and viewpoints of their delegates


at the United Nations) will vote, or whom they will align themselves with, is an


integral part in understanding world politics. For all its limitations, the United Nations


is an institution that matters. President Kennedy had U.S. Ambassador to the United


Nations, Adlai Stevenson, present the photographic evidence to the world about Soviet


missiles in Cuba. Institutions, to a certain extent, do matter. This research is important


because one needs to know whether highly capable nations, all members of the United


Nations, favor or oppose the one over-arching world body. If the highly capable nations


do not like (negative attitudes toward) the United Nations then one can say that the UN


might be heading toward irrelevance.


It can be argued that the incredible power differential between the United States and the


rest of the permanent members of the Security Council put the UN in a precarious


position. One could argue that the United States was going to invade Iraq in 2003 no


matter what the Security Council. At worst, if the Security Council supports the U.S. led


invasion then the United Nations and the Security Council look like rubber stamp of


American foreign policy. In addition, such a support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the


Security Council would also violate its own laws in Article 2, Section 4 of the Charter of


the United Nations.7


Not much better is the other option, which happened, when the Security Council, led by


permanent member France, did not approve of the proposed U.S. led invasion of Iraq.


The George W. Bush administration ignored the decision of the Security Council and its


desire to let the inspectors continue their search for weapons of mass destruction and


attacked anyway. Thus, the Security Council looked impotent and foolish. The only


global superpower attacked Iraq anyway despite near universal opposition from major


powers (with the exception of Great Britain) and the world community in general. Real


world power overwhelmed institutional structures (France’s veto in the Security


Council).


Policy-makers can use these predictive models to map out strategies in relation to


coalition building in the General Assembly. In addition, these decision-makers will be


able to look at General Assembly voting records and attitudes towards the various organs


of the United Nations and realize that changes have occurred in the world community in


terms of power, wealth, political systems, cooperation, and conflict. These changes, in


turn, help determine how voting patterns and attitudes towards the United Nations and its


various organs have changed over time.


Developed nations have different goals and objectives, within the context of the United


Nations, than developing nations. For example, there are a lot more “less capable” (in


terms of power and wealth) nations in the General Assembly than “more capable”


nations. Thus, one can often find the General Assembly and the Security Council at odds


as their membership mix is so different. One leading scholar on the United Nations, Dr.


Vincent, has hypothesized that “less capable” nations will try to use the United Nations to


increase their power and wealth and influence by supporting more and more


redistribution of wealth from the industrialized wealthy developed nations of the North to


developing nations of the South. The “more capable” nations, will, to some degree, resist


such actions and try to keep the transfer of their resources to others to a minimum. Thus,


according to Vincent, the highly capable nations will have a negative association towards


the United Nations since they see the organization, the United Nations, as more closely


meeting the needs of the less developed states. Vincent posits these differences in


attitudes and actions between the highly capable and the less capable nations towards the


United Nations to realism.


The hypothesis, as developed, can be seen as an extension of “realism”

which emphasizes the concept of relentless struggle between nations as

a most likely component of international relations (Crabb, 1972, Morgenthau,

1972, Sullivan, 1976, Wright 1965). Weaker nations, in this application

(Vincent, 1978) attempt to use the United Nations to augment their power,

relative to stronger nations. Stronger nations, on the other hand, have little

need for such an augmentation to accomplish political/military objectives.

In addition, more capable states because, of their lower affect toward the

organization, will tend to “see” things in “static” terms, ie., tend to be more

satisfied with voting and membership arrangements but less inclined to “see”

change as likely such areas. In general, then, the most capable international

actors have a kind of anti-UN orientation, compared to the less capable

actors. It is important, therefore, to find if this theory is supported by data.8


Models can predict general trends though there is always room for individual leadership


that can transform a nation. Individual leaders can make a difference in world affairs.


Churchill’s leadership was crucial in Britain’s success in World War II. Hitler’s


obsession to run everything and “never retreat” cost Germany millions of lives and led to


Germany splitting their armies and never getting to Moscow. Lincoln was the right man


for the Union in the Civil War. Would President Pierce or Buchanan speak or even write


Gettysburg Address and issue the Emancipation Proclamation?9


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