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Viktor Sergeev

Doctor of History, Professor of the Comparative Political Studies Department at MGIMO-University, RIAC expert

With the unipolar world triumphant, a decline of the UN role turned out to be a short-term trend. With the changing balance of power in the international arena and the defamation of the US in its capacity of a world hegemon, the UN role of a negotiation venue for the world community (lacking internal integrity) will be only growing.

With the unipolar world triumphant, a decline of the UN role turned out to be a short-term trend. With the changing balance of power in the international arena and the defamation of the US in its capacity of a world hegemon, the UN role of a negotiation venue for the world community (lacking internal integrity) will be only growing.

The Only Negotiation Platform

Despite substantial change in the world in the 1990s connected with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and collapse of the bipolar world, the UN still plays a very significant role.

By the end of the 20th century there was observed a certain decline of the UN role, which was evidenced by the NATO operation in Kosovo undertaken without a Security Council auhtorization, the war in Iraq launched by the US in 2003 despite an obvious discord on the issue even inside the NATO (France and Germany were against the military operation). The year 2003 can be regarded as a “culmination” of the unipolar world system.

The situation started to change when the United States started to get bogged down in the war in Iraq, and popular protest began to grow inside the US. In 2008 a sub-prime crisis broke down in the US, which further grew into a world economic crisis. By the end of the presidential term of George Bush Jr. the international reputation of the country was severely undermined. All this in addition to the emerging crisis lead to the victory of Barak Obama in the presidential election, and to a sufficiently radical change in foreign policy: the Americans began to rely more on the principles of international consensus and to refrain from unilateral actions.

Paradoxically, the world economic crisis resulted in a sharp increase of the UN role, as, in fact, the Security Council was the only negotiation platform where the world leading nations could discuss current state of international affairs. The crisis also entailed a considerable growth of the role of G20 which was commissioned to remodel the global financial system. At the same time, it became entirely obvious that the US, even with the use of its power and economic potential, would be unable to uphold their dominant position in the world all by itself. With the onset of the world financial crisis the unipolar world model was buried once and for all. The process went along with the arrival to the international foreground of the countries with considerable financial resources, vast territory and population.

BRICS Emergence Enhances UN Prestige

Even in the early 2000s the Goldman Sachs economists, forecasting the world economic development through 2050, focused their attention on four countries distinguished by the dimensions of their economy and high rates of economic growth. This is how the idea of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) was born. The Goldman Sachs forecast pointed out that it referred only to the future dimensions of economy. According to their estimates, by the year 2050 the BRIC countries would leave behind the OECD members in terms of their aggregate GDP. At the same time, the forecast made no assumptions regarding possible political cooperation among the BRIC countries. However, the developments of the unfolding world economic crisis dramatically changed the situation. A new level of international cooperation came to be required, and in this environment the BRIC countries developed both common economic and political interests. After the BRIC summit in Yekaterinburg (2009) the countries started intensive negotiations and actual coordination of political steps. In 2011 BRIC turned into BRICS after the Republic of South Africa had joined the club.

The establishment of a new international association has substantially altered the alignment of forces in the international arena. Hard times of the world economic crisis facilitated joint efforts of China, India and Russia which maintained relatively high rates of economic growth to become driving forces of the world economy.

The emergence of a new association could not but affect the UN activities, even more so because two BRICS countries – Russia and China – are permanent members of the Security Council. Keeping in mind that the SC activity is largely based on preliminary agreements reached during multilateral discussions, the BRICS capability to coordinate their efforts could inevitably have greater influence on the SC performance. It became obvious already during the debate over the draft resolution on Syria co-sponsored by Western states. During the voting on the draft resolution on October 5, 2011 Russia and China used their right of veto, while other BRICS countries – non-permanent SC members, Brazil and South Africa – abstained from voting. In what follows one can expect deeper cooperation among the BRICS countries, which would prevent from the UN transformation into an instrument of Western policy and enhance the prestige of the organization.

Over the last twenty years Russia in its capacity of the USSR successor has been persistently working to amplify the UN role however those efforts were not always efficient because of the US dominance supported by the NATO members. The balance of power is not the only point. Actually, the general trend in the policy pursued by the majority of the UN members has become their support of the US hegemony. If we understand hegemony in the sense of Antonio Gramsci’s notion, hegemon is a leader who not so much pushes as guides other political forces in compliance with the declared political goals. The American hegemony of the 1990s was primarily manifested in the fact that the US assumed the leading role in steering the world to democracy and market economy, i.e. to the end of history according to F. Fukuyama. Not a single country dared deny those values, which was reflected in respective voting in the UN SC and General Assembly. An inevitable consequence of such a “conflict-free spirit” inside the UN under the US hegemony was the declining influence of the United Nations’ on the world politics.

Practical implementation of the US policy in the later 1990s and early 2000s showed that the United States was not so much focused on common interests of the world community as on their own interests. America was openly turning back to political realism, which compromised it in its capacity of the world hegemon. The establishment of BRIC, an association of states whose national interests differ greatly from the US national interests, undermines the rhetoric of the American leadership which permanently appeals to the opinion of the world community.

As before, the world community shares the values of democracy and free market. However, as the world economic crisis showed, a conflict materializes at a lower level and stems from the structure of national interests of major states. Nevertheless, Western countries in that number cannot claim the right to speak on behalf of the world community. The world community short of internal unity desperately needs a negotiating platform, which can continue to be successfully provided by the United Nations.

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Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
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