What’s Wrong With the United Nations and How to Fix It

In This Review

What's Wrong With the United Nations and How to Fix It
by Thomas G. Weiss
Polity Books, 2008
292 pp. $19.95

In this engaging and sweeping critique of the United Nations, Weiss argues that the global body has never been more troubled -- nor more needed. The problems are many, and Weiss chronicles them all in a journey through the far-flung, multilayered UN system: the deep divide between developed and developing countries over human rights, economic development, and security; the decentralized, overlapping, and incoherent array of councils and agencies; and the dysfunctions of its bureaucracy and weak leadership. Beyond this, there is the problem of the United States' deep ambivalence toward UN-style multilateralism. The failure of efforts in 2005 to reform the Security Council and forge a new consensus on norms for the use of force are further signs of an ailing UN. But Weiss thinks the crisis is deeper still, rooted in a mismatch between an organization founded to serve and protect sovereign states and the accumulation of global problems that require the functional equivalent of a world government. Yet Weiss recognizes the grand dilemma: the UN would not have emerged at all or taken on its many duties if it were not configured as an instrument of state interests. The book offers a variety of proposals for strengthening the UN's capacity and ends provocatively by noting that whereas earlier generations of internationalists, most prominently those of the 1940s, spoke seriously of the need for world government, today's internationalists hide behind vague notions of "global governance."