International Organizations in a Unipolar World

It is an innate emotion that has been with humans through every age, passed down from generation to generation. It is a source of misunderstanding, irrationality, and hatred. It is what caused President Richard Nixon to instigate a coup d’etat on Chilean President Salvador Allende. It is what fueled President George W. Bush to declare a “war on terrorism.” It is why Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and why Athens and Sparta waged the Peloponnesian War. It is the reason behind every reason for all violent events in world history. Fear is universal.

Though fear has produced tragedy, it has paradoxically also brought states together under international organizations such as the United Nations (U.N.) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the hope for a better tomorrow. These institutions were created shortly after the end of World War II, when it was decided that humankind could not continue with the Westphalian way of dynasticism for fear that it would lead to its own destruction. But by the end of the Cold War, the United States took the role of hegemon. With this role came a sense of responsibility for the stabilization of the rest of the world. However, ignorance and arrogance followed.

Today, while multiple countries flourish and the United Nations still represents the key international forum, the United States commands the greatest presence in the arena with seemingly limitless power, a relatively stable economy, and unparalleled military strength. And there are people who have come to despise the United States, for one reason or another.

On Sept. 11, 2001, America was fiercely attacked by terrorists, forcing its citizens to acknowledge the outside world. People around the globe ached for America’s loss, sending their condolences with outreached arms and tearful eyes. The United States had never before enjoyed so much support in all of its history.

But the support has now plummeted, for there is a new fear. Ironically, that fear is the United States itself. About a year after the “war on terrorism” was declared, President Bush announced his desire to strike Iraq for fear of its leader, Saddam Hussein, and the weapons of mass destruction he might have been producing. The United Nations recoiled — wasn’t the United States still in Afghanistan, chasing Osama Bin Laden? Where was the evidence of WMDs in Iraq?

An uproar ensued. Protestors (followed by police) poured into streets worldwide while war-advocates in the United States bashed the French for opposing Bush’s proposal. There was a great moment of hesitation in the air as everyone anticipated the next move. Then Bush did what many feared he would, an act that sweepingly changed America’s foreign policy from one of preemption to one of prevention — he unleashed raids on Iraq without incontrovertible evidence that an enemy attack was imminent, and without the approval of the United Nations. Regardless of whether Operation Iraqi Freedom is to be considered a success or not, one thing is for certain: the United States is not afraid to act unilaterally.

This realization has stimulated new discussions and new fears in the international community, reaching everyone from world leaders to young students. The Tufts community will be having these very discussions at its upcoming EPIIC Symposium. Where, exactly, does sovereignty lie now? What capacity does the rest of the world have to counter U.S. military power? The truth is: virtually none. All of the other militaries in the world combined could not match the U.S. armed forces.

Herein, then, lies the main question: what role do international organizations have in a unipolar world? The message now is that the United States will do whatever it wants. Never mind what the National Security Strategy says about being “guided by the conviction that no nation can build a safer, better world alone.” Actions speak louder than words, and at any rate, what soon follows that sentence is, “We will not hesitate to act alone.” Many question the relevance of the United Nations, especially in today’s world. What is the point, if the United States does not really have to answer to anybody?

But there has to be a United Nations. After all, just because the United States can act alone does not make it a good idea. There is wisdom in keeping allies — for every empire (if you can call the United States one) rises and falls, and one day its course will be run. The United States will have to learn to coexist peaceably.

But the United Nations, of course, does not exist only for America’s benefit. While it has had a somewhat miserable record in peacekeeping, it has not been entirely ineffective. It has negotiated over 170 peace settlements since its conception. The U.N. Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization have ensured over an 80 percent immunization rate for children, saving the lives of over 3 million each year. Every day, approximately 24,000 people die of hunger and 6,500 die from AIDS in Africa alone. The United Nations works to combat these issues, as well as provide aid to refugees and elevate literacy in developing countries. The United States could never do all these things by itself.

Most importantly, the United Nations has brought the world together, if not in reality, at least in theory, which is the first step. The United Nations is highly relevant even in a unipolar world, for it exists, as stated in its charter, to keep nations “united for a better world” and to keep them from slipping into dynasticism again. And who knows? Perhaps one day nations will find a way to effectively coexist and international organizations will become even more relevant. It may sound idealistic, but if one can not have hope, all that is left is fear.

Tiffany Chen is a sophomore majoring in International Relations