Preface: ARUNA 2013/2014

Joachim Müller and Karl P. Sauvant[1]

The Annual Review of United Nations (ARUNA) occupies a special place in the publications on the work of the United Nations—it provides readers with in-depth commentaries on the principal developments by a group of distinguished experts,[2] complemented by selected and official United Nations documentation. This is done for the key organs of the Organization: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the International Court of Justice, and the United Nations Secretariat.[3] The period reviewed for the 2013/2014 edition of ARUNA coincides with the 68th annual session of the General Assembly from September 17, 2013 to September 15, 2014. As one of the longest established annual publication on United Nations affairs, ARUNA provides an important reference source for policy-makers, academic researchers and anyone interested in this Organization.

2013/2014 in review

In accordance with its comprehensive mandate, the United Nations is concerned with peace and security, development, social affairs, and human rights. The Organization has developed into a complex and global institutions with a well-established governance structure involving essentially all countries, namely 193 member states. A large part of the Organization´s work can be considered routine United Nations business, including negotiating and elaborating treaty obligations, maintaining peacekeeping missions, implementing development projects, and providing for refugees. Each year, however, there are a number of issues that characterize the period under review.

The conflict in Ukraine became -- and has remained -- a main concern that has created divisions that have implications beyond the region. Twenty-five years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Ukraine reminded the international community that we are still wrestling with the ghosts of the Cold War. The response to the crisis has seen a close cooperation between the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), as foreseen under Chapter 9 of the United Nations Charter. This operational model, namely collaboration with regional organisations to address regional challenges, is expected to expand in the case of Ukraine to supporting elections, mediation and national dialogues; assisting rule of law and security sector reform; advising judicial and constitutional reform processes; and designing economic and trade policies.

Other security matter included the threat of terrorism, the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the threat of foreign fighters, and the radicalization of youth. The impact of the transition in Afghanistan on Central Asia was a leading concern. New concepts are required to address the new challenges. The United Nations has announced a major review of the peacebuilding architecture and peacekeeping operations that will be led by Nobel Laureate and former leader of Timor-Leste, Jose Ramos-Horta.

With regard to development, the United Nations was striving for a more sustainable and equitable path. Member states were at a critical juncture in 2013/2014 on the post-2015 sustainable development framework. Building on the Millennium Development Goals, the new framework is expected to be even broader in scope. One of the proposed goals includes a specific focus on peaceful societies, human rights and inclusive, accountable governance as crucial to sustainable development – and tackling social and economic exclusion and environmental degradation.

Many challenges are cutting across security and development concerns and require an ability of acting together. More often than not, these challenges transcend borders. The United Nations had to address the massive displacement of populations through disaster and conflict. This included civil conflicts, coupled with terrorism, organized crime, illegal drug-trafficking, and health crisis such as Ebola, which are threatening millions of people.

Despite the daunting tasks that the United Nations faces, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrives at a positive conclusion at the end of 2013/2014 review period when he stated: “By working together, we can be the first generation to end extreme poverty and the last generation to live with climate change as an existential threat.“ [4]

Commentaries by chapter

The commentaries that accompany the documentation contained in each chapter provide out an overview of the workings of the Organization, highlighting important issues and providing an introduction to the documents that follow in each chapter.

Chapter 1 covers the 68th session of the General Assembly. John R. Mathiason provides the Commentary—“Planning the world´s future.” The regular documentation includes the opening and closing statements of the President of the session, and the agenda of the annual session. This is followed by a number of selected documents of particular importance for the work of the General Assembly during the year in review. Finally, the complete set of the Assembly’s resolutions is provided. Mathiason notes that the Assembly continued the slow work of obtaining consensus on the items on its agenda, including adjustments to new developments. For the longer-term, it succeeded, through its plenary and committee events, and especially through the Open-ended Working Group, in making significant progress in agreeing on the sustainability goals and targets to be achieved by 2030 to address the most important problems facing the world. It achieved the objective of the General Assembly’s President to focus on setting the stage for an agreement on the post-2015 goals – and it even went beyond that. Arguably, the seventeen goals that were proposed constitute not only a draft vision for the future, but the Assembly really began a planning process to achieve these by identifying 169 targets to be met. This means that it should be possible to elaborate a detailed agreed-upon plan for achieving the sustainable development goals. While many of these are still subject to debate, the session put in place an increasingly detailed set of proposals for how the world should look in the future and how to get there—and this will shape the discussions of the next General Assemblies.

Chapter 2 deals with the work of the Security Council. Jacques Fomerand provides the Commentary —“Searching for a consensus and coping with new threats, laboriously.” The regular documentation contains the report of the Security Council, which gives a detailed account of the various issues discussed, the documentation considered and the decisions taken by the Security Council during the year under review. This is followed by a number of selected documents of particular importance for the work of the Security Council during the year in review. Finally, the complete set of Security Council resolutions and the Presidential Statements is provided. Fomerand starts out by recalling the annual retreat of the Security Council, the Secretary-General and senior staff of the United Nations Secretariat who met in April 21-22, 2014. On that occasion, they engaged in a collective brainstorming exercise on such topical issues as the management of crises in failed or fragile new states, the transitional functions of United Nations missions and ways and means for the United Nations to respond to popular protests against democratically elected leaders. Optimists view such meetings as an indication of the Council’s determination to reflect on, and come to grips with, key issues of peace and security. Fomerand takes a more critical view that any significant changes will emerge from these annual conclaves. He reminds us that the Council is first and foremost a political body endowed with immense powers that it can use depending upon the converging interests of the member states—most particularly the P5—and their relative levels of political will. Consistency, inclusiveness and transparency are not always the distinguishing attributes of the Council. This being said, it does not follow that the Council is either an impotent mirror of the world’s political divisions or an overreaching Leviathan. As a sovereign state driven institution, Formerand argues, the Council cannot be, and should not be, expected to be impartial and detached from politics, nor to be fully democratic. The Council, in other words, is bound to be “pragmatic and selective”. That much should be gleaned from this discussion of the work of the Council in 2013/2014, a period characterized by the wide range of its responses—all hinging on its internal political dynamics—to extraordinarily complex inter-state, intra-state and transnational threats that some view as the attributes of an emerging “new world disorder”.

Chapter 3 discusses the work of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Tim Wall provides the Commentary—“Ushering in a brave new era.” The regular documentation contains the Report of ECOSOC, comprising three segments. This is followed by a number of selected documents of particular importance for the work of ECOSOC during the year in review. Finally, the ECOSOC resolutions are provided. Wall points out that the year 2013/2014 was arguably the most important for ECOSOC since 2001, when the Council paved the way for the United Nations’ landmark summit on Financing for Development (2002, Monterrey, Mexico). ECOSOC put into action two crucial reforms: breaking up its marathon July meeting into separate components scattered over the course of the calendar, and the inauguration of the Council’s sponsorship of the High-Level Political Forum, a body designed to guide the post-2015 development agenda. ECOSOC also addressed a range of critical issues on the world economic and social agenda, although with only modest results. The discussions around the role of partnerships may be the most important current contribution of ECOSOC to retaining and extending the Organization’s viability. The year’s talks clearly underscored that active engagement of non-governmental organizations will be needed. But the world organization would need to maintain a tight grip on arrangements and demand high standards for entities that wanted to participate—especially in the case of business. Finally, Wall points to General Assembly resolution A/RES/68/1 which recognizes that ECOSOC has an important role as a platform for multi-stakeholder participation and for engaging all relevant stakeholders in the work of the Council. Indeed, the Council has wider and deeper experience with bringing a range of actors together in the same room with governments than any other United Nations body. The results of the exercise of this function of ECOSOC will likely have much to do with how well the United Nations ushers in a complex, wide-ranging and very ambitious set of global goals and targets, starting in 2016.

Chapter 4 presents the work of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and International Criminal Tribunals. Alexander K.A. Greenawalt provides the Commentary—“Continuity and change.” The regular documentation contains the annual reports of the ICJ and the international criminal tribunals and gives details of its jurisdiction, its composition and the work undertaken. Greenawalt notes that 2013/2014 presented a story of continuity. The ICJ resolved boundary disputes, an area in which the Court has proven successful in the past. The international criminal tribunals largely developed themes introduced in prior years. Nevertheless, Greenawalt points to a few issues that stood out. Developments present an especially stark example of both the possibilities and limits of international judicial enforcement authority. In some cases—such as the boundary disputes the ICJ decided last year and those prosecutions that have proceeded to trial in the criminal tribunals—international adjudication has proven to be an effective means to resolve interstate disputes and impose accountability for violations of international law. But other examples—such as Japan’s decision to implement a new whaling program, the International Criminal Court (ICC) frustrated attempts to prosecute Kenyatta and al-Bashir and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) recourse to an in absentia trial—highlight the degree to which these successes hinge upon state cooperation. An additional theme identified by Greenawalt concerns the balance of international and domestic authority over matters regulated by international law. Australia v. Japan required the ICJ to consider whether or not to defer to Japan’s own determination that it was conducting scientific research. The Court rejected Japan’s position, but the issue may well return to the Court after Japan implements its redesigned whaling program. The Libya cases required the ICC to consider the degree of discretion afforded states under the Rome Statute to investigate and prosecute cases that might otherwise be tried at the ICC itself. And the Kenya cases have forced the Court to confront the competing demands of the criminal law and head-of-state duties. Finally, the Sainovic case highlights the challenge of maintaining consistency within international law. The International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia Appeals Chamber has now issued two divergent opinions on the matter of accomplice liability, neither of which mirrors the approach set forth in the ICC’s Rome Statute. With no appeals court authorized to resolve such conflicts, Greenawalt argues that it remains for the international tribunals themselves to choose between the paths of fragmentation and harmonization.

Chapter 5 describes the work of the Secretariat. Khalil A. Hamdani provides the Commentary—“Cooperation in a time of conflict.” The regular documentation contains the Annual Report of the Secretary-General for the 68th session of the General Assembly and a number of annual reports of various funds and programs of the United Nations system. This is followed by a number of selected documents of particular importance for the work of the Secretariat during the year in review. Hamdani observes that the preoccupation with a post-2015 development agenda while development unravels in local conflict situations may seems like Nero fiddling while Rome burns. However, there is a close link between poverty and security. All developing countries in a conflict situation have major shortfalls on the Millennium Development. The least developed countries are less resilient to natural disasters and more vulnerable to climate change. The Ebola epidemic erupted in countries that rank near the bottom of the human development index. Emergency actions put out fires, but sustainable development prevents fires from starting. The United Nations has an important role to play on both fronts. Hopefully, it will continue to advance much needed cooperation in this period of conflict and disorder, economic uncertainty and big power politics.

We trust that this publication will be of use to all those interested in the work of the United Nations.

Vienna and New York

November 2014

[1] The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions with which the authors are affiliated.
[2] Details on the experts are shown below, under Contributors and Co-editors.
[3] Due to its inactive nature, the Trusteeship Council is not included.
[4] United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Address to the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, PC.DEL/1281/14, Vienna, November 4, 2014.