Preface: ARUNA 2014/2015

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 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 2014/2015 edition of ARUNA coincides with the 69th annual session of the General Assembly, from September 16, 2014 to September 14, 2015. 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.

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.

Defining theme

Each year there are a number of issues that characterize the period under review. During the 69th annual session of the General Assembly, the United Nations addressed long-term conflicts and newly emerging crisis, ranging from Syria, Ukraine, the refugee crisis, to fighting terrorism. The defining theme, however, were the consultations and negotiations to arrive at a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as of 2016. This process engaged in particular the General Assembly and ECOSCOC – but it challenged the United Nations system as a whole, as reflected in the commentaries and documentation of the present ARUNA edition. It resulted in the approval of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development[4] on September 1, 2015, including a set of 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets up to 2030. Among others, the Agenda outlined the goals to end poverty and hunger, to ensure healthy lives, to promote inclusive and equitable quality education, and to achieve gender equality. The SDGs were adopted by the United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development on September 25, 2015—a historic event that will direct global United Nations efforts during the next 15 years.

We are therefore grateful to Ms. Amina Mohammed, the Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning, to have contributed the Foreword to this edition of ARUNA. Ms. Mohammed was instrumental in guiding the preparation process leading to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Her unique insights will facilitate a better understanding of the 69th annual session of the General Assembly.

Commentaries by chapter

The commentaries that accompany the documentation contained in each chapter provide 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 69th session of the General Assembly. John R. Mathiason provides the Commentary: “Agreeing about what the World´s Future should be.” The regular documentation includes the opening and closing statements of the President of the session and the agenda of the annual session. Finally, the complete set of the Assembly’s resolutions is provided. Mathiason notes that the 69th General Assembly agreed on the 17 SDGs and their 169 targets, so that the 70th session could formally adopt them. The Assembly also made an effort to make the choice of the new Secretary-General, by the 70th session, a more open process and one that favored the election of a woman. In most other areas, progress continued incrementally as old resolutions were modified to reflect some new developments, and mention was made of emerging crises, such as that of refugees as a result of increasing regional conflicts.

Chapter 2 deals with the work of the Security Council. Jacques Fomerand provides the Commentary: “Plus ca Change…?” 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 Council during the year under review. This is followed by the complete set of Security Council resolutions and the Presidential Statements. Finally, a selected document is provided that is of particular importance for the work of the Security Council during the year in review, namely the Report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations on Uniting our Strengths for Peace. Fomerand points out that the Security Council does not operate in a vacuum. He observers that it is the interaction and dynamics of various forces that eventually shape what the Council defines as a “threat” to peace and security and its responses to such threats. The prevailing modus operandi of the Council is considered incrementalism and muddling through. Another layer of complexity is the sobering fact that the Council itself is perceived as an entity operating in two sub-groups, its permanent and non-permanent members. Nevertheless, it is noted that the Council has improved its working methods, and some of its subsidiary bodies have become more transparent. A February 23, 2015 ministerial level open debate on the United Nations Charter was overshadowed by China’s concept paper that emphasized the principle of sovereign equality and non-interference in the internal affairs of states. On July 22, 2015, the Council conducted its first discussion on the process of selection of the Secretary-General (the term of the current incumbent expires on December 31, 2016). Only one of the permanent members of the Council, the United Kingdom, responded favorably to calls for a widening and clearer structure of the process. Needless to say, suggestions to constrain the use of the veto elicit polite but skeptical reactions. In reality, little if anything can be done if a policy proposal does not have the concurrence of the Permanent 5 members.

Chapter 3 discusses the work of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Tim Wall provides the Commentary: “A Hesitant Start into a Bold New Ear.” The regular documentation contains the Report of ECOSOC, comprising three segments. This is followed by the complete set of ECOSOC resolutions. Wall points out that the preparations of the SDGs were the single most important issue on the global economic and development agenda during the 2014/2015 United Nations year. ECOSOC would have been the logical place to undertake these preparations, given its role to coordinate the United Nations agencies and multilateral finance institutions and the fact that civil society and the private sector have access to the Council. As it turned out, however, preparations were undertaken in a working group of the General Assembly – perhaps reflecting the importance of the subject matter and the desire of all countries to be fully involved in the preparations of the SDGs. The challenge is now for ECOSOC to retool itself to take a leading role in the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs, by ensuring that the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development is, indeed, the central body within the United Nations system overseeing the implementation of the SDGs. In addressing this challenge, the Council should capitalize not only on its coordinating role, but also on its links with civil society and the business community in order to mobilize these constituencies in support of the new goals – and all support will have to be marshalled to reach them. This presents an opportunity that the Council cannot miss.

Chapter 4 presents the work of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunals. Alexander K.A. Greenawalt provides the Commentary: “Between Obligation and Compliance.” 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 the past year has seen both successes and challenges for United Nations affiliated international tribunals. If the year revealed a single dominant theme, it was the tension inherent in an international judicial system that enforces the legal obligations of states upon whose cooperation the functioning of that system depends. That tension has played out most prominently in the work of the international criminal tribunals. At almost every step, the International Criminal Court struggled to pursue its cases in the face of opposition from states that either wish to shield the accused from justice or to pursue their own accountability measures in processes that do not satisfy the Court’s complementarity framework; the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon have also found their efforts frustrated by the states that are the respective focus of their work. Even in the absence of affirmative obstruction, the work of international tribunals is also restrained by non-participation. For instance, missing from the 123 members states of the ICC are many important powers such as the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India, and Pakistan. Although tribunals have had moderate success in bringing individual perpetrators to justice, there remains very little recourse for adjudicating state responsibility for these same crimes. These challenges, however, should not obscure the important role that international tribunals do play. As detailed in past years’ commentaries, the International Court of Justice has played a productive role in the peaceful resolution of many international disputes, especially in cases in which states have found it in their common interest to seek recourse to the Court. The object of these tribunals is not merely to prosecute cases, but also to broadcast values. One remarkable achievement of these courts has been the way in which they have altered public discourse. Even as the President of Sudan evades arrest, for instance, the discussion of his international travels is forever shaped by the arrest warrant against him, ensuring that the discourse of international criminal law has helped shape a debate that might otherwise have not taken place at all. For supporters of international legal institutions, the long term impact on international public values will be just as significant as their day-to-day successes and failures.

Chapter 5 describes the work of the Secretariat. Khalil A. Hamdani provides the Commentary: “Advancing the Global Agenda.” The regular documentation contains the Annual Report of the Secretary-General to the 69th session of the General Assembly and a number of annual reports of various funds and programs of the United Nations system. Hamdani observes that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deserves credit for success on the development agenda. However, his quiet diplomacy has not borne fruit on political matters, and peacekeeping operations are beset with difficulty. Although he still has another year in office, media have begun speculation on the choice of the next Secretary-General. There are demands for women candidates; donors want a manager who will streamline bureaucracy; and civil society wants a personality who leads rather than follows member states. The General Assembly has called for a more open and transparent appointment process. However, the Security Council nominates the Secretary-General, and it is doubtful that its permanent members would accept anyone who might challenge them to look beyond national interests. In the meantime, there is much to be done. The United Nations emergency response capabilities are underfunded and overwhelmed by intractable regional conflicts; Ban Ki-moon needs to forge an urgently needed consensus at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, in May 2016. There is also a need to jumpstart the United Nations Chief Executive Board for Coordination toward early progress on the SDGs, learning from the late start and catch-up effort on the Millennium Development Goals. There is a need to grow the partnerships with private sector and civil society. There is also a need to invigorate the Secretariat for life after 70. The Secretary-General should stay the course in his final year in office, advancing the global agenda.

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 2015

[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] See, ARUNA 2014/2015 for General Assembly resolution, “Draft outcome document of the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda,” A/RES/69/315, September 1, 2015.