The Unspoken Question at the UN: Can the World Be Governed?

by Madison Thomas
Global Governance

Navigating through global diplomacy and rhetoric, the United Nations perennially grapples with a fundamental, yet unvoiced question: Is global governance even feasible? Representatives from various nations convene, armed with their individual perspectives and agendas, aspiring to craft a collective future.

“Multilateralism” is a buzzword often heard within the chambers of the United Nations, representing the aspirational objective of unifying the disparate aims of all 193 member states. However, this lofty aim often finds itself in conflict with the pursuit of a singular narrative that can resonate across a myriad of sovereign nations.

The term “narrative” has assumed significant importance in contemporary political discourse. It serves as a conduit to cut through the information overload and ensure that a message is not only heard but also internalized. Yet, establishing a shared narrative becomes increasingly challenging when the very foundation of the United Nations rests on the diversity of its membership.

At the core of these deliberations lies a question that transcends the annual meetings and goes to the heart of modern civilization: Given the ever-increasing complexities and divisions of the 21st century, is a governable world a feasible concept?

Jeffrey Martinson, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Meredith College in North Carolina, opines via email that effective global governance exists only to a minimal extent—essentially how it has always been. This viewpoint gains credence when one considers the myriad of conflicting desires, grievances, and expectations voiced during the initial days of the U.N. General Assembly’s discussions. Topics spanning from climate change and armed conflict to public health and economic inequality all feature, yet a sense of disarray remains omnipresent.

Wavel Ramkalawan, President of Seychelles, captured the crux of the annual U.N. conundrum: the constant tension between optimism and sobering realities. “The world stands at the brink,” he remarked.

Over recent years, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has consistently sounded the alarm with increasingly dire metaphors. He described the current global state as “unhinged” and, during a U.N. climate conference, warned that humanity has “opened the gates to hell.”

Subsequent speeches from various leaders only served to underscore the gravity of the situation:

  • Alain Berset, President of Switzerland, stated that the world is experiencing “possibly the most significant crisis since the end of the Second World War.”

  • Nataša Pirc Musar, President of Slovenia, declared, “We no longer trust any narratives.”

  • Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador, insisted that the world “needs to be reborn.”

  • Laurentino Cortizo, President of Panama, cautioned, “Time is running out for all of us.”

While such utterances may seem bleak, there also exists a sense of purpose and potential solutions within the assembly’s walls. Guterres himself advocated for a “multipolar” and multilateral world, acknowledging that the mere existence of multiple power centers is insufficient to ensure global peace.

Skepticism towards the United Nations, often viewed as a precursor to a “one-world government,” serves as a stark reminder of the inherent challenges faced by multilateral institutions. Andrea Molle, a scholar at Chapman University in California, commented via email that the dream of a singular governing entity remains elusive, characterizing the international system as inherently “anarchic.”

Though it may appear that achieving a universal vision—let alone governance—is a Sisyphean task, the very act of global leaders convening to discuss solutions should not be dismissed. Katie Laatikainen, a Professor at Adelphi University in New York, posits that perhaps the act of endeavoring to find common ground is itself the objective, given the U.N.’s notable record in creative problem-solving and inclusion.

In sum, the possibility of governance in an increasingly fragmented world may reside in the earnest attempts of international leaders to bridge divisions and strive for collective solutions. It’s not just about averting conflict; sometimes it’s about the monumental effort to resolve it through dialogue.

Ted Anthony, the Director of New Storytelling and Newsroom Innovation at The Big Big News, has been a correspondent on international affairs since 1995 and has covered the U.N. General Assembly since 2018. You can find him at Ted Anthony Twitter.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Global Governance

What is the central question discussed in the article?

The central question discussed in the article is whether the world can be effectively governed given its complexities, divisions, and the diverse objectives of its 193 United Nations member states.

What does the term “multilateralism” mean in the context of the United Nations?

In the context of the United Nations, “multilateralism” refers to a diplomatic approach that involves multiple countries working in concert toward common objectives. It is one of the key goals of the U.N., yet often finds itself at odds with the organization’s need for a coherent, unified narrative.

What challenges are highlighted in establishing a unified narrative at the U.N.?

The article emphasizes the inherent difficulty of establishing a unified narrative when the foundational principle of the United Nations is the diversity of its membership. With multiple nations having varied voices and agendas, creating a singular message or course of action becomes a complicated endeavor.

Who are some of the key figures cited in the article, and what are their viewpoints?

Jeffrey Martinson, an Associate Professor of Political Science, suggests that effective global governance exists only minimally. Wavel Ramkalawan, President of Seychelles, notes that the world is on the brink, capturing the tension between optimism and reality. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warns of an “unhinged” world and the opening of “the gates to hell,” yet also advocates for a “multipolar” and multilateral world.

What are the primary issues leaders focus on during their speeches at the U.N. General Assembly?

The leaders focus on a range of pressing global issues including climate change, armed conflict, public health, and economic inequality. However, their speeches often reflect a sense of chaos, fragmentation, and competing national interests.

How does the article conclude on the question of global governance?

The article concludes that while achieving universal governance may seem like an insurmountable task, the collective effort of international leaders to find common ground and solutions should not be undervalued. It suggests that the very act of trying to resolve global issues through dialogue might be the ultimate goal.

What does the term “anarchic” mean in the context of the article?

Andrea Molle, a scholar at Chapman University, describes the international system as inherently “anarchic.” In the article’s context, this means a state of disorder or lack of overarching control, highlighting the complexities of achieving true global governance.

Who is the author of the article?

The article is authored by Ted Anthony, the Director of New Storytelling and Newsroom Innovation at The Big Big News. He has been a correspondent on international affairs since 1995 and has covered the U.N. General Assembly since 2018.

More about Global Governance

  • United Nations Official Website
  • The Concept of Multilateralism: A Brief Overview
  • Global Governance: Challenges and Opportunities
  • The Role of U.N. Secretary-General
  • Complexity in International Relations and Global Governance
  • The State of Global Inequality: A UN Report
  • Anarchy in International Relations Theory
  • U.N. General Assembly: History and Functions
  • Ted Anthony’s Twitter Profile
  • Climate Change and the United Nations: Policy Recommendations

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Emily Clark September 21, 2023 - 6:54 am

The article captures the global tension really well. Jeffrey Martinson’s point about governance being minimal? Spot on. Still, united we stand, divided we fall kinda thing?

Chris Walker September 21, 2023 - 12:48 pm

Why do we even have the UN if nobody listens? But also, what would happen if we didn’t have it? double edged sword, that one. Good article though.

James Thompson September 21, 2023 - 1:20 pm

Wow, that’s quite a piece. Really makes you think if the UN is just all talk, no action. But hey, dialogue’s gotta count for something, right?

Mike O'Brien September 21, 2023 - 4:19 pm

Man, the world’s a mess but we’re still trying. This article shows both sides, the chaos and the hope. Its tough but maybe talking is better than not.

Sarah Williams September 21, 2023 - 6:54 pm

loved the deep dive into UN politics. Its almost like, yeah we have a system but does it even work anymore? The multilateral thing is super complex but crucial. Great read.

Nina Patel September 22, 2023 - 1:28 am

This makes me want to dig deeper into global politics. So many layers and nuances to consider, like a never-ending onion. Is perfect governance even a thing? Makes you wonder.


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