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A write up about our most recent debate: 

Is the U.N. Still Relevant?

In the aftermath of the Second World War, 51 states from the international community banded together under the banner of a new intergovernmental organization: the United Nations. For over seventy years, this organization has been tasked with, among other roles, maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations, and achieving co-operation in solving international problems. While tensions surfaced almost immediately following its inception in the form of a Cold War, the UN continued this mandate and expanded its operations, growing in size to today’s representation of 193 nations. The world has experienced unprecedented prosperity and development, but also ongoing conflicts and violations of human rights that seem beyond the collective capacity – or will – of the international community to resolve. Given this context, is the UN still relevant? Has the UN lived up to its mandate, and can it continue to do so in the 21st century?  Or are we in desperate need of a new and more ambitious structure to guarantee world order? The fours panelists in the November 2018 Glendon Global Debate together provided a foundation for these and other themes from various perspectives.

The panelists and subsequent audience questions tended to differentiate between the relevance of the political United Nations, particularly the Security Council, and the UN bureaucracy. From one perspective, the Security Council has succeeded in preventing any world wars between the major powers. In fact, while veto power may hinder movement on certain files, a veto may serve as a signaling mechanism for priorities of the P5 and helps avoid escalations among nuclear powers. The overall effectiveness of the political UN may be decreasing, however, in a world with a lack of multilateral leadership and waning consensus on international liberal order -the foundations of the UN. For the bureaucracy, it was agreed that if the UN didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it. Still, it has been increasingly hard for the UN, an old institution, to catch up with the momentous changes taking place. Making the UN more relevant and responsive to the challenges of the day would require reforming large, fragmented agencies and programmes – a Sisyphean task at best yielding incremental progress at the margins. Certain specialized agencies have better managed their mandates, despite competition for limited financial resources tied mostly to the will of the member states. Those with less success pose a challenge to reformers – it’s easier to build an agency than to dismantle one.

In the end, I believe a balanced mix of both sides emerged as the dominant message, as perhaps could be expected in debating affairs with such international resonance. The UN remains a foundational forum for discussing issues of peace and war among hundreds of diverse and often competing nation states, but it fails to consistently meet the demands of the broadened scope of activities, activities required (or at least increasingly requested) by a modern, global citizenry. That being said, an evaluation of its overall competency as an organization – and of possible reforms or alternative structures – requires first resolving more fundamental discussions of both its true and potential “raison d’être”, particularly as we look ahead to potential threats and opportunities in the near future.

 

By: Kyler Woodmass, MPIA 2nd Year Student

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General Background

Canada is reexamining its role in global affairs, with an orientation toward collaborative, consultative policy making with Canadian experts and practitioners. This provides Canada with a unique opportunity to establish leadership in key priority areas of global affairs, as well as to leverage Canadian scholarship, business and innovation to effectively pursue our interests internationally.

As a bilingual and francophone institution in the heart of Toronto, Glendon is uniquely positioned to support the Government of Canada in a forward-looking assessment of Canada’s role in global affairs. The Global Debates will enhance the public debate on Canada’s role in global affairs and prepare the next generation of highly skilled public servants. As well, the Global Debates will provide a forum for frank discussions on Canada’s role in the world through a series of discussions, relying on youth-centred, innovative approaches to contemporary global issues.

This initiative builds on the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs’ (GSPIAs) program that focuses among other on global issues and trends, through a forward-looking agenda to the year 2020 and beyond. Canada’s current reorientation towards a new multilateralism provides an exceptional opportunity to set a foreign policy agenda that will allow Canada to leverage its domestic expertise and international capabilities to effectively position itself as a leading actor on contemporary global issues.

Purpose

The GGD dialogues aim to promote participatory dialogue between: government officials (federal, provincial, municipal), academics, practitioners, media, private sector, civil society organizations, students and the diplomatic community and UN officials, in support of identifying approaches, opportunities for Canada and our partners in current global challenges.

These dialogues and related contributions will be shared with broader policy communities, including Government of Canada, international organizations, the UN, and it will be incorporated into the future academic programming of Glendon. The events will serve to validate the ongoing foreign policy consultations and formulate recommendations for a way forward. 

Objective

To establish an innovative and youth-centred dialogue for expert insight and collaborative, multi-stakeholder problem solving on emerging challenges and trends in foreign policy, which will:

  1. impact Canada’s foreign policy agenda, and those of our partners; and
  2. incorporate global ideas into GSPIA programming.

Topics for dialogue

Broadly speaking, topics for dialogue could include:

  • Migration and citizenship;
  • Refugee Protection;
  • Democracy and nationalism;
  • Indigenous language rights;
  • Peace, security and human rights.
  • Inclusive politics, pluralism and citizenship;
  • Science, innovation and diplomacy;
  • New multilateralism, conflict resolution, and resilience in contemporary conflict and terrorism;
  • Youth, participation and innovation in global affairs;