Ethics & International Affairs Volume 34.3 (Fall 2020)

Oct 2, 2020

The editors are pleased to present a special issue of Ethics & International Affairs to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.

At the core of this issue is a collection of essays organized and guest-edited by Margaret P. Karns called "The United Nations at Seventy-Five: Looking Back to Look Forward." The collection contains contributions from David Malone and Adam Day; Ellen J. Ravndal; Ramesh Thakur; Susanna P. Campbell; Devaki Jain; Bertrand Ramcharan; Maria Ivanova; Karns, Kirsten Haack, and Jean-Pierre Murray; and Sophie Harman. Additionally, the issue includes an article by Jack McDonald on information, privacy, and just war theory and an essay by Anthony F. Lang, Jr. on constructing universal values. It also contains a review essay by Sarah C. Goff on freedom and justice in trade governance, and book reviews by Michael Blake, Elizabeth Kahn, Jamie Mayerfeld, and John Williams.



Constructing Universal Values? A Practical Approach
Anthony F. Lang
This essay explores the possibility of universal values. Universal values do not exist as Platonic ideals nor do they exist in clearly defined lists of rules or laws. Rather, universal ethical claims are constructed through the actions of individual political leaders, scholars, and activists. This essay explores how such normative constructions take place.



Introduction: Looking Back to Look Forward
Margaret P. Karns

The seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in 1945 invites us to look back at the achievement of creating this new organization. It also prompts us to ask: Where is the organization today? How well has it fulfilled and is it still fulfilling the high ideals of its Charter?

Taking Measure of the UN's Legacy at Seventy-Five
David M. Malone and Adam Day
Over the past seventy-five years, the UN has evolved significantly, often in response to geopolitical dynamics and new waves of thinking. In some respects, the UN has registered remarkable achievements, stimulating a wide range of multilateral treaties, promoting significant growth of human rights, and at times playing a central role in containing and preventing large-scale armed conflict.

A Guardian of the UN Charter: The UN Secretary-General at Seventy-Five
Ellen J. Ravndal

Over the past seventy-five years, the UN secretary-general has come to occupy a highly visible position in world politics. While the UN Charter describes the post merely as the "chief administrative officer" of the organization, today it is widely recognized that the secretary-general also plays a central role in political matters. This essay looks back at the tenures of previous UN secretaries-general and applies ideas from sociological institutionalism to argue that the UN secretary-general holds the position of a "guardian" of the UN Charter.

The United Nations and the North-South Partnership: Connecting the Past to the Future
Ramesh Thakur
This essay connects the past of the United Nations to its future from the perspective of the Global South. It provides a broad-brush sketch of the changing nature of the North-South partnership on the UN's four overarching normative mandates of security, development, environment, and human rights.

UN Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding: Progress and Paradox in Local Ownership
Susanna P. Campbell
UN peace operations have increasingly focused on the importance of "local ownership." This essay argues that while there is widespread consensus among UN member states and UN bureaucrats that local ownership is necessary, UN peace operations have faced significant obstacles to creating true local ownership.

Human Rights in the Seventy-Fifth Year of the UN
Bertrand Ramcharan

This essay looks at the UN's human rights efforts through the lens of the ethics of survival, normative ethics, the ethics of protection, institutional ethics, and the ethics of the human predicament in the face of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It finds that while the consecration of the right to life has made a contribution to the ethics of human survival, the overall impact of the human rights program has been marginal.

Fighting Fire with a Thermometer? Environmental Efforts of the United Nations
Maria Ivanova

This essay explores how, as the only institution equipped to identify global problems and generate collective action toward their resolution, the UN became the platform for creating multilateral environmental agreements, convening global conferences, and mobilizing national and international efforts through a progressively larger number of institutions at the national and international level to guide decisions and influence behavior.

Where the UN Has Failed to Live Up to Its Mission: Looking Back to Look Forward
Devaki Jain
Scattered as they were across a world of distances, women of different cultures and classes found strength in numbers and, through the UN system and the conferences they convened, became a power of their own. This essay argues that today, however, women do not need and cannot have their aspirations be facilitated by the UN, because in their engagement with one another they have also recognized their differences.

Where are the Women in the United Nations Now?
Kirsten Haack, Margaret P. Karns, and Jean-Pierre Murray
Gender equality within the Secretariat and UN system has been on the organization's agenda since 1970, with goals and target dates set for the level of women's participation and achievement. This essay traces the evolution of efforts to increase the representation of women in the UN system and takes stock of their current representation therein, analyzing the data on the Secretariat and appointments to senior posts as well as in various operations and programs.

COVID-19, the UN, and Dispersed Global Health Security
Sophie Harman

While the WHO remains central to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the dispersed global health security addressing the crisis is inclusive of the wider UN system, civil society, and epistemic communities in global health. This essay argues that instead of facing crisis or criticism like the WHO, this inclusive and dispersed form of global health security provides mechanisms of resilience and support to the UN at the height of global political tensions surrounding COVID-19.


Information, Privacy, and Just War Theory
Jack McDonald
Are the sources of a combatant's knowledge in war morally relevant? This article argues that privacy is relevant to just war theory in that it draws attention to privacy harms associated with the conduct of war. Since we cannot assume that information is made available to combatants in a morally neutral manner, we must therefore interrogate the relationship between privacy harms and the acts that they enable in war.


Freedom and Justice in Trade Governance
Sarah C. Goff
Two recent books consider the future of trade governance. Consent and Trade proposes reforms to trade agreements so that states can consent more freely to their terms. On Trade Justice defends reforms to the World Trade Organization, arguing that multilateralism is the foundation for a "new global deal" on trade. Each book describes trade's distinctive features and proposes a principle to regulate both trade and trade governance.


Why Nationalism
Yael Tamir

Review by Michael Blake
Yael Tamir's Why Nationalism is a very good, very timely, and very unfashionable book. It constitutes a sort of normative history of political thought, beginning with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Global Poverty, Injustice, and Resistance
Gwilym David Blunt

Review by Elizabeth Kahn
In this work of nonideal theory, Gwilym David Blunt flips the existing narrative on ethics and extreme poverty by examining the global poor's right to resist. This is a refreshing intervention in a debate that has consistently focused on the duties of the affluent, at the expense of taking seriously the ethical dilemmas of the oppressed.

Structural Injustice: Power, Advantage, and Human Rights
Madison Powers and Ruth Faden
Review by Jamie Mayerfeld

Madison Powers and Ruth Faden have constructed a powerfully reasoned, deeply learned, and richly perceptive theory that places the problem of structural injustice at the heart of political philosophy.

Surrogate Warfare: The Transformation of War in the Twenty-First Century
Andreas Krieg and Jean-Marc Rickli

Review by John Williams
In this excellent survey and analysis of the debates raised by the use of surrogates in war, Andreas Krieg and Jean-Marc Rickli make a compelling case for both the extent to which surrogacy is changing the nature of war and the seriousness with which this issue needs to be taken.

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