WASHINGTON, April 8 (UPI) -- The war in Iraq, along with the war against terrorism, has thrown into sharp relief the inherent limits of international institutions like the United Nations, and has emphasized the enormous difficulties such organizations have when dealing with serious problems of international scope, according to think tank policy experts.
Many conservative and liberal policy analysts have begun to question the credibility and effectiveness of the United Nations following that body's apparent failure to deal with the events leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
At a briefing Tuesday on the future of global governance co-sponsored by the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Jessica Mathews, president of Carnegie, said that despite her longstanding support of transnational organizations like the United Nations, there are many open questions regarding the ability of such bodies to effectively address pressing world needs.
"At the moment I am not sure what I think anymore," Mathews said. She said that although global governance is needed, it is unclear in the current political climate just how the United Nations, the World Bank and other half-century-old non-governmental organizations can fulfill the need for the effective management of contemporary global problems like international terrorism, nuclear weapons proliferation and the transnational spread of disease, and areas with significant global impact, such as international trade and economics.
Charles Horner, a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, said that global issues –- such as the rapid spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, after an outbreak in China, and attempts to harmonize international accounting standards –- can be successfully approached using the resources of nations around the world. But he noted that that many of the current means of international management are ineffective in dealing with other global dilemmas, like war.
"Over time you can't help but have global issues," Horner told United Press International. "The question is whether the design of transnational institutions can actually deal with that fact."
He added that institutions like the United Nations, which were established to address these problems following World War II, were modeled on Wilsonian ideals, and have become mired in outdated socialist tendencies that allow a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein to be considered the legitimate leader of a sovereign state.
"In my opinion we have to get back to the pre-Leninist view of these institutions," he said.
Various options have been discussed to address the shortcomings of the United Nations. These include revamping the U.N. charter to better address current international issues, and the more drastic measure of scrapping the organization altogether in favor of a new international body, or smaller regional institutions.
"Now we are in a different situation from when we put those institutions in place and new ones are needed now," said Horner. "It will talk some time to figure out how to do that."
Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for foreign policy and defense studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said that international institutions like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization are necessary to a certain extent, but are only marginally useful.
"These organizations can play a moderately useful role as long as their scope is narrowly defined and not overly ambitious," Carpenter told UPI. "It is when advocates of global governance want the United Nations to do things for which it was not designed that we get into trouble."
He added that more difficult political problems, such as how to deal with a rogue regime, are best addressed outside the auspices of international institutions, and that the ad hoc coalition design used to fight the war in Iraq is the best model for American multilateral action.
"I think what we are really going to see in the future is more ad hoc arrangements rather than institution-building," he said. "At least such arrangements have the potential to achieve short-term solutions. Most of the ineffective and pretentious international institutions cannot even do that."
However, Mathews said that such ad hoc coalitions are designed only to deal with short-term problems, and have no capacity to deal with long-term issues.
"Coalitions are a crisis management system, that is all they are designed as," she said at the forum. "A 'coalition of the willing' is at best a solution that deals with only a tiny bit of the problems we are dealing with here."
Mathews warned that despite their shortcomings, transnational organizations are currently the only formal means through which to address serious international problems, and should not be abandoned or bypassed lightly.
"We risk breaking something for which we have no replacement, where there is no visible sign of will to create a replacement," she said.
Non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, along with international civil society, have also become an increasingly important part of the global governance mosaic in recent years. Such groups were responsible for hammering out a multination treaty banning the use of land mines that many nations -- but not the United States -- have joined.
Ann Florini, a senior fellow in governance studies at Brookings, said that these advances, along with changes in information technology and institutional transparency, have made a non-governmental approach to global governance feasible.
"There is reason to think that real changes in information technology can have a profound effect on political systems because it has happened before," said Florini. "It is possible the digital revolution we are going through now can have a similar impact."
For example, the development of the printing press in Europe is understood to have led to the Protestant revolution, the Enlightenment, and the eventual development of democratic government across the continent, because it allowed for better dissemination of information.
Florini added that this combination -- better dissemination of information to the public due to technological innovations, coupled with increased transparency at the national level and within inter-governmental institutions -- has also lead to better oversight of international institutions by NGOs. She noted that the World Trade Organization and other international political institutions have become more transparent due to outside pressure from such groups.
James B. Steinberg, vice president and director of the foreign policy program at Brookings, said at the forum that it is important to remember that effective global governance is very necessary but also very hard to accomplish. Possible solutions often do not effectively address all problems.
"There are incredible difficulties in trying to deal with challenges like these," Steinberg said at the forum.
He said that civil society, along with traditional intergovernmental bodies and ad hoc coalitions, together represent the broad scope of what is needed to address global problems in the contemporary world.
"What we need to do is look at the category (of the problem) and see what will work," said Steinberg.