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Security Multilateralism: Progress and Paradox

Margaret E. McGuinness

St. John's University - School of Law

PROGRESS IN INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION, Rebecca Bratspies and Russell Miller, eds., Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008
University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2007-24

This chapter is a contribution to the book project, PROGRESS IN INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION, which revisits Manley O. Hudson's 1932 book of the same name.

In 1932, Manley O. Hudson represented a seemingly Utopian vision of the transformative effect of international institutions. Remarkably, by the end of the 20th century, the international community had indeed achieved two of the aspirations Hudson set forth: to develop the habit of interstate cooperation and interaction through international organizations and to make the world more secure. International regulation governing when and how governments may resort to force has never been broader or deeper. Despite the persistence of armed conflict, more people live peaceful and secure lives and have a say in how they are governed than at any time in history. But with progress comes paradox: The world faces great and potentially catastrophic threats to the peace, including from weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), large-scale environmental and health disasters, and the combined dangers posed by failed governments, religious conflict, and ethnic strife. The rise of non-state actors has transformed the way in which individuals govern their own lives and determine their own destinies, but has also brought the threat of new forms of transnational terrorism with global reach.

Hudson's idea that one central international institution could serve to regulate the behavior of states in the service of international security - first laid out in the League Covenant and further refined in the United Nations Charter - has never been fully realized. In the post-Cold war period, the UN Security Council has been revitalized, but alongside it has emerged a patchwork of unilateral and regional responses to threats. This evolution of security multilateralism away from the vision of one central apparatus need not, however, be viewed as a failure of international organization. To the contrary, three recent security challenges, East Timor, Kosovo, and Iraq, demonstrate that the UN remains relevant, adapting itself to new threats and shifting global politics. While some have decried - and others celebrated - this adaptability and flexibility as the triumph of politics over law, it reflects the core features of the system of international organization Hudson envisioned; one that balances (perhaps precariously at times) the moral force of law against the practical necessity of politics, joining legalism with institutional functionalism.

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Date posted: December 20, 2007 ; Last revised: December 26, 2007

Suggested Citation

McGuinness, Margaret E., Security Multilateralism: Progress and Paradox. PROGRESS IN INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION, Rebecca Bratspies and Russell Miller, eds., Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008; University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2007-24. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1076841

Contact Information

Margaret McGuinness (Contact Author)
St. John's University - School of Law ( email )
8000 Utopia Parkway
Jamaica, NY 11439
United States
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