The United Nations claims to exist in order to maintain international peace and security, providing a space within which all states can work together. But why, then, does the UN invoke its responsibility to protect through humanitarian intervention in some instances but not others? Why is it that five states have the power to decide whether or not to intervene? This book challenges the dominant narrative of the UN as an institution of equality and progress by analyzing the colonial origins of the organization and revealing the unequal power relations it has perpetuated.
Harsant argues that the United Nations is unable to fulfill its claims around the protection of international peace and security due to its very structure and the privilege of certain states. Moreover, through a rigorous examination of the history of the UN and how those structures came to be, she argues that the privilege afforded to these states is the result of power relations established through the colonial encounter.
In order to understand the pressing contemporary issues of how the United Nations operates, particularly the Security Council, this book discusses issues of power and sovereignty by de-silencing the narratives of resistance and reconstructing a history of the United Nations that takes this colonial and anti-colonial relationship into account. This is a bold challenge to the eurocentrism that dominates International Relations discourse and a call to better understand the colonialism’s role in preserving the existing global order.
Katy Harsant is a Teaching Fellow in the sociology department and Deputy Director of Undergraduate Studies in sociology at the University of Warwick.
Introduction: Selective Responsibility and Reading Through History
Postcolonialism, Neocolonialism and Sovereignty
Reading Through History
Structure of the Book
Chapter 1 - From Sovereignty to Sovereign Equality
A History of the United Nations
Academic Narratives of the United Nations
Sovereignty and International Law
Sovereignty and the League of Nations
From Sovereignty to Sovereign Equality
Sovereign Equality and Trusteeship
A Colonial History of the United Nations
Chapter 2 - Resistance to Imperialism and the Two Leagues
President Wilson and the Paris Peace Conference
The League of Nations, Self-Determination and the Mandate System
The League Against Imperialism
Universalism and Internationalism
Chapter 3 - The United Nations and Colonialism: Re-Narrating San Francisco
The Colonial Question at San Francisco
Anti-Colonialism at San Francisco
Permanent Membership and Postcolonial Privilege
Power vs. Responsibility
From Mandates to Trusteeship
Chapter 4 - The Rise of Asia-Africa and Discourses of Development
Discourses of Development
The Bandung Conference
Bandung and the Cold War
The Power of Bandung
Chapter 5 - After Bandung: Independence and Non-Alignment
The United Nations, Decolonisation and Independence
The Non-Aligned Movement
The Group of 77
Bandung and the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership
Chapter 6 - From Non-Intervention to R2P
Non-Intervention After the Second World War
Power Politics in the Cold War Period
Human Rights and Humanitarianism in the 1990s
ICISS and the Focus on Responsibility
Neocolonialism and Selective Responsibility
International Relations, History and Eurocentrism
The United Nations in 2022
Selective Responsibility in the United Nations provides a thoughtful critique of the Responsibility to Protect by reconsidering the history of the UN and the League in the context of the global struggle against colonialism. It is essential reading for students of global governance today.
The UN has colonial origins. Resisting the idea that World War II and the creation of the UN initiated a rupture in international relations, Harsant shows that San Francisco ushered in rather only a slight evolution of the racialized world of the League of Nations. This book convincingly problematizes the history and narratives of the UN and shows how the afterlives of the institution’s colonial origins are still visible in how it deploys such concepts as responsibility, intervention, sovereignty, and development. Doing so, Harsant also excavates the history of anti-colonial resistance in the advent of the current international order. An excellent book!