Irrelevant or Indispensable?: The United Nations in the 21st Century


196 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-88920-493-4
DDC 341.23'01'3




Edited by Paul Heinbecker and Patricia Goff
Reviewed by Graeme S. Mount

Graeme S. Mount is a professor of history at Laurentian University. He
is the author of Canada’s Enemies: Spies and Spying in the Peaceable
Kingdom, Chile and the Nazis, and The Diplomacy of War: The Case of


This collection of essays appears at a critical time, when Canadians
have elected a government that has more respect for the White House than
for international law. Given that Canada lacked the military muscle to
bully other countries, previous Canadian governments have regarded
international law as a powerful weapon. Arguably, U.S. governments
should do so as well. Either or both the U.S. debt and/or the growing
strength of Asian countries will limit what America can do. The
post–Cold War situation will not last forever.

A group of luminaries—Lloyd Axworthy, a former Canadian foreign
minister; Paul Heinbecker, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations
in 2000–3; Louis Fréchette, Deputy Secretary General of the United
Nations; and numerous academics—originally prepared the essays as
speeches delivered in April 2005 at the University of Waterloo’s
conference on United Nations reform. They realize that the U.N. is
imperfect, that it needs some serious reforms, and that the reforms will
not come easily. They also believe that whatever its flaws, the U.N. is
the place for making international law, and that it has had many
successes. Fréchette notes the U.N.’s role in dealing with the
tsunami of 2004 and the willingness of governments to contribute 70,000
troops to enforcement of U.N. law in various parts of the world.
Jayantha Dhanapala, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs
(1998–2003), reviews achievements to date in controlling the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In an article titled
“Small Arms, Big Killers,” Keith Krause discusses the dangers from
the proliferation of small arms. Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of
Human Rights Watch, explains the U.N.’s record on protecting and
promoting human rights. Edward Luck of Columbia University notes the
challenges in reconstituting the Security Council. All these people
agree that the United Nations serves a useful purpose.

The book ends with an admonition from Ambassador Heinbecker that the
world is depending on the transformation of the United Nations.


“Irrelevant or Indispensable?: The United Nations in the 21st Century,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 18, 2024,