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Is the United Nations Still Relevant?

The relevance of the United Nations (UN) to the development of international law and to international security remains vigorously contested. In this inaugural debate, we have invited contributions from two scholars who reflect the division. Professor William Burke-White, of Penn, contends that “[t]lie active engagement of the Security Council and a range of other UN organs in the processes of international lawmaking has never been more necessary.” Indeed, Burke-White maintains that “[t]he UN and its organs are more urgently needed today than ever before to facilitate the creation of broad international treaties, to codify and interpret customary rules, or to ‘legislate’ on behalf of the global community.” Professor Abraham Bell, of Bar-Ilan and Fordham, is less sanguine. Bell “argue [s] that the UN makes a net negative contribution to aggregate international welfare in all but the category of facilitating mostly noncontroversial treaties.” Further, lie suggests “that legal rules and institutions should be judged by the results they produce rather than the aspirations they purport to represent.” On this score, lie writes, “it is far from self-evident that the good aspirations produce good results,” and that “only the good results should interest us.” We welcome your thoughts, comments, and reactions to the lively exchange below.