Rising Nationalism: Fortifying International Institutions

February 22, 2024
February 24, 2024

“We the Peoples of the United Nations have resolved to combine our efforts [to be] a center for harmonizing the actions of nations” - so reads the preamble of the UN Charter. The unprecedented number and scope of international institutions that have emerged over the past decade have enabled high levels of cooperation. The effects of this have been palpable, for example through the “Long Peace”, a period without conflict between global superpowers, spanning from 1945 to the present. However, international cooperation and the institutions built upon it are facing major challenges. In a 2018 statement to the Security Council, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced concerns that nationalist tendencies hinder Member States’ ability to cooperate effectively on crucial global issues. 

One characteristic of nationalism is patriotism, a pride and identification with one’s country.  Alone, patriotism does not threaten international cooperation, unlike its dangerous twin, nationalism, which holds the superiority of one’s own country and/or the aim for regional or international primacy.  A nation, often incorrectly used synonymously for “state”, refers to a people with a common ethnic/cultural identity.  This kind of superior identitarian nationalism causes governments to prioritize national over international interests and can lead states to actively work against global cooperation, as is exemplified by the Ukraine War, the lack of commitment to the Paris Agreement, or Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. Global crises like climate change require a joint effort which is directly hindered by the rise of self-centric nationalism. 

International institutions, also known as intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), have a membership of at least three sovereign states.  They can include non-state entities, and have a legal framework in international law. IGOs range from regional groups such as the European or African Union, and military alliances such as NATO to truly global organizations like the UN. According to Political Scientist Dr. Joseph Nye, IGOs decrease “uncertainty and an inability to cultivate trust [...] creating a climate in which expectations of stable peace develop.” 

Yet this requires interstate cooperation, which multiple theories of international politics attempt to explain. Especially relevant in the context of nationalism is constructivism, which highlights the role of cultural norms/values in shaping states’ goals and thus altering their behaviors. Realism provides another hypothesis: the desire to attain power and dominate to survive leads to competition as the primary form of interaction. Pressures such as economic crises can increase tribal fears,  triggering a rise in the perceived need to be superior to other States i.e. nationalism. Such a rise in nationalism, characterized by a decrease in cooperation, can, so argue proponents of liberalism be counteracted by IGOs that enable welfare through cooperation.

Critics of the UN argue that such IGOs are outdated and ineffective in addressing global crises. While their criticism has merit, institutions facilitating cooperation have benefited the global community greatly. In the future, they could be more effective if reformed to be less vulnerable to nationalist influences and remain functional despite disagreements. To quote Guterres: “In this difficult context, we need to inspire a return to international cooperation. We need a reformed, reinvigorated, and strengthened multilateral system.”  This is what we hope to tackle at BERMUN2.


Paul Keppler-Gouras, Secretary-General

Maya Hauff, President of the General Assembly

Moana Kammerer, Deputy Secretary-General

Mila Ward, Deputy Secretary-General

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