The very first ACUNS Annual Meeting was held in New York City in June 1988 after two years of discussion and hard work by the Council’s founding members: Elise Boulding and Gene Lyons of Dartmouth College; Benjamin Rivlin of the Ralph Bunche Institute at The CUNY Graduate Center; former UNESCO Deputy Director-General John Fobes; Pat Sewell from Brock University; John Holmes from the University of Toronto; and Victor Urquidi from the Colegio de México. Their hope and goal was to develop a teaching and research-oriented organization that would work to bridge the distance between academics researching the United Nations system and practitioners working inside the agencies that comprise that system.
With initial financial and institutional support from the Dickey Center at Dartmouth College, and several grants from the Ford Foundation, the ACUNS conception became a reality. At the 1988 Meeting, Leon Gordenker was approved as the first Chair of the ACUNS Board of Directors and Gene Lyons became the first Executive Director.
Other leading academics and practitioners (including Oran Young, Ernst Haas, Inis Claude, Leon Gordenker, Donald Puchala, Robert Keohane, and Stephen Krasner) played significant roles in guiding the development of the new Council.
A number of objectives motivated the founders of ACUNS. There was a desire to facilitate a closer connection between UN system activities and university research. In his study of ACUNS’ first decade, Gene Lyons noted that “research on international peace and security and on social and economic development, subjects that were at the center of UN activities, seemed to have little impact on what was actually going on.”
This goal had multiple dimensions, including drawing academic research into the design of UN programs, and encouraging academics to study and teach on some of the pressing issues that the UN faces. As Lyons noted, “the reasons for creating a new academic Council were more than to fill a gap in professional associations and give new attention to institutions that were being neglected. It was also to recognize that international organizations were taking on new operations and changing the structures of international relations.” A range of issues, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; swelling numbers of displaced peoples; persistent poverty and suffering; gross violations of human rights; an increase in the number and intensity of civil conflicts; the expansion of international trade; and the growth and acceleration of international financial flows, demanded attention and analysis from scholars and practitioners alike.
In addition, as Lyons observed, several key organizational challenges faced those who founded the Council, including ensuring its financial stability; making it an international body; renewing ties with the UN; and drawing in the next generation of scholars and practitioners. Over subsequent years, a number of specific projects and activities have helped ACUNS to continue pursuing these ongoing goals, including:
- Summer workshops, in cooperation with the American Society for International Law, began in 1991 with support from the Ford and MacArthur Foundations, bringing young practitioners into conversation with young academics on key aspects of international organization. The Workshop, now in its 23rd iteration, continues to be a very successful program drawing together some 20 young participants each year, linking them together in a valuable professional and personal, shared experience.
- The first issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Global Governance, appeared in the winter of 1995, under the leadership of founding editors, Craig Murphy and Roger Coate. In 1997, the Association of American Publishers named Global Governance the “Best new journal in the United States in Business, the Social Sciences, and the Humanities.” Today, the journal is in its 18th volume and continues its tradition of excellence.
- Research projects and publications, and a widely-disseminated E-Update featuring special podcast interviews covering thematic topics, professional development issues, and a new Book Talk series.
- The annual John Holmes Memorial Lecture, delivered during the ACUNS Annual Meeting and subsequently published in Global Governance, showcases a leading thinker at the intersection of international law and international organization.
- Over the years, distinguished chairs have provided intellectual leadership. Among them, Robert Cox, Edwin Smith, Charlotte Ku, Michael Doyle, Donald Puchala, James Sutterlin, Nico Schrijver, Craig Murphy, Thomas G. Weiss, and Christer Jönsson.
- The Secretariat moved from Dartmouth College to Brown University, where Thomas Weiss served as Executive Director from 1992-1998. Jean Krasno succeeded Weiss in 1999, leading the Secretariat at Yale until its move to Wilfrid Laurier University in 2003.
In the current moment, basic financial stability is provided by the generosity of Wilfrid Laurier University and the Centre for International Governance Innovation, both in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. The secretariat is headed by Dr. Alistair Edgar.
The fundamental disconnect between the nature of a growing number of global problems and the current inadequate structures for international problem-solving makes the United Nations, warts and all, the closest approximation that we have to a central institutional presence on the global stage. Now with members in over 50 countries, ACUNS continues to be an intellectually vibrant community, engaged in research and writing, teaching, and policy practice related to the United Nations, the UN system, and international organization.