Friday, February 27, 2009

The United Nations: Role and Challenges

The United Nations (UN) was created on Oct. 24, 1945 basically “to save succeed­ing generations from the scourge of war”—to ensure that the horrors of the two World Wars were never repeated. Sixty-two years later, we know all very well that the biggest security threats we face now, and in the decades ahead go far beyond States waging aggressive war. They extend to poverty, disease and environmental degradation; war and violence within States; the spread and possible use of nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons; terrorism; and transnational organised crime. The threats are from non-State actors as well as States, and to human security as well as State security.
Nevertheless, opinions may differ about the success and failure of the UN as an instrument for world peace and security. But everyone will agree that it has played a crucial role in the economic and social advancement of the people. UN’s efforts in the early Cold War era concentrated on the relationships between nations and the issues of war and peace. Not long into its existence, however, the UN was confronted with the challenges arising from global interdependence and social and economic inequalities. These new realities served to broaden the scope of UN activities and chart the future course of its global involvements.
Role and Challenges
Thus in the above framework, what should be the role of the UN in this new global order? How must the UN be reformed to confront its new challenges? What support should the United States provide for the UN, an institution where it holds significant power? And what lessons have we learned, as an international community, to guide the UN into future? These are the questions we seek to answer through this discussion.
The focus of our discussion is the hope that we have for the future, peace, prosperity and a fairer and more just world. It was these hopes, which led to the establishment of the United Nations following the Second World War which devastated the world in the first half of the 21st century. Today, we also discuss the topic of hope amidst the despair of the death and destruction of a war in Iraq, and the questioning of the relevance of the UN. The Iraq war represents the failure to resolve the international problem through multilateral channels. For the critics of the United Nations, it represents a failure of that organisation.
The central challenge for the 21st century is to fashion a new and broader understanding, bringing together all these strands, of what security means—and of all the responsibilities, commitments, strategies and institutions that come with it if a collective security system is to be effective, efficient and equitable.
Need for Reform
What is needed is to resurrect and update the UN. This will call for restoring to it the Charter functions it has lost, and introducing in it changes which reflect the transformations that have taken place in the world and which are in keeping with the core human values of liberty, justice, equity and respect for life.
An overall assessment of the functioning of the UN during the last sixty-one years leads one to conclude that the following areas of its functioning are most urgently in need of reform:
* The UN General Assembly has lost virility and often fails to focus effectively on the most compelling issues of the day. Its procedures need another look to make its functioning more efficient.
* The UN Security Council (UNSC) will need to be more proactive in the future. For this to happen, those who contribute most to the Organisation financially, militarily and diplomatically should participate more in Council decision-making, and those who participate in Council decision-making should contribute more to the Organisation. The Security Council needs greater credibility, legitimacy and representation to do all that we demand of it.
* There is a major institutional gap in addressing the countries under stress and countries emerging from conflict. Such countries often suffer from inattention, absence of policy guidance and resource deficits.
* The Security Council has not made the most of the potential advantages of working with regional and sub-regional organisations.
* The Commission on Human Rights suffers from a legitimacy deficit that casts aspersions on the overall reputation of the United Nations.
* There is a need for more professional and better organised Secretariat that is much more capable of concerted action.
Expansion of the UN
Many claimants have appeared on the scene to take this coveted position on the expanded Security Council. One such group, the most deserving one, is the recently formed Group of Four (G-4), comprising India, Germany, Japan and Brazil. The G-4 has also stepped up its campaign to win permanent seats to the UNSC by floating a proposal aimed at receiving wider international support, especially from African countries. The four countries circulated a draft proposal seeking to add six permanent seats and four non-permanent seats to expand the UNSC from its current 15 members to 25.

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