How to Fix the United Nations/ Foreign Policy 19.09.16

An increasing array of unpredictable global challenges requires reshaping
the global body to confront them.


As we pass the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, and
approach the appointment of the next U.N. secretary-general for the decade
ahead, we need to consider afresh the institution's future, its relevance to
the global challenges of our time, and what changes are necessary to ensure
its long-term future.

First, the U.N. matters. In fact, because it is such an embedded part of the
postwar order, it matters a lot. So much so that if it were to fail, falter,
or just fade away, this would further erode the stability of an already
fragile global order. Our current order faces new, mounting, and compounding
challenges unlike any we have seen in a quarter of a century. Along with a
rapid deterioration in U.S.-Russia and U.S.-China relations (accompanied by
a new strategic rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing), we face a
humanitarian refugee crisis, an ongoing war in Syria and Ukraine, and a
range of growing security challenges across East Asia.

There have been even more profound transformations in global geoeconomics,
where China is now the world's second-largest economy and, despite recent
slower growth, is soon to become the largest - supplanting the United States
after more than 150 years of global economic dominance. In the meantime,
Europe's economy has yet to emerge from a decade of stagnation and where
European politics, both regionally and nationally, represent a continuing
drag on a robust future.

Beyond these emerging global fault lines threatening traditional patterns of
stability, we are also seeing the rise of a new generation of lethal
nonstate actors, principally in the form of violent jihadism, who reject the
state-based system, actively seek to destroy it, and operate entirely
outside the already flimsy fabric of international law.

To add to the new complexities facing the current global order, we are also
witnessing another wave of challenges generated by accelerating and
increasingly unpredictable dynamics of globalization. On the one hand, this
is generating new demands for more effective global governance to deal with
"the globalization of everything." At the same time, globalization is also
unleashing dangerous new political, economic, and social counterforces from
those that are not benefiting from the globalization project of the last
quarter of a century, manifesting as a potent cocktail of nationalism,
protectionism, and xenophobia. These forces, in turn, are beginning to
threaten the fabric of the current order in new ways, and at multiple
levels, as conflicting constituencies simultaneously demand of their
governments both more and less globalization.

Taken together, we seem to be approaching a new global tipping point that
departs from the comfortable assumptions of recent decades that the dynamics
of greater global integration were somehow both benign and unstoppable. So
when we are seeing the emergence of new forces that threaten to pull the
world apart, the very institutions the international community established
to bring the world together through cooperative forms of global governance
should be more important than ever. Yet the uncomfortable truth is that
these institutions have never been weaker. We see this with the World Trade
Organization, which has struggled unsuccessfully for more than a decade to
bring about a new trade round; the International Monetary Fund, which
despite its charter could not handle the global financial crisis and had to
yield to the creation of a new, nonmultilateral institution (the G-20) as
the premium organization of global financial economic governance; and the
U.N. itself, where institutions are rarely empowered by member states to
deal effectively with major global challenges.

After 70 years, the U.N. has become so "factored in" to the international
order that we are barely conscious of the stabilizing role it plays in
setting broad parameters for the conduct of international relations. We tend
to take the U.N. for granted. We see it as a comfortable part of the
international furniture.We tend to take the U.N. for granted. We see it as a
comfortable part of the international furniture. A permanent fixture - a
given. But as history reminds us, nothing is forever, least of all the
durability of global institutions, whose history is recent and whose
precedents are fraught. Nor is history necessarily linear; we are not
somehow destined to enjoy increasingly progressive forms of global
governance. Regression is equally possible. And if the U.N. one day
disappears - or, more likely, just slides into neglect - only then would we
become fully aware of the gaping hole this would leave in what would remain
of the postwar order. Without the U.N., we would be left with increasingly
brittle state-on-state relationships, with little remaining to mediate,
negotiate, or resolve interstate crises when they arise.

While the U.N. today is not broken, it is in trouble. Many fear it is
starting to drift into irrelevance as states increasingly avoid the U.N. on
the most important questions facing the international community, seeking
substantive solutions elsewhere. Many are concerned that the U.N. is being
overwhelmed by the major systemic changes and challenges now buffeting the
global order. The U.N. has a 20th-century institutional structure and
culture that is struggling to adapt to these new 21st-century realities. And
if it fails to adapt, the U.N. will slowly slide into the shadowlands.

But this drift into irrelevance need not be the case. From its history, we
know the U.N. is capable of reinventing itself. Past decades have seen
Security Council reform and the creation of the U.N. Framework Convention on
Climate Change as well as U.N. Women. There is no point dreaming that the
U.N. can be rebuilt from the ground up. But we can intelligently re-examine
its functions, structure, and allocation of resources to make it better
equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

To that end, we need a U.N. whose inherent legitimacy and universality are
reaffirmed by a formal political recommitment to the fundamental principles
of multilateralism by member states.

We need a U.N. that structurally integrates its peace and security,
sustainable development, and human rights agendas as a strategic continuum,
rather than leaving them as the self-contained, institutional silos of the

We need a U.N. that helps build bridges between the great powers,
particularly at a time of rising great-power tensions.We need a U.N. that
helps build bridges between the great powers, particularly at a time of
rising great-power tensions.

We need a U.N. with a robust policy-planning capability, looking into the
future several years out, not just at the crises of the day.

We need a U.N. that embraces a comprehensive doctrine of prevention, rather
than just reaction, that is directly reflected in the organization's
leadership structure, culture, and resources.

We need a U.N. in the field that finally resolves the problem of its rigid
institutional silos by moving increasingly to integrated, multidisciplinary
teams to deal with specific challenges.

We need a U.N. driven by the measurement of results, not just the elegance
of its processes.

We need a U.N. where women are at the center of the totality of its agenda,
not just parts of it, so that their full human potential can be realized as
a matter of social justice, and because to fail to do so would further
undermine peace, security, development, and human rights.

We need a U.N. where young people have their voices heard at the center of
the U.N.'s councils, not simply as a paternalistic afterthought, to help
shape a future of genuine hope for the more than 3 billion people today
under 25 years old.

We need a U.N. that is relevant to the new, emerging, critical global policy
agendas of the future, not just those of the past, including effectively
countering terrorism and violent extremism, enhancing cybersecurity,
constraining lethal autonomous weapons systems, dealing with the inadequate
enforcement of international humanitarian law for the wars of the future,
and developing a comprehensive approach to planetary boundaries beyond
climate change, particularly for our oceans.

We need a U.N. that can efficiently, effectively, and flexibly act within
the reality imposed by ongoing budgetary constraints, rather than just
hoping that the fiscal heavens will one day magically reopen, because they

This is, admittedly, a long list of asks. But any less won't do. There is no
such thing as "one-off" reform. For the U.N. to have a robust future in
delivering results that are directly relevant to the challenges of the
international community, we must actively engage in a process of continually
reinventing the institution.

There is an argument that the institutions of international relations
inherently tend toward entropy - that the processes of long-term decay begin
at the day of founding. Perhaps it's true that all things must ultimately
die, but we can certainly act to prolong the life span. The medicine that is
necessary is a conscious, continuing program of active reinvention - to
remind the institution of its core and continuing values, to refresh its
institutional culture, and, where necessary, to reprogram some of its

When the peoples of the world see growing disagreement among the great
powers, the re-emergence of old interstate tensions and conflicts,
terrorists on their streets, chaos in their markets, and jobs disappearing
with nothing to replace them, they are increasingly asking: "Is anybody in
control anymore?" This is not an unreasonable question.

So what can be done? How can we breathe new life into an old institution so
that the U.N. can perform its central role of preserving a peaceful and just
global order? Can we begin to imagine a U.N. for the 21st century that
responds to a growing demand for effective global governance in an age of
ever-diminishing supply, and when the governance "deficit" seems to be
widening? I hope this report, and its 50-plus specific recommendations on
top of the generic principles listed above, is a modest beginning.

There is a rational basis for optimism about the U.N.'s future. But
overcoming inertia requires effort. Nor should we succumb to a type of
fashionable pessimism that substantive change is too hard. The truth is that
while the challenges the U.N. faces are real, the answers really do lie
within our grasp - if we can deploy the collective political will to make
change happen.

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