Reform of the UN?

Reform of the UN

Ever since the UN was established in 1945, there has been talk of the need for reform of the UN. Since the end of the Cold War, demands for reform have intensified. New superpowers demand a seat on the UN Security Council . Other countries demand reforms to increase the UN’s effectiveness as an aid actor .

  • What reforms have been implemented?
  • Why has it proved difficult to reform the world organization?
  • What is the relationship between the UN and G 20?

2: Start

The UN Charter was negotiated by fifty countries in San Francisco in 1945 . Negotiations for a new world organization had already begun in 1942, with meetings between Roosevelt (USA), Stalin (Soviet Union) and Churchill (UK) in Yalta. Later, they continued during the so-called Dumbarton Oaks negotiations, in which China also participated. On June 26, 1945, the UN Charter was signed by the original member states.

As a ” constitution ” for the world organization, the UN Charter shall provide stability and predictability , define mandates and secure certain duties and rights for states. As such, it should be difficult to reform. Therefore, it is not surprising that it has proved difficult to reform the UN. Nevertheless, there is reason to ask why one has not succeeded better in reforming the world organization when the world in 2010 is quite different from what it was in 1945.

The last round of reform discussions took place under former Secretary General Kofi Annan with reform proposals that were discussed during the UN summit in 2005 – during the celebration of the UN’s 60th anniversary. The proposals were based on input from a high-level panel that Annan had set up after the crisis that arose in the UN after the US without a mandate from the UN Security Council went to war against Iraq in the spring of 2003. For Annan represented the crisis in the Security Council others invaded a member state, an opportunity to create debate about what the role of the UN should be in a new era, with new threats and challenges .

The result was that the discredited Human Rights Commission was replaced by a Human Rights Council and that a peacebuilding commission was established. The latter is intended to exercise strategic leadership for post-conflict reconstruction and is an organizational expression of the fact that security and development are seen as inextricably linked. An evaluation by the Peacebuilding Commission acknowledges that it has the ability to bring together various key UN bodies (Security Council and Economic and Social Council, Office for Peacekeeping Operations, UNDP, etc.) – but also that it lacks effective strategic leadership.

Of the reform issues, three in particular stand out:

  • reform of the Security Council
  • reform of the development workthat the UN is responsible for
  • and administrative reform of the UN bureaucracy.

3: The Security Council

Much of the reason why demands for UN reform are constantly being made is about power and influence. Five of the UN member states – the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom and France – have a veto and a permanent seat on the Security Council. The Council’s resolutions are binding on the member states. In other words, the five have a special status in the organization. The five permanent members were not elected either. They belonged to the group of countries that negotiated the draft UN pact between 1942 and 1945, and which were the victors in World War II. The draft followed Roosevelt’s basic idea that the great powers had to operate together in order to function as the world policeman.

The demand for reform of the Security Council is promoted first and foremost by large countries that are not members there. This applies i.a. India, Japan, Germany, South Africa and Brazil. The reasons vary somewhat, depending on what is each country’s strongest card. Japan and Germany emphasize that they are by far the UN’s largest economic contributors. South Africa and Brazil emphasize the importance of having great powers from regions that are not represented today. India emphasizes that they are the world’s second most populous country – and the world’s largest democracy. Overall, the reason is that the composition of the Security Council must be changed so that the institution becomes more representative of the international distribution of power today.

The Security Council was reformed once, in 1965 , when the number of members was increased from 11 to 15. The UN had then gained a number of new member states in the wake of the decolonization that the UN had handled on behalf of the world community since 1945. In recent years certain minor changes have also been made to the Security Council’s working methods, e.g. by greater degree of consultation with the countries that contribute forces to the UN peacekeeping operations.

It is also worth noting that the most leading states behind the demand for reform of the Security Council in recent years have been elected to the Council to a greater extent than other countries. This may indicate that these countries’ arguments are recognized as correct and relevant among other member states.

4: The UN as a development actor

The UN was not originally established with a separate organization to promote development. What we know today as the UN Development Program, UNDP , was established in 1965. Today, UNDP is operational in over 160 countries and is a central organization for promoting development . Not least, we see this in the role of coordinating the work of achieving the so-called Millennium Development Goals (2000). During the UN summit in 2005, where a number of comprehensive reforms were adopted, the General Assembly instructed the Secretary-General to streamline development work for the UN.

The background for this is twofold: There has always been a debate – not least in the professional communities – about how effective aid is as a tool to fight poverty and create development. Over time, this debate has become part of the broader political debate on development in the global south.

In a time of strong demands for specialization and results, UNDP has emerged as cumbersome and inefficient. At the same time, it has been pointed out that there are too many cooks in the UN’s development work, and that better coordination must be created between the UNDP and other development organizations, and between all such and the UN’s peacekeeping operations.

Kofi Annan appointed a panel chaired by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg together with the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and Mozambique. In its report, the panel called for merging and integrating much of the UN’s operational activities at country level . In each developing country, the UN was to be reorganized with a common leader, office, budget and programs. The aim was to increase the effectiveness of the UN’s programs in development, humanitarian aid and the environment.

The model has been tested on a number of pilot lands and has, according to the UN itself, led to increased efficiency in the work. There is equally reason to recall that such organizational changes at country level have a somewhat limited effect: each of these UN organizations still has its own staff, budget and board at its headquarters in New York or Geneva.

5: Administrative reform

The UN has a large bureaucracy. In the UN Secretariat we find i.a. The Office of the Secretary-General, the Department of Disarmament Issues, the Office of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and others. The DPKO alone controls well over 100,000 military and civilian UN peacekeepers. The UN Secretariat also has its own supervisory body (OIOS) which will investigate allegations of corruption and also assess the effectiveness of its own work.

As in all large organizations, we find here poor coordination, inefficiency and also corruption. But a number of studies – internal as well as external – have pointed to poor leadership culture, slow hiring processes and not least a sea of ​​convoluted and often conflicting rules and procedures. However, the inefficiency must also be seen in the light of the member states’ way of dealing with the UN Secretariat.

An example: The budget of the secretariat, including the budget for peacekeeping operations, is decided by the 5th Committee of the General Assembly. Instead of leaving it to the secretariat to assess where more people are needed and who can be relocated, member countries spend time discussing and negotiating each position and budget item. It is therefore not surprising that the UN appears inefficient and bureaucratic, but the reason for this can not be attributed to internal conditions of the organization alone. It also lies in how member states often try to control the UN bureaucracy in detail in order to promote their own interests.

In 2006, Annan proposed an administrative reform, including changes in recruitment and leadership, investment in new information technology, increased authority for the Secretary-General to relocate personnel, and management of reporting from the Secretariat to Member States. Annan’s reform proposal was cut short, not least because there was a conflict between a group of countries in the global south (G77) and rich industrialized countries in the north. The conflict is partly about how much authority to delegate to the Secretary-General and the UN bureaucracy. The G77 fears that by giving more flexibility and independence to the UN bureaucracy, the rich countries, which give the most money to the UN, will be able to more easily use their financial weight to influence the UN bureaucracy. It will be possible to bypass the UN’s political bodies where the member states are represented, it is claimed.

According to, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has sought to move forward with a number of reform proposals, which overall aim to make the UN a more modern organization. One element of this we see when the organization should have greater freedom to dispose of its resources and rather be evaluated on the basis of results. This form of organization is in contrast to the system that still characterizes the functioning of the UN, where a set of rules and routines adopted by the member states decides what is to be done and how. Ban has been criticized – rightly – for promoting a leadership style that undermines some of the key principles he himself has launched as central to his reform efforts. The Secretary General has launched openness and accountability as key principles. However, his own leadership style is perceived as characterized by secrecy.

But again, we come back to the disagreement between the member states: the G77 will stick to the member states’ control over most of what the secretariat does. They want to govern through detailed budgets and rules. Other member states, such as Norway, argue for governance by using the results achieved as the most important indicator. In this way, the secretariat can be given space to find out for itself how to operate as efficiently as possible. There is admittedly some progress to be made in this field – a system for performance-based management has been established, and the requirements for reporting and transparency have been tightened. So far, however, they have not been fully implemented, partly due to. opposition from some member states.

6: The global role of the UN

In the wake of international crises, the UN is often required to reform. Had the UN been more active and better organized, it is claimed, the crisis could have been avoided. But it will be the right baker for the blacksmith: Admittedly, there are a number of aspects of the UN’s organization and operation that are worthy of criticism. And it is also true that the Secretary-General has some room for maneuver to make the UN relevant as an arena for resolving international crises.

It has been claimed that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has failed to make the UN the natural arena for coordinating international action against the financial crisis that erupted in the autumn of 2008. But with a few exceptions, the UN Economic and Social Council has never been able to set the agenda for international economic issues. The Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have significantly greater expertise in deciding international, coordinated measures against the financial crisis.

However, the UN has considerable power and competence to take action in the face of new threats and global challenges that require global solutions. On climate issues, the UN has succeeded relatively well with the broad work of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ( awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, in 2007). In other areas, however, one has not succeeded, partly because the UN has a large number of different funds and programs that have different mandates, budgets and boards. This often leads to quarrels over resources and prestige struggles between the organizations and often to poor coordination. Not infrequently, this leads to the UN being put on the sidelines by other international organizations.

Reform of the UN