Nations need to be able to cooperate more effectively if we are to have a future without catastrophic conflict. While there are many avenues for international cooperation, the United Nations represents the peak: the only universal, broad-ranging system that can manage the complex global problems that we are faced with.
However, we need to make the UN more effective than it currently is. The result of the Copenhagen Conference in December 09, the lacklustre commitment to the MDGs and shortfalls in many other programmes such as peacekeeping and disarmament indicate the limitations of the system. Essentially, the objectives and principles endorsed by the UN are thwarted by the failure of member states to make the necessary commitments, and even to honour the commitments that they have made. Further, the reluctance of nations to place key issues such as energy policy and global financial control in the hands of the UN further constrains its capabilities.
The need for the reform of the UN has been widely recognised, including by recent Secretary Generals, but there are a host of reasons that this does not happen. For instance, the composition of the P5 is a gross anachronism, having remained unchanged since the Charter was drafted. The disinclination of Britain and France to relinquish their entitlements, and bitter divisions within regions on who should replace them if they did, have so far prevented logical reform. The UN Secretariat needs more efficient management, greater accountability, and an end to the pernicious practice of member states promoting their own nationals for key positions. The UN has an impossible number of 9,000 mandates to fulfill, but attempts to rationalise them have been blocked by a myriad of special interests.
The credibility and standing of the UN is damaged by a media that tends to highlight any transgressions, yet fails to put the effort into developing adequate appreciation of the complexity and extent of its achievements.
It is important to consider where the responsibility for the performance of the UN lies. The obvious contender is the Secretary General who is the chief administrative officer of the organisation (article 97 of the Charter). While the SG can have significant influence, (s)he must work within the framework set by the members, states. The key responsibility lies with the member states collectively, but NGOs can also have significant influence as well. Members of the community can play a role by working with NGOs and influencing their governments. We all have to gain from an effective UN, and we all have opportunities, one way or another, to influence it.