THE UN TODAY: INDISPENSABLE OR IRRELEVANT? Essential Resources from the Carnegie Council

December 19, 2006

Photo of United Nations Building

January 1st, 2007 marks the end of Kofi Annan's term as Secretary-General of the UN. Will Ban Ki-moon succeed in "the world's toughest job," or will the UN become increasingly irrelevant, as some of its critics claim?

Despite all criticism, the UN remains the world's premier supranational forum. As such, it may be the best hope for tackling global issues. While member states struggle to find common solutions to issues ranging from world poverty to humanitarian intervention, it is now up to new Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to continue his predecessor's efforts to effect internal reforms and to improve the UN's public image.

At this important point in the UN's history, we offer you a selection of Carnegie Council materials. They address such issues as the relationship between the U.S. and the UN, UN reform, and the recent challenges the UN has faced in areas such as development, collective security and human rights.

UN-US Relations

The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power
James Traub, Contributing Writer, New York Times Magazine
James Traub discusses the troubled relationship between the UN and the world's only superpower. He observes that, having reached a low point in 2004, the relationship is finally on the mend and that the United States will likely seek a pragmatic engagement with the UN in the future. (Public Affairs Program, 2006)

UN Reform

Debate—The United Nations: Still Relevant After All These Years?
James Traub (moderator), Contributing Writer, New York Times Magazine
Shashi Tharoor, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information
Ruth Wedgwood, Professor of Law, John Hopkins University
Is the UN "I" for irrelevant, or "I" for indispensable, as Shashi Tharoor would have it? While conceding that the UN is relevant, Ruth Wedgwood argues that "competing multilaterals" should also play a role in solving the world's problems. This witty but deeply serious debate will give both sides of the argument food for thought. (Public Affairs Program, 2006)

The Progress of UN Reform
Jan Eliasson, Swedish diplomat, former President of the UN General Assembly
H.E. Mr. Jan Eliasson discusses recent steps forward, such as the establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission, the Central Emergency Fund, and the Human Rights Council. (Public Affairs Program, 2006)

Challenges to the UN
Sir Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs at the UN
Sir Kieran gives a progress report on the panel appointed by Kofi Annan to recommend changes that would enable the UN to respond more effectively to peace and security challenges--broadly interpreted to include threats of poverty, hunger, and disease. (Public Affairs Program, 2004)

Collective Security

The International Struggle over Iraq: Politics in the UN 1980—2005
David M. Malone, Canadian diplomat, former Ambassador to the UN
What role did the UN Security Council play in the international struggles over Iraq? (Public Affairs Program, 2006)

“A Threat to One Is a Threat to All:" Nonstate Actors, Collective Security and the Reform of the UN
Nirupam Sen, UN Ambassador, Nancy Soderberg, UN Ambassador, Robert O. Keohane, Professor, Princeton University, Bruce Jones, Co-Director, Center for International Cooperation, NYU, Paige Arthur (moderator)
What constitutes a "global threat" from a nonstate actor, and who gets to define it? Which principles should be upheld in dealing with nonstate actors? And how might international institutions such as the United Nations be reformed to meet such threats? (EIA Roundtable, 2005)

Challenges in UN Peacekeeping Operations
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations
The demand for UN peacekeeping troops has risen at an unprecedented rate, says Guéhenno. This presents enormous challenges, such as mobilizing troops and resources, and deploying in a timely manner. (Public Affairs Program, 2005)

The UN Security Council: From the Cold War to the 21st Century
David M. Malone, former UN Ambassador
Kishore Mahbubani, former President of the Security Council
Ian Martin, Personal Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Nepal
David Malone points out that disagreements among the Permanent Five Security Council members have been confined to just three issues since the end of the Cold War: Israel-Palestine, Kosovo, and Iraq. (Public Affairs Program, 2004)

Countering Terrorism: Is the UN Playing Its Proper Role?
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former UK Ambassador to the UN
Since September 11, the UN has proven it can act quickly and efficiently when it needs to, says Sir Jeremy Greenstock, and with the war on terrorism becoming increasingly complex, the UN role is becoming increasingly critical. (Public Affairs Program, 2002)

The Preventive Use of Force: A Cosmopolitan Institutional Proposal
Allen Buchanan and Robert O. Keohane,
Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 18.1
This essay proposes a scheme that would make those promoting and those rejecting the preventive use of force more accountable.

UN Development Goals

Development Agenda 2006: From Ideas into Action
Sir Emyr Jones Parry, UK Ambassador to the UN
Sir Emyr describes the positive rethinking of development policy that occurred in 2005 and the need to make 2006 the year for action. He touches on the issues of aid, trade, UN reform, harmonization among donor organizations, and the struggle against corruption. (Public Affairs Program, 2006)

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time
Jeffrey Sachs, Economist, Director of the New Millennium Project
Dr. Sachs, Director of the New Millennium Project, proposes ways to end extreme poverty all over the world within the next twenty years. (Public Affairs Program, 2005)

The First Millennium Development Goal
Thomas Pogge, Philosopher, Professor, Columbia University
Dr. Pogge says that even though affluent countries have endorsed the first UN Millennium Development Goal of halving the world's poor by 2015, this does not necessarily signal a real commitment. (Achieving Global Justice Seminar, 2003)

Human Rights and Humanitarianism

Three Challenges for the Human Rights Movement: Darfur, Abu Ghraib, and the Role of the United Nations
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch
Kenneth Roth discusses the three main challenges that the international human rights movement faces today, including the debates over the role of the UN in addressing serious human rights violations. While he endorses the proposed Human Rights Council, he warns that this body should not be taken as an excuse to remove human rights from the agenda of the Security Council (Public Affairs Program, 2006)

Bearing Witness to Genocide: Rwanda, Darfur, and the Implications for Future Peacekeeping Operations

Lt. Gen. Roméo A. Dallaire, former Force Commander of UNAMIR
In 1994, General Dallaire was the commander of the UN Assistance Mission to Rwanda and powerless to stop the massacre of 800,000 people, who were slaughtered in 100 days. Yet just as in Rwanda ten years ago, the UN is reluctant to use the word "genocide" to describe Darfur. (Public Affairs Program, 2005)

Humanitarianism under Fire
Nicolas de Torrenté, Executive Director, Doctors Without Borders
Gerald Martone, Director Emergency Response, International Rescue Committee
Roy Gutman, Foreign Editor, Newsweek
De Torrente argues that current the UN policy of combining humanitarian with military and political goals is fundamentally flawed. (Public Affairs Program, 2004)