This Week’s Mtg: The U.N. – Past, Present, Future

Americans tend to be highly opinionated about the U.N., even though many know little about it.  To many conservatives, the UN is just an impediment to American power. All they do there is bicker, pass silly sounding resolutions, and waste our money. To some liberals, the UN could be that world government they pine for, if only it were given more…something, and we let it do more…something.

In truth, the UN is an important organization that is involved to one degree or another in trying to resolve most major global problems, especially peace and security issues.  However, its effectiveness and potential to be more than it is are sharply limited, IMO.  Still, I like Ron’s idea to discuss the UN in a way that focuses on lessons learned from the past and how to adapt the organization to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The UN is huge, many-faceted, and has a complicated mandate, despite its simple-sounding basic purposes (Listed here.  Full list of UN committees and agencies is here.)  The UN:

  • Decides issues of peace and security through the 15-member Security Council.  The Council authorizes armed interventions, peacekeeping missions, economic sanctions, and war crimes
    tribunals.  UN agencies also monitor and  try to prevent threats to international peace and security, like nuclear weapons proliferation and epidemics.
  • Aids poor countries’ economic and social development, mainly through UN agencies that do much good work, like the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the FAO.
  • Maintains many forums for diplomacy, including the 192-member General Assembly and a zillion councils and commissions.  The International Court of Justice is part of the UN, too.  Other important forums, like the IMF and the World Bank, are technically part of the UN but in practice are governned separately from it.

Contrary to stereotypes, the UN neither fails at all of these tasks nor is capable of doing them all splendidly. The UN does some things well and other things poorly.  IMO, the organization tends to work as well as its major stakeholders (including us) intend  and in rough proportion to how realistic the goals we set for them are and the resources we give them to do it.   But, I guess that’s all debatable and should be reserved for our discussion.

I’ll open the meeting with a short background-oriented intro.  I’ll outline the UN’s major moving parts, its missions, and how it operates.  Then I’ll list some of the biggest issues the UN is facing/will face, and proposals for reforming the UN to better deal with them on the future.



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