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PEACE in Action

Part IV - UN Reform Activities


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Policies for International Peace
The United Nations at 60
Part IV - UN Reform Activities

As indicated in Part II and Part III of the UN at 60 presentations in this issue, it was not long before there was recognition that the UN was not as effective as needed in some cases because of its original structure or because of unwillingness of Member States to take needed support actions on a timely basis. Over the years, various people and organizations have recommended reforms.

Gordon Feller, writing in the January-February 1986 issue of PEACE in Action, stated: "Despite various UN resolutions and international legal instruments which outlaw war, the nature of the world system is such that nations are forced to create and to maintain a war system. Once created, these war machines seem regularly to be extended from defensive purposes to offensive protection of "vital national security interests," a purposely vague concept which has come to encompass almost anything. Aside from the dangers and waste inherent in this kind of system, these security arrangements reinforce the notions of "enemy" and "friendly:" states … when modern communication, technology, and consciousness offer opportunities for—and the necessity of—building a genuine sense of global unity."

Feller recommended the adoption of a comprehensive strategy for peace which would meet minimum standards of justice and provide usable alternatives to mass violence. He recommended the replacement of the machinery of war with mechanisms of international peacekeeping and peacemaking—global organizations vested with the necessary authority and capacity to inspect and enforce international law and to settle peacefully disputes among nations.

In the May/June/July 1986 issue of PEACE in Action, we carried the remarks of Javier Perez de Cuellar, then UN Secretary-General, in which he deplored the lack of effective action by the Security Council and the rebuffing of the Council by Member States—in violation of the Charter. He appealed to all Governments to make a serious effort to reinforce the protective and preemptive ring of collective security. He called for a special meeting of the Security Council to discuss in depth the problems he raised and come up with some solutions.

The UN General Assembly made 1986 International Year of Peace. In our August/September/October 1986 issue of PEACE in Action, we reported on activities in Australia, Canada and the German Democratic Republic. In addition, many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) got together to organize a World Congress to review the Guidelines for the UN's International Year of Peace and to increase public awareness and support for the UN and its activities.

The United States government wanted no part of it, acting as if it were a Communist plot; it was not interested in making the UN more effective. The explanation for that is also an explanation of why the U.S. did not support meaningful reform at the UN during this period. In his article in the Aug./Sept./Oct. 1986 issue of PEACE in Action, Dr. Lawrence S. Finkelstein provides some explanation of the U.S. position: "The old internationalism was optimistic about progress toward the American goals of peace through collective security, freedom and self-determination through the spread of the American dream, justice under the rule of law, prosperity driven by American genius and free enterprise, dignity and respect for human rights for all. Today's internationalism is pessimistic on all these counts. Collective security has given way to reliance on national strength—not the posse, but the Lone Ranger. Pursuit of justice under law has given way to self-serving certainty that we are the law. Human rights have been subordinated to short-term tactical objectives of foreign policy.

During the latter part of the 1980s and during the 1990s, many groups were advocating reforms of various kinds, including to strengthen the UN's peace efforts, e. g., the United Nations Association, the U.S. Commission on improving the Effectiveness of the United Nations, the European-sponsored Commission on Global Governance, Center for War-Peace Studies, World Federalists, etc.. The following organizations collaborated in a Common Security through Structures for Peace conference in February 1989: American Association of University Women, Better World Society, Institute for Policy Studies, SANE-FREEZE, United Nations Association-USA, and the World Federalist Association.

The present Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, began early in his time in office to bring about greater cooperation among the varied agencies of the organization, to link UN and private humanitarian aid programs, and to begin carrying out a serious and broad-based management reform of the UN. The 2000 summit and its promulgation of the Millennium Development Goals (see UN at 60—Part III) was an important step forward in integrating UN programs and in making them more effective.

In 2003, Secretary-General Annan appointed a high-level Panel on Threat, Challenges and Change to assess current threats to international peace and security; to evaluate how well the UN's existing policies and institutions have done in addressing these threats; and to recommend ways of strengthening the UN to provide collective security for the 21st century. This panel of 16 eminent and experienced people, drawn from different parts of the world, submitted their report in late 2004: A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility. The Report is grouped into four parts:

  1. Towards a new security consensus
  2. Collective security and the challenge of prevention
  3. Collective security and the use of force
  4. A more effective United Nations for the 21st century

In the first section, the report describes the difference between the worlds of 1945 and 2005, makes the case for comprehensive collective security, and provides the elements of a credible collective system. It follows with recommendations in the next three sections on the following subjects or organizations:

  • Collective security and the challenge of prevention
    • Poverty, infectious disease and environmental degradation
    • Conflict between and within States
    • Nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons
    • Terrorism
    • Transnational organized crime
    • The role of sanctions
  • Collective Security and the use of force
    • Using force: rules and guidelines
    • Peace enforcement and peacekeeping capability
    • Post-conflict peace-building
    • Protecting civilians
  • A more effective United Nations for the 21st century
    Recommendations were made regarding:
    • The General Assembly;
    • The Security Council;
    • A Peacebuilding Commission;
    • Regional Organizations;
    • The Economic and Social Council;
    • The Commission on Human Rights;
    • The Secretariat;
    • The Charter of the United Nations.

At the Summit meeting in the General Assembly, a number of these reform proposals were approved; most are discussed in the preceding UN at 60, Parts II and III articles. The Post-conflict peace-building Management Reform actions included the following:

  • Broad strengthening of the UN oversight capacity, including the Office of Internal Oversight Services, expanding oversight services in other agencies, calling for developing an independent oversight advisory committee and further developing a new ethics office.
  • Update the United Nations by reviewing all mandates older than five years, so that obsolete ones can be discarded to make room for new priorities.
  • Commitment to overhauling rules and policies on budget, finance and human resources so the United Nations can better respond to current needs, and a one-time staff buy-out to ensure the Organization has the appropriate staff for today's challenges.

On July 12, 2006 the UN Information Centre in Washington, DC reported that the General July had approved a series of reforms that the GA's President said will further consolidate a "culture of accountability, transparency and integrity" at the world body, as well as make it more effective and efficient. The key features, which were approved by consensus on July 7, were:

  • Removing hurdles to make the new UN Ethics Office fully operational;
  • Adopting International Public Sector Accounting Standards for the UN's work;
  • Establishing the senior position of Chief Information Technology officer; and
  • Updating the UN's outdated electronic management system

Even though a number of things have been approved in the General Assembly, there still remains a need for further action by the Secretariat, affiliated organizations, and Member States to implement those things that have been approved. In addition, there are still a number of issues in which there is disagreement, sometimes between the developed and developing countries and, more importantly, between the nuclear haves and have-nots.

The United Nations Association (UNA-USA) is monitoring reform developments and posting reports from time to time on the UNA-USA website. Additional information can be obtained regularly from the United Nations and from the online report UN Wire published by the UN Foundation.


In addition to the above, general information about the work of the UN and its affiliated organizations are carried in regular publications and special reports, many of which are published by the UN Publication Office in New York. It also publishes catalogs regularly, and has an E-mail Listserv to advise of new publications. The UN has information centers in Washington, DC and in 43 countries around the world which have copies of materials from the UN in New York and from the various affiliated agencies—also posters. The UN's CYBERSCHOOLBUS should be of interest to teachers.



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