Reforming the United Nations

Courtesy Reuters

Fifty years ago the free nations of the world met in general assembly to begin the task of establishing a postwar order that would secure the peace, advance global prosperity, alleviate poverty and unemployment, and promote human rights worldwide. These were lofty goals, but the founders of the United Nations system were utter realists. Having lived through the economic crisis of the 1930s, the rise of fascist aggressor states, and the horrors of World War II, these statesmen, from Winston Churchill to the formidable Republican senator Arthur Vandenberg, were committed to creating new international structures to deal with problems that were international by nature. Part of their realism was the conviction that they had a responsibility to try to make things work better in the future through such structures.

A half-century later it is proper that the governments and peoples of the world should want an assessment of the United Nations' performance. The record is mixed at best, and in recent years the world organization has been much criticized. It has suffered great humiliations in Bosnia that have eclipsed its peacekeeping successes elsewhere. It is only just beginning to implement effective global social and economic policies, and its development strategies are under attack from many quarters. It is widely regarded as bureaucratically unwieldy, unnecessarily expensive, and weakened by poor personnel recruitment. These sentiments are particularly strong in the United States, reflecting that country's current politics of frustration, but they are echoed in many other parts of the world.

Yet even if the United Nations' administrative and personnel weaknesses were corrected, the world body would still require reshaping so that it could better respond to the stresses of the early 21st century. In every one of its activities, from peacekeeping to development, from monitoring human rights to overseeing environmental accords, it has been pressed by member states and their publics to play a larger role and to assume fresh responsibilities. During the early 1990s the number of U.N. peacekeeping personnel in

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