World Weary

Evaluating the United Nations at 70

French UN peacekeepers cover their ears during a live training exercise between the Lebanese army and UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, December 2008.  Haidar Hawila / REUTERS

Pity the United Nations, which turns 70 this month. Rather than enjoying a carefree retirement, the UN faces unrelenting demands on its time and resources from threats both old (violent conflict, nuclear proliferation, and infectious disease) and new (climate change, terrorism, and cyberwar, among others). Superficially, at least, the UN has held up well in the face of these challenges, remaining the world’s most important multilateral forum thanks to its binding charter and universal membership. But dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that the UN faces a fourfold crisis: of identity, relevance, authority, and performance.

Any assessment of the United Nations’ performance must begin by acknowledging that it is not a monolithic institution but a composite of various parts, which are often conflated by its detractors. When critics invoke the United Nations, do they mean the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), dominated by the great powers and charged

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