Is the United Nations a Vast Failure? Part II

From Thinking Outside the Boxe’s Sydney Correspondent

Much like China and Russia in the example cited in part one of this article it is easy to condemn or reject the actions or inactions of the UN but it is much harder to offer solutions or alternatives, something the Russians and Chinese failed to do in the case referred to. Unsurprisingly, there have been many calls for reform of the UN but little agreement. And it is worth noting that many of the calls for reform have come within the UN itself. The New Zealand report is only such example.

These organizational problems the UN faces are in many ways due to the large number of smaller groups that it oversees. As in many large bureaucracies the left arm often does not seem to know what the right arm is doing, and confusion and inefficiency follows. It is worth noting that the United States (the greatest provider of funding for the UN) withheld its funding during the 1990’s because of perceived inefficiency.

One of the suggestions for reform is for the role of the UN to be reduced to humanitarian work. This suggestion has strong merit as the role of NGO’s throughout the world continues to increase. A paper published by the Asian Disaster Reduction Center in 2002 discusses the many ways in which NGO’s can play an effective role in providing humanitarian relief. While the article discusses the way in which NGO’s can work with Governments there is no reason why the UN, as a humanitarian agency, could seek to oversee and improve the co ordination of NGO’s, and provide funding and other resources where required. The political and structural difficulties faced by the UN considerably strengthen the worthiness of such a proposal. In fact, this is something that is already happening successfully. The paper mentioned above discusses the way in which the United Nations Office for the Co ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) is working with NGO’s in South East Asia in particular in order to provide humanitarian relief in the wake of natural disasters. This paper referred to extensively outlines the way in which UN – OCHA works with NGO’s and as such there is little point repeating them at length. However it is worth highlighting a couple of statements made by the paper’s author: “On the issue of access and security, UN – OCHA is well placed in all instances to have an influential role and serves as an entry point for NGOs to political and other UN bodies… NGOs have an important role to play in response to natural and man-made disasters. They are involved in UN – OCHA’s coordinating work at different levels: strategic thinking, information, and implementation of projects. They have good knowledge of the local situation and their logistic capacity complements UN – OCHA’s coordinating role”.

Alternatively, it could be argued that the growing number of regional alliances between nations provides the opportunity for issues currently dealt with by the UN to be solved locally. These nations would be best placed to make decisions relevant to the problems their members face. Additionally, a smaller number of nations means there is less chance for disagreement. These regional partnerships include the European Union, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the African Union. In fact it is difficult to examine the organization and aims of the African Union without thinking that it provides a very similar function to the UN. In a Baku magazine article (5/11/2010) it was reported that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recognized that the African Union needed greater resources so that its troops serving in Somalia received the same support as UN personnel. This shows that the UN appreciates the important role regional partners can play in preventing conflicts, mediating, and providing humanitarian assistance.

Of course, a hybrid model could also be adopted. This would involve UN – OCHA working with the various regional partnerships and the NGO’s active in those regions. Under this framework UN – OCHA would consist of around half a dozen regional bodies operating under the guidance of a ‘parent’ organization. This parent organization would also consist of international NGO’s.

The examples referred to in this discussion provide examples of how the UN can operate in future – where its resources can best be utilized, and how its stated objectives can best be fulfilled.


This excellent paper, published by the Asian Disaster Reduction Center, is the source for many of the ideas presented in this article and is highly recommended to the reader who is interested in learning more about this topic.

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