( A two-minute read – the first of a series that looks at our World Organisations.)
If we take a selfie of the world looking back over the last ten years can we be proud of what we have achieved.
Where better to start than with the United Nations our main World Organisation.
The former Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio Guterres until recently was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, he is now the new United Nations Secretary General, after a third security council secret ballot on Monday.
The United Nations has saved millions of lives and boosted health and education across the world. But it is bloated, undemocratic – and very expensive.
There are about 1,200 country offices of the UN around the world.
There are 100 countries with more than 10 UN country offices in each country.
Half of the United Nations money goes for the operational expenses of these office, leaving what is actually a minuscule amount of money for programming or key activities. Even accounting for inflation, annual UN expenditure is 40 times higher than it was in the early 1950s. Its regular budget, which is agreed every two years and goes to pay for the cost of administering the UN – including mouth-watering daily allowances which result in many of its bureaucrats being far better paid than American civil servants – has more than doubled over the past two decades to $5.4bn.
But that is just a small portion of the total spend.
Peacekeeping costs another $9bn a year, with 120,000 peacekeepers deployed mostly in Africa. Some missions have lasted more than a decade. And then there are the voluntary contributions from individual governments that go to fund a large part of disaster relief, development work and agencies such as UNICEF. They have risen sixfold over the past 25 years to $28.8bn. And yet even at that level, some agencies are warning that they are operating on the brink of bankruptcy.
The organisation now encompasses 17 specialised agencies, 14 funds and a secretariat with 17 departments employing 41,000 people.
As the UN marks the 70th anniversary of its founding this autumn, those imperfections – and how the UN addresses them – have come to the fore as the organisation struggles to define its role in the 21st century.
It has become overly bureaucratic and slow in the way it dealt with development issues.
What that tells you is that modern management and modern strategic planning is late coming to the UN.
The UN’s taste for setting goals at the expense of delivering results failed the poorest and most vulnerable.
Cooperation between organisations has been hindered by competition for funding, mission creep. The organisation has grown so big that at times it is working against itself. It is so fragmented that each agency has its own IT system. About one-third of the UN operations in 60 countries had a budget of less than $2m per agency.
However the UN cannot be ignored. Neither can the UN’s huge logistical capabilities, such as the World Food Programme’s airlifts, be matched by any private organisation.
The United Nations of today is hugely different from the United Nations 70 years ago, and therefore it is very important the United Nations changes and adapts itself to changing circumstances.
What we have now is another multiplication of targets and goals which are an extraordinarily comprehensive assessment of what’s needed to be done but there’s no operational clarity around them. Who’s going to do it? Who’s going to monitor it? Who’s accountable for it?
There seem little point in saying anything to the UN about what they should be doing, as it is out of date gossip shop, with no responsibility. Where is the conversation happening which says that, in 2016 and beyond, what is the United Nations there for?”
What should be the core activities of the UN that should receive a significant proportion of the regular funding of the UN?” In the context of what’s happening today, a few million is not going to make any difference. ( See previous posts on 0.05% Aid Commission)
But the bigger obstacle to reform perhaps comes from the UN members states themselves. Which raises what many consider the real obstacle to remaking the UN for the 21st century – that its most powerful body is still locked in 1945.
The five permanent members, the victors over Germany and Japan, hold the whip hand through vetoes.
For all the noise from the US, Britain and France in particular about modernising the UN, they show no willingness to give up the power they wield sometimes in ways governed entirely by political interest.
Since 1982, the US has used its security council veto to block resolutions critical of Israel 35 times. The total number of resolutions blocked by other permanent members over the same period is 27. More recently, Russia and China have used their vetoes to block UN intervention in Syria.
There is little doubt the Mr Antonio Guterres with or without Artificial Intelligence is going to have a lot more refugees on his hands.
The United Nations is an organization of sovereign States, which voluntarily join the UN to work for world peace. There are six main organs of the United Nations—the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Trusteeship Council, the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat.
It’s time to break up the Organisation into specific separate Units and to do away with the veto powers that elected him.
We can be Proud.