15 OCTOBER 2015


The United Nations is celebrating this year its 70th anniversary. A respectable age. Like all institutions, it has had its successes and failures. We should on this occasion pay tribute to the far-sightedness of the founders of the U.N. Its main organs - the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and the Office of the Secretary-General, including the Secretariat - have stood the test of time. Considering the changes that have occurred within the U.N. and the wider world, they have performed well.

Over the years, the U.N. responsibilities and activities have increased considerably. There are today some 105,000 military personnel serving in various operations, along with more than 5,000 international civilian personnel. In addition to peace and security, the U.N. and its programmes are dealing with a host of global issues: poverty, public health, refugees and displaced persons, population, environmental degradation, to name a few. Far too many people remain vulnerable to hunger, disease, extreme poverty and a lack of the most basic human rights. Human security must remain an overarching goal of the U.N.

On the occasion of the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the U.N., member states have clearly stressed the need for change in its modus operandi. Various heads of state and government have urged the U.N. to adapt - more quickly and more fully - to the realities and demands of the times. They share the view that concrete steps are needed to strengthen the U.N. in order to deal effectively with the many urgent and serious challenges we are facing.

The consensus is that the capacities of the U.N. need to be upgraded. This can only be done by strengthening its main organs. No institutional overhaul is needed. The present political climate would not lend itself to such an exercise. Yet taking a series of measures to fine tune and sharpen focus would amount to major steps in the right direction.

First, member states should accelerate the years' long discussions on the reform of the Security Council. Agreement on this issue would send a powerful message throughout the international community.

Second, member states should ensure that the General Assembly and Economic and Social Council focus on the most pressing economic, social and humanitarian issues of our time, help to generate concrete solutions and mobilize action. The problems we are facing today in Africa and the Middle East have their roots in the economic/social realm and lack of trust and power-sharing. A diffuse focus on all the various issues in and around sustainable development, and duplication of work within and among these two main organs will not generate the direction and momentum needed at the global level to support lasting progress on the ground.

Third, the Secretary-General should appoint a small group of experts to review the respective roles of the various U.N. entities (departments and programmes) dealing with these issues. A stronger and more sharply focused General Assembly and Economic and Social Council will require much more coherent and agile support by the Secretariat, with the needed skills and talents for our times.

Next year, the member states will elect a new Secretary-General. Whoever is chosen should be a woman or man possessing the highest moral standards. He or she will, with hope, be dealing with an enlarged Security Council, a more focused General Assembly and Economic and Social Council and a revitalized and highly motivated Secretariat.

It is time for the baton to be passed on to the younger generation, which boasts a diverse range of experts and diplomats with the skills and mind-set needed to help lead this Organization into a new era. Let us hope that the 70th anniversary will be an annus mirabilis.