It comes as no surprise that last week's summit at the United Nations failed to produce anything meaningful in terms of reform or a consensus on future development. At the last grand summit 10 years ago there was a slew of lofty speeches and bold statements about reforming and making the organization more effective, and the outcome of that is well-known.
At the time the then German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, even refused to participate, saying that going all that way to New York for a five-minute speech was a waste of time.
He was absolutely right. No matter what he would've said, no one would've heard, for the United Nations is a machine that functions on bureaucratic inertia. Even its defenders acknowledge that there is at best an effectiveness crisis and at worst a credibility gap.
On the eve of the 60th anniversary summit, many world leaders were hopeful that a new spirit would be established, one that would allow the faltering organization to tackle the problems of the 21st century. It would be an understatement to say that they walked away in disappointment. There was virtually no progress on addressing issues such as terrorism, collective security and human rights. Some participants expressed frustration at the new Human Rights Council, saying it lacked the powers to have a significant impact. The European External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the council boiled down to a name-change for the disgraceful U.N. Human Rights Commission. The burning questions of disarmament and nuclear proliferation, which should have been addressed, were all but abandoned.
One apologist tried to put a spin on the summit by saying that all countries unanimously adopted a resolution condemning terrorism. But no doubt the definition of terrorism used in the statement is so opaque as to be meaningless. With equal effectiveness one could convince world leaders to recognize the danger of a distant meteor headed toward the planet.
As structured now, there is little chance the United Nations will ever become an effective agent for development, peace and justice. Part of this, of course, is due to the realpolitik nature of international relations; in order for any type of benign change to take shape, nations must be willing to make sacrifices disproportionate to one another. This is something most leaders will never be able to do. As Australia's John Howard was quoted as saying, "At the end of the day, those who believe you can invest in one multilateral organization the potential resolution of all the world's difficulties are always going to be disappointed."
Sometimes in life one must cease trying to repair and learn how to start from scratch. The world indeed needs a multilateral mediator/organization, but one that counts efficacy among its highest priorities. The current United Nations has become a bloated, bureaucratic gab session - one that sat and watched while a million were slaughtered in Rwanda, and then again while thousands died in Bosnia and Darfur. The oil-for-food sham alone is reason that the organization should be overhauled completely. Until then, we can expect little use to come from this organization of united nations.