Director-General's Blog: 2018 - A New Year Resolution for the United Nations

Posted by Robert / on 02/05/2018 / 0 Comments

30 January 2018
Director-General's Blog: 2018 - A New Year Resolution for the United Nations

2018: A New Year Resolution for the United Nations

What is the UN? What is it not? How can it better serve humanity?

By Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva.

We do it every New Year: live like Socrates. Let me explain. Every January, we look in the mirror and make New Year resolutions, pledging to improve ourselves or accomplish a personal goal. What do gym memberships and self-help books have to do with Greek philosophy? In their own way, these resolutions are products of the Ancient Greek adage: "know thyself". They are the result of self-examination. They are the answers to the questions: "What are we?" "What are we not?" and "How can we improve?" The same questions can be asked of the United Nations, an organization which plays an unsung role in our lives.

It may be easiest to start with "What is it not?" The UN is not a world government. Its 193 Member States - our national governments - are firmly in the driver's seat. It's the General Assembly, where each country has one vote, that sets the UN budget and elects members to bodies like the Human Rights Council. It's the Security Council - made up of ten elected states and five permanent member states - that makes binding resolutions. In other words, decisions taken at the UN are not made by a remote, unanswerable bureaucracy; they are made by our national governments, acting together. The UN is not monolithic. If our governments make decisions collectively, these are implemented by the UN civil service: the Secretariat. These are the women and men who - sometimes at great peril - fill the ranks of the UN, helping communities around the world resolve conflicts, build sustainable societies and fight climate change. Finally, the United Nations is not bloated or wasteful. The budget of the Secretariat is less than that of the New York Police Department, while its peacekeeping operations in 15 of the most troubled places on Earth represent less than 0.5 per cent of global defence spending.

If it is not any of these things, then "What is it?" The UN General Assembly is the only table around which all the nations of the world have a voice and meet to tackle common challenges like terrorism and climate change. With over 70 years of experience around the world, the UN has unparalleled expertise in mediating conflict, warning of threats to human rights and addressing the humanitarian needs of 93.5 million people. It may not often make the headlines, but the UN System carries out vital, life-saving work around the world every day. Its organisations feed 80 million people in 80 countries, supply vaccines to 45% of the world's children and help 63 million people who have fled war, famine and persecution. Finally, the UN's specialized agencies are the places where standards in health, labour, telecommunications and so many more fields are set. Standards that make our modern lives possible.

While it has come to play an indispensable role since it was created in 1945, the UN's structures and practices, both of the Secretariat and of the System as a whole, have not kept up with social and technological changes. At times, it has even failed to live up to its own values. "How can it improve?" In 2017, UN Secretary-General António Guterres offered the answer: an ambitious reform package focused on three areas: peace and security, sustainable development and internal management of the Secretariat.

First, international peace and security. Maintaining both is the central mission of the UN. Member States, however, have failed to adapt the UN's machinery to keep up with the changing nature of conflict, leaving the Organization to manage violence often after it has broken out. This is a costly and time-consuming approach, which yields mixed results. Instead, the Secretary-General wants to focus on preventing conflicts. Prevention is not only cost-effective; it saves lives, preserves institutions and safeguards development. Part of this effort is addressing the root causes of conflicts by building fairer, more sustainable societies.

Which brings us to the second reform target: the UN's development system. In 2015, world leaders adopted the most ambitious roadmap for development in human history: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Its 17 Sustainable Development Goals address everything from poverty and gender equality to urban development and climate change. If we meet these goals, we will manage to resolve many of the problems plaguing the world today. Doing so, however, will require fresh thinking from all our institutions, including the UN Secretariat. To that end, the Secretary-General has called for the UN offices that deal with development to deepen internal and external collaboration, empower teams on the ground and improve data collection.

To preserve the gains made since 1945 and to retain public trust, the UN Organization must remain focused on delivering for those most in need. Over time, however, some offices have come to emphasize process, not delivery and impact. Which brings us to the third reform target: the way the UN Secretariat operates. The Secretary-General wants to bring decision-making closer to the point of action, as well as grant mid-level managers more authority and accountability. He envisions a UN Secretariat in which planning and budgetary processes are linked to the Sustainable Development Goals and other targets. The reforms would reinforce the push for gender equality across the Organization, building on the Secretary-General's goal to reach parity at senior levels by 2021. Coupled with this are a new whistle-blower policy and a new approach to preventing sexual exploitation and abuse.

Together, these reforms have the potential to make the UN more effective, efficient and transparent. A UN that is "fit for purpose" means a world that is safer, fairer and more sustainable. But those of us in the Secretariat do not get a vote on these reforms. Since Member States are in the driver's seat, it is your national governments who will decide on these "New Year's resolutions". In 2018, the future of the UN will be at play and we need your support. The UN is your Organization. Make your voice heard!

This blog is the second in a two-part series. The first blog can be found here.



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