Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

To Stay Relevant, the UN Must Compete

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

To Stay Relevant, the UN Must Compete

Article excerpt

The United States is increasingly taking important issues - such as financial stability, climate change, and nonproliferation - outside the UN system.

When officials from 47 countries met in Washington last month for the Nuclear Security Summit, they sent a subtle but unmistakable message to the United Nations: You don't matter as much as you used to.

The summit is just the latest example of the growing tendency of the United States to take important issues - such as financial stability, climate change, and nonproliferation - outside the UN system.

The Group of 20 has become the prevailing symbol of this trend of addressing complex international issues in informal settings, where participants are handpicked based on their global and regional influence. The G-20's prominence stems from its effective role in averting global depression.

Yet, many in the UN - especially developing countries - curse its rise. To them, the G-20 represents an elite club of rich countries, convening closed-door summits to determine the course of world events, without regard for their perspectives. Belying their fear is the concern that the UN, an organ in which they are represented with a vote and a soapbox, will become increasingly irrelevant.

These fears are overstated, if not unfounded, for three reasons.

First, the G-20's scope is almost entirely limited to international finance and crisis management - two areas that the UN and the post-World War II Bretton Woods institutions have proved incapable of directing. The G-20 has shown little interest in becoming an all-encompassing global governance body.

Second, the G-20 is an informal gathering, without the legitimacy conferred by the UN's treaty-based status and universal membership.

Third, the G-20 lacks institutional machinery. It has no permanent staff - laughable when compared with the UN's 40,000- person Secretariat.

But it is exactly the reactionary fear of effective institutions that augurs poorly for the UN. If the UN is to remain relevant, it will need to accept "minilateral" global governance mechanisms as partners, while also reforming the structures that drown the UN in redundancy. …

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