The organisation’s main objectives are the defence of the state of peace through the affirmation of the fundamental rights of humankind, and safeguarding the dignity and equality of all people, whatever country they belong to. All countries accepting the duties imposed by the Statute of the United Nations and considered capable of respecting these obligations are allowed to become members of the United Nations.
The First International Conference of the United Nations was held on April 25th 1945, in San Francisco. A few months later the Statute was ratified by the five permanent members of the United Nations’ Security Council: China-Taiwan, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States of America and by the majority of other 46 signers. In 2001 the United Nations and Secretary General Kofi Annan, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, previously however other organisations depending from the UN had won the Nobel Prizes for Peace and these were the United Nations Children’s Fund in 1965, The United Nations Peace-keeping Forces in 1988 and the Office Of The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees, both in 1954 and in 1981.
There are six main bodies set up by the United Nations Statute that regulate the organisation’s functioning and governing (The General Assembly of the United Nations, the United Nations Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the United Nations Secretariat, the International Court of Justice and the Trusteeship Council). In addition to the aforementioned there are a series of agencies, funds, commissions and programmes that are part of the UN system. Finally, there are also a series of secondary bodies linked to the United Nations’ General Assembly and to the Economic and Social Council, and that have been created for specific programmes. The best known is certainly UNICEF, but there is also the High Commission for Refugees and the Programme for Economic Development. Other organisations such as UNESCO, the WHO, the institutions linked to the World Bank, the WTO and the IAEA, have instead juridical, organisational and financial autonomy, but remain linked to the United Nations by agreements.
However, never more than in recent times has the United Nations appeared to be experiencing an increasingly profound crisis, linked above all to its legitimacy and credibility, and its inability to fulfil the role of world governing that a number of states or movement expect from it. Regardless of the United Nations’ success or failure as far as recent world crises are concerned, this institution has become structurally inadequate for confronting the main duty entrusted to it, hence that of keeping the peace, as previously mentioned. After years of approval and of assuming a position in favour of dialogue, there is now and increasingly obvious need to reform the United Nations’ system. But can the challenges the UN faces be overcome by reorganising the current set up, or would drastic intervention be more desirable?
The U.N. is facing problems that involve both efficiency (about the veto) and democracy (addressing in a broader sense procedures for political decisions). The U.N. – like almost all individual political institutions – has become ineffective for the very reason that it is no longer able to “represent”, as it should do, its own stakeholders, as a whole. A number of proposals move towards the abolition of the veto, or changing the composition of the Security Council and the group of permanent members. Other even suggest abolishing the Security Council, entrusting all decisions to the General Assembly. On the other hand however, the cost of a global reform of the United Nations leads to a series of important considerations concerning in particular the credibility and the power of the UN “trademark”, the identity of which contains intrinsic motivation and credibility.
Furthermore, capabilities and practices accumulated over the years and at various levels by this organisation cannot easily be replicated. The answers to these problems however are also useful in providing an important contribution so that reform strategies can be more realistic, but also better linked to a coherent and organised reform. It is in fact obvious that all reform will have to be planned and implemented using an experimental method. The key word therefore seems to be institutional flexibility, the only element through which all institutions – and not only the U.N. – will be able to survive the periods of uncertainty that they will no doubt experience during the years to come. The U.N. should in this sense promote – just as the European Union has tried to – the principle presupposing different configurations when addressing different institutional tasks and that certainly abolish the underlying institutional rigidity.