Shashi Tharoor, India's nominee and a leading contender for the post of the next UN secretary-general, has suggested a four point plan to tackle the "problems without frontiers" facing the world body.
The single greatest problem facing the United Nations is that there is no single greatest problem. Instead, there are a dozen different ones each day clamouring for attention, he said in an article in the September 4 issue of Newsweek International.
But the key to all of them is strengthening the capacities of both the United Nations and its members, said Tharoor, offering his four-point plan - make democracy a priority; bolster the ranks; prioritise and streamline; and heal wounds.
The new secretary-general must also urgently combat a great danger of the East-West divide of the cold war being replaced by a North-South divide at the United Nations, as developing countries resist what they see as a rich-country agenda, he said.
If elected, he would focus on building issue-based coalitions to deal with specific practical problems - things like management inefficiencies, procurement policies, information technology, outsourcing - that have little to do with ideological politics, said Tharoor, who is currently under-secretary-general of the United Nations.
"At the same time, let us never forget that the United Nations will only succeed as a recourse for all and not the instrument of a few. It must amplify the voices of those who would otherwise not be heard, and serve as a canopy beneath which all can feel secure," he said.
Of the problems facing the UN, some, like the crisis in Lebanon, the Palestinian situation and the nuclear programme in Iran and North Korea, are obvious and trying, Tharoor said.
Others could be called "problems without passports" - issues that cross all frontiers uninvited, like climate change, drug trafficking, human rights, terrorism, epidemic diseases, and refugee movements.
Their solutions, too, can recognise no frontiers because no one country or group of countries, however rich or powerful, can tackle them alone. The key to all of them is strengthening the capacities of both the United Nations and its members, he said suggesting his four-point plan.
Make democracy a priority
The United Nations must make a greater effort to promote democracy and good governance as key ingredients of development, Tharoor said. A Democracy Fund to help UN do that is now financed not just by the rich West but by countries like India, he noted.
To that end the United Nations must also stand up for human rights everywhere, ensuring that the new Human Rights Council fulfils its responsibilities more effectively than the over-politicised Human Rights Commission it replaced.
And UN must not let conflicts re-ignite when peacekeepers have left. It must strengthen the newly created Peace-building Commission to ensure that conflict gives way to development and the creation of democratic institutions so that peace is truly sustainable.
Bolster the ranks
UN has to make a difference where it counts - in the field, not just in the conference rooms in New York and Geneva.
No task is more important than reinforcing the United Nations' operational capacity to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals - a set of promises to improve the lives of billions by 2015 - to mount effective peacekeeping operations and to respond urgently to humanitarian crises.
As head of the United Nations, he would strengthen the international civil service, eliminating the nepotism and cronyism for which we have sometimes justifiably been blamed, Tharoor said.
And he would work together with Washington on the unfinished business of management reform, especially to ensure ethics, accountability and transparency, together with truly independent audit oversight.
Prioritise and streamline
The United Nations must be more sharply focused on areas where it has a proven and undoubted capacity to make a difference.
But where others have the capacity, the resources and the will to keep the peace - NATO in Afghanistan, the European Union in Bosnia, though not yet the African Union in Darfur - the United Nations should bless their efforts.
"And where the task, like enforcing peace in Iraq, is clearly beyond us, we should let wars be fought by warriors, not peacekeepers," he said.
Stressing the urgency of combating what he called a "great danger of the East-West divide of the cold war being replaced by a North-South divide, Tharoor said that as a former UN chief Dag Hammarskjold had noted the United Nations was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.
"That it has, so far, but not all the time and not everywhere. We can do better. Indeed, at this time of turbulence and transformation, we must," he said.
The United Nations is a 20th-century organisation facing a 21st-century challenge - an institution with impressive achievements but also haunting failures, one that mirrors not just the world's hopes but its inequalities and disagreements, and most important, one that has changed but needs to change further, Tharoor said.
This is the pre-eminent task that will confront the next UN secretary-general, he said, noting that reform is needed not because the United Nations has failed, but because it has succeeded enough over the years to be worth investing in.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." The United Nations, where I have worked for the last 28 years, is no exception. If we want to change the world, we must change too, Tharoor recalled.