The 61st United Nations General Assembly, which began in New York on September 12, comes close on the heels of the Israeli attack on Lebanon and coincides with the worsening situation in Darfur, Sudan. The UN’s failure to prevent either of these tragedies is a comment on its relevance, or the lack of it, in the contemporary world order. For several decades now, the UN’s mandate has been usurped by various actors — the US in its self-appointed role as glob-cop; the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO, which are doing what the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) were meant to do; the Group of Eight (G8) and its tasks involving humanitarian assistance and preventing climate change.
None of these claimants to the UN’s role, however, can claim widespread support in the international arena, the most telling example being the WTO, which has become a veritable battleground for First and Third World rivalry. It would not be incorrect to say that a revitalised UN — as a protection against great power pressure and as a means to solve problems through concerted action — is direly needed. However, any meaningful reform would have to go beyond mere functional upgrade to a major policy re-think: just what exactly is the role of the UN?
The only way to make the UN effective is to give it more teeth. This entails a consensus on giving it the status of a supra-national body. In this regard, the ‘Binding Triad’ proposal, which allows the UNGA to amend the UN Charter to make it possible to pass binding resolutions with the approval of a ‘supermajority’ of members, could be a way forward. For a resolution to be binding, it would require the support of nations comprising a majority of UN members, who contribute a majority of UN funds, and whose combined populations comprise a majority of the world population. Expanding the Security Council, along with some rethink on the subject of the veto rights of its permanent members would calibrate the world body to the ground realities of today.