US President Barack Obama will arrive in New York for the annual UN gathering of world leaders, this week, at a time when the United Nations, the world's principal multilateral institution, is struggling to remain relevant on the world stage.
From nuclear diplomacy with North Korea to economic negotiations among the Group of 20 nations and peace talks in the Middle East, UN diplomats have frequently been reduced to bit players over the past year.
Even on climate change, an issue on which the UN has tried to stake its claim, the world body has failed to show much progress. Highly anticipated negotiations in Copenhagen ran aground in December.
For an institution with its share of proud chapters, these are tough times.
“A lot of the juice is outside the United Nations,” said Bruce Jones, the director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University.
“The old days when the US and the Europeans could stitch things up at the UN are over, and we haven't yet seen the emergence of a new platform for action or a consortium for action at the UN” Jones noted that the growing assertiveness of emerging powers - particularly China - has made it harder to reach international compromise.
The outgoing head of an anti-corruption office delivered a parting shot to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in July, accusing him of leading the UN into an era of decline.
The UN General Assembly, the world's biggest international diplomatic debate, still provides an a platform for authoritarian leaders to air their grievances.
during the past two years, the UN Security Council has made fewer decisions than at any time since the end of the Cold War, according to a report by an independent, nonprofit group.
UN peacekeeping, which grew rapidly during the Bush administration, has stalled. Not a single new UN peacekeeping mission has been authorised since Obama came into office, aside from additional troops to ensure order in Haiti after the January earthquake.
The US and its European allies, meanwhile, have opposed calls by African governments to send the United Nations back into Somalia. And the council mounted a largely anemic effort to prevent mass atrocities of civilians in Sri Lanka.
In Congo, the United Nations has admitted failing to provide adequate protections for victims of mass rape.
But perhaps its most important challenge at the moment, the United Nations is leading the effort to oversee a referendum on independence for southern Sudan — a ballot that threatens to reignite one of Africa's bloodiest civil wars if it's not seen as credible.
(For additional content from The Washington Post, visit www.washingtonpost.com)