United Nations Major Structures And Functions
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United Nations Major Structures and Functions
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The United Nations (UN) refers to a transnational and intergovernmental body that exists to maintain international security and peace, along with achieving international cooperation and friendly relations between different nations. Moreover, it serves as a center to harmonize the actions of various nations. The paper will explore the history of the UN, along with its functions and major structures. It will further outline the failures and accomplishments of the body, and how it influences and gets influenced by particular funding states. It will follow by a discussion of structural reforms that can enhance the UNs function and address its weaknesses.
The UN was founded in 1945 after the Second World War had ended. The primary aim of creating such an organization was to prevent devastating future wars from occurring. From here onwards, it eventually became on the most powerful, well-known and widely-represented organization in the world. The organizations headquarters are in Manhattan, New York, along with further offices in Nairobi, Geneva and Vienna. and is considered an extraterritorial territory. One of the key aims of forming such a body was to protect international peace and security, but with the primary function being fulfilled, it was tasked to deliver humanitarian aid, uphold international law, protect human rights and promote sustainable development. Its membership has risen to 193 member-states from the 51 states initially when it was founded, after the previous League of Nations project had failed. The term United Nations was suggested by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt after 26 nations allied together in 1942 pledging to sustain fighting against the Axis Powers in World War 2. These 26 nations met at Washington and endorsed the Atlantic Charter, and signed the Declaration of the United Nations by promising to provide all of their resources to defeat the Axis, and not to negotiate any peace terms separately. In 1945, the UN Charter was set in a meeting of 50 member countries at a UN Conference on International Organization held at San Francisco. The proposals were provided by representatives of the U.S., the UK, China, and the Soviet Union, until an agreement on a Charter was reached at June 1945, signed by the 50 governments.
The UN was empowered through the powers vested in the Charter to take on various international issues that were confronting humanity. These included security and peace, human rights, disarmament, sustainable development, climate change, health and humanitarian emergencies, governance, gender equality, food production and other similar roles. The Charter outlined four primary purposes of the Body Fostering relations among member nations, maintaining global security and peace, creating international cooperation to solve social, economic, humanitarian and cultural problems worldwide. However, the core mission of the body remains the maintenance of security and international peace. This is achieved through creating and promoting conditions which allow peace to flourish and hold, and by assisting different parties in conflict reach peace deals. The UN Security Council was founded with this primary mission, whereas the Secretary-General and the General Assembly serve other important complementary roles, followed by other UN bodies and offices. The principal organs of the UN are the Security Council (UNSC), the General Assembly, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Economic and Social Council, and the UN Secretariat (UN, 2018).
Among its different organs, four out of five bodies operate from the UN Headquarters at New York, whereas the ICJ is situated in The Hague. The remaining institutions operate from different parts of the world. Intergovernmental documents and meetings make use of 6 official languages including Chinese, Arabic, French, Spanish, Russian and English. Under a Convention that defines the immunities and privileges for the body, the UN is immune from the local laws of the member states wherein they operate in order to protect their impartiality when it comes to dealing with host countries.
Despite the trust vested in the UN, it experiences a number of failures. There were instances of abuse and failure from the armed personnel serving as UN peacekeepers, who are allowed to retaliate upon being attacked or challenged. Although, they are tasked to protect civilians that turn to them from protection, there have been cases that the civilians have been abandoned at times when their lives were in danger. Furthermore, there have been instances of sexual exploitation of girls and women, with reports indicating how AIDS and HIV transmitted through some of these personnel at their host populations. However, there have been rarely any instances when UN peacekeepers were held accountable for such offenses One of the places where the body boasts of success is Cambodia, wherein the primary aim was to facilitate nationwide elections and have the previous government replaced (Jacobson, 2012). Haiti is also put forth as an example of success of a UN peacekeeping mission that have been ongoing since 1993 however, the degree of their success remains a question.
The UN receives its funding in two main ways voluntary contributions and mandatory payments. Each member state is mandated to fund part of the UNs peacekeeping and regular operating budget. The contributions of member states are determined through complex formulas, a result of which certain members such as the U.S. are required to pay nearly 28 and 22 of the peacekeeping and general budget respectively. The UN, however, is not sponsored by member nations. Other organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has contributed nearly 300 million in aid, a result of which it ranks at the 25th highest contributor, only behind Argentina. A recent report estimated the procurement budget for UN operations to have reached 17.6 billion from 13.8 billion between the years 2009-2015. Nearly 224 different countries provided various services and goods in which nearly 44.8 of the total procured goods were supplied by the top ten countries in 2015 (Luck, 2005).
There has been significant engagement between the corporate sector and the UN in the last two decades. There are certain financing arrangements which are extra-budgetary and are not subjected to the same scrutiny and oversight as the core funding, which make it difficult to track the total amount of private contributions being received. A few reports cite voluntary contributions from different civil societies, corporations and foundations to have reached 3.3 billion which make up nearly 14 of the total voluntary contributions (United Nations, 2014a). These private contributions include funds to the UNs country-level programs, UN Trust Funds and support for certain activities and initiatives. The UN Foundation receives donations and funding through philanthropic foundations that at times provided the dominant financing support for certain country level programs. It is particularly evident in case of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that contributes significantly to the health sector. Similarly, different UN agencies and funds such as the WHO, the UNDP and UNESCO list contributions received from donor agencies, for instance the UN Development Program (UNDP) received 13 billion in 2006 from the Coca-Cola Company to support different clean water projects in Central Asia and Eastern Europe (Utting Zammit, 2009).
Nevertheless, it cannot be claimed that certain top contributors do not enjoy influence and support within the UN. The CEO of Coca-Cola, for instance, also heads the UN Advisory Council on Women and Private Sector Leadership, which provides advocacy, strategic input and resource mobilization strategies. The body also works to promote womens empowerment and rights in different parts of the world. A number of groups, states and organizations, similarly, attempt to influence UN policy in different ways by making use of its system to promote their goals. These ways can include Lobbying governments that send representatives to advocate their interests by contacting executive members to present to them their proposals. Moreover, certain groups use UN support to engage in election activities by endorsing or supporting the campaigns or activities of people they wish to support. Furthermore, some interest groups use public education as a platform to inculcate certain values in the public or the governments of host nations. Additionally, interest groups can use UN resources to mobilize certain activists that would advocate causes and issues on their behalf. These can include organizing walks, protests, contacting public officials or participate in certain grassroots activities.
Given the nature of the organization, a number of areas require focus in order that they meet the organizational objectives in a transparent and effective manner, and to address inefficiencies within the different UN operations and activities taking place globally. One structural reform needed is to make high-impact human-resources, management and accountability changes. These are often ignored topics but can be critical to the UN programs success and potential. Accountability has to start from above by giving serious attention to the way senior-most positions are filled. When senior ranks are appointed, UN representatives must ensure to maintain an adequate balance of individuals hailing from different parts of the world, achieve gender parity and ensure that all appointments are merit-based. For this purpose, all positions below the Secretary-Generals should be announced and advertised while duly listing the required qualifications and tasks required. Moreover, the UN has to improve its culture of accountability to address concerns about impunities and inefficiencies. UN staff has to strictly adhere to the highest ethical standards while having zero-tolerance policies for wrong-doing. It is often the case that minor allegations of misconduct or wrongdoing undermine the organizations efforts (Von, 2008). To address this, the UN must encourage independent audits of its sub-organizations and agencies along with the performance of its senior management. Any terminations and promotions should be associated with the results.
Another area for structural reforms is to transform the architectures of the UNs humanitarian assistance and development programs. UN development agencies and programs should focus on implementing its sustainable development goals by reprioritizing its work in a way that it can work within existing budget resources. For this purpose, duplication within various UN entities should be eliminated and more enhanced partnerships should be forged with the civil society and private sector. To go along with this, performance results and data should be published online to foster a culture of accountability and transparency. Furthermore, the organization needs to enhance its consistency among various humanitarian assistance and development programs in order to channel an effective response to recurrent and protracted crises, along with enhancing emergency preparedness and prevention efforts. Current instances of forced displacement overshadow any period of history and thus a systematic reform agenda is needed in order to create an effective and strategic humanitarian response to large scale humanitarian displacement, alongside other key objectives (Von, 2008). This agenda has to be led by the UN to encourage voluntary commitments from various countries, donors, NGOs and agencies, in order to address these grievances.
Additionally, structural reforms are needed in the UN security and peacekeeping missions by enhancing their ability to mediate, prevent conflicts and build peace. Although UN peacekeeping missions are a vital instrument to maintain international security and peace, they should not be seen as long-term solutions, and should not be substituted for on-ground peace building and conflict resolution efforts. For this purpose, efforts to prevent conflicts through early warning, peacebuilding, mediation and timely analysis must be enhanced to complement security efforts. Although there have been earlier attempts to achieve consistency in peacekeeping approaches, the efforts are in large part underfunded, fragmented and understaffed (Berdal, 2005). Moreover, some member states have resisted peacekeeping efforts who view funding for peace building initiatives to be a divergence from developmental funding that they wish to have prioritized. This often leads to stalemates and hamper the UNs ability to achieve peacekeeping targets and aims.
Jacobson, T. W. (2012). UN Peacekeeping Few Successes, Many failures, Inherent flaws. Colorado Springs International Diplomacy and Public Policy Center.
Luck, E. C. (2005). How not to reform the United Nations. Global Governance A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations, 11(4), 407-414.
Berdal, M. (2005). The UNs Unnecessary Crisis. Survival, 47(3), 7-32.
Von Freiesleben, J. (2008). Reform of the Security Council. Managing change at the United Nations, 1-20.
UN. (2018). Funds, Programmes, Specialized Agencies and Others. Retrieved February 7, 2019, from United Nations http//www.un.org/en/sections/about-un/funds-programmes-specialized-agencies-and-others/
Utting, P., Zammit, A. (2009). United Nations-Business Partnerships Good Intentions and Contradictory Agendas. Journal of Business Ethics, 90(39), 1-11.
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