“Making the United Nations Great Again”: Bold Reforms Underway

July 27, 2018 By Abhik K. Pramanik

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has made reforming the United Nations to more effectively respond to global crises one of his key priorities. President Trump recently tweeted his support for this effort, saying Mr. Guterres “is working hard to ‘Make the United Nations Great Again.’ When the UN does more to solve conflicts around the world, it means the U.S. has less to do and we save money.”

Earlier this month, the United Nations adopted Secretary-General Guterres’ proposal to overhaul the UN’s Peace and Stability operations to enhance the ability of the UN to better respond to today’s challenges and conflicts. Ambassador Nikki Haley responded “We’re grateful for Secretary-General Guterres’ leadership on UN reform…The world needs a UN that is disciplined, efficient, accountable, and results-driven.”

Strengthening the UN’s Peace and Stability Capabilities

Ambassador Haley—an advocate for ensuring that the UN devote attention to the return on investment from Peacekeeping operations—first raised concerns about the efficacy of UN Peacekeeping operations in a discussion about the Democratic Republic of Congo early last year.

In response, Secretary-General Guterres ultimately laid out an ambitious proposal to better coordinate and streamline the UN’s many peace-making and peace-keeping functions, with the United States’ support, that were formally adopted by the UN committee in charge of budgetary and program oversight earlier this month. Changes include a small reduction in the UN’s Peacekeeping budget—a goal of Ambassador Haley and her staff—as well as a restructuring of how the United Nations will more broadly handle conflict.

The restructuring proposals, which have been praised by the European Union and other U.S. allies, build on a broad consensus that UN operations meant to predict, prevent, and manage conflict should not be silo-ed. They include three major changes:

First, the Department of Political Affairs—the UN’s lead for mediating conflicts—will be merged with the UN’s Peace-Building Support Office to create a Department of Political and Peace-Building Affairs, as political grievances, human rights violations, and economic deprivation increasingly drive global violence. Rather than merely responding to armed conflict, this change underscores the UN’s commitment to helping mitigate the causes of today’s conflicts.

Second, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which will now be known as the Department of Peace Operations, will begin overseeing large non-peacekeeping missions in fragile states like Colombia, Libya, and Somalia. Merging UN operations in fragile states will improve the coordination of UN programming in some of the world’s most challenging environments and allow for the elimination of duplicative activities between UN Peacekeeping Missions and the Special Political Representatives they work alongside.

Third, three regional bodies will be created for Africa, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific which will help oversee the full range of peace operations from conflict prevention to conflict mitigation. The introduction of these geographic secretariats will help ensure that UN operations work with a clear regional objective in mind, as opposed to prioritizing entirely local goals.

A Better, Safer World

In her role as U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Haley has built a strong working relationship with the Secretary-General to support Mr. Guterres’ proposal to build a United Nations fit for purpose. In her words, these reforms provide a platform to fully “bring the UN into the 21st century, get rid of things that aren’t working, and help the UN work smarter.”

Reforming the United Nations isn’t just an exercise in cost-saving, but an effort to strengthen the organization’s ability to deal with today’s complex global crises that do not fit neatly into bureaucratic silos: from ongoing instability in nation’s still rebuilding from terrorism like Iraq and Syria to humanitarian challenges in fragile states like South Sudan and Yemen.

As President Trump laid out in his first major speech at the United Nations General Assembly last year, “if we work together and champion truly bold reforms, the United Nations will emerge as a stronger, more effective, more just, and greater force for peace and harmony in the world.”