By: Jennifer Wang
Seen by some as a legitimate platform of global cooperation and by others as a high profile but inherently powerless organization, the United Nations plays a unique role in international politics. Below are several recent UN events that will impact how the world develops in the next decade.
First off, what is the UN?
The United Nations is a forum of 193 member-states headquartered in New York with the purpose of monitoring international peacekeeping and development. It’s comprised of five principal ‘organs’: the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Secretariat, and International Court of Justice. The General Assembly, a collection of all member states, and The Security Council, comprised of five permanent and ten non-permanent members, are divided into subsidiary organs. They form organizations such as the Human Rights Council or the Counter-Terrorism Committee. The Secretariat is made of departments, which coordinate routine work in the UN and collect information on global events. Since its establishment after WWII, the UN has taken part in nearly every large international conflict, mediating peace and cooperation. It offers extensive humanitarian aid for health care and disaster relief. Despite its limited financial resources and concrete power, it’s also a major driver of change in events such as the refugee crisis, empowering women, combating climate change, and spurring sustainable economic growth.
The New Secretary General
The figurehead of the UN is the Secretary General, a position that leads the Secretariat and is currently held by Ban Ki-Moon. In his two five-year terms, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has pushed for action against climate change, for gender equality, and for access to education. Serving as a calm though sometimes, to his critics, ‘uninspiring’ leader, Secretary General Moon led the UN through the 2010 earthquake and cholera outbreak in Haiti (the latter believed to have been inadvertently started by UN intervention), numerous civil wars in the Middle East, the refugee crisis, and the monumental Paris Climate Agreement. The UN Secretary General serves to moderate operations inside the UN and pushes issues inside the organizations. At the end of this year, former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres will become the new Secretary General after an unanimous decision by the thirteen voting members of the Security Council. Currently serving as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, he’s expected to provide further aid for the refugee crisis and finally give the Syrian Conflict the attention it deserves, calling it the ‘international community’s first priority’ in an interview with BBC. He’s also expected to choose a woman as his deputy Secretary General, having proclaimed gender equality to be vital to global development. This decision would serve to calm criticism over his election after he was chosen despite a deliberate effort to pick the first woman Secretary General from an array of the seven out of thirteen candidates who were highly qualified women.
Global Goals Week
In 2000, the United Nations members signed on to a collection of eight seemingly impossible expectations for the world, The Millennium Development Goals. Among them: to eradicate extreme poverty, to promote gender equality, and to combat HIV/Aids and malaria. By 2015, the proposed deadline of these goals, the number of people living in poverty, or on under $1.25 a day, dropped from 47% of the global population in 1990 to 17%, and the number of people with access to drinking water rose from 2.3 billion in 1990 to 4.3 billion, among other improvements. Though the goals were not fully met, progress over the decades prompted the creation of a new list of global goals for the next 15 years. This year, the week of September 18-24, known as Global Goals week, marked the start of a new set of 17 global goals, The Sustainable Development Goals. Set for 2030, these steps agreed on by the 193 members of the United Nations will spearhead the hope for a better future by building on three fronts of economic, social, and environmental development. They include ambitions such as improving industry, innovation, and infrastructure, achieving zero poverty and hunger, and taking on climate action. Though these are logical and effective goals, recommendations by the United Nations are almost always superseded by individual national interests. Large and powerful countries, especially the five permanent members of the Security Council with veto power (US, UK, China, Russia, France) can often circumnavigate UN decisions. As time progresses, long term goals such as reducing CO2 emissions and responsible use of natural resources are often forgotten as countries and corporations seek economic and political power by underpaying labor and overusing nonrenewable resources. Yet despite the ambitious and seemingly unachievable Sustainable Development Goals, the Millennium Goals have shown that progress can be made and long term peace and stability can be fostered by the United Nations.