UN Seeks to Boost Global Influence

The United Nations headquarters as viewed from the North Garden. Photo by: Evan Schneider / UN

Briefing papers presented at a meeting of top U.N. officials in Austria earlier this month paint a picture of an organization that recognizes its diminishing influence while laying out grand plans to recover clout in the international community.

Colum Lynch, of Foreign Policy’s “Turtle Bay” blog, observes that the U.N. appears to be “straining to carve out a relevant role for itself following setbacks on its most important signature causes.”

Lynch shares: “In some places, the reports propose strategies for bolstering the U.N.’s role on issues like climate change or international financial regulation; elsewhere, they suggest the organization simply lower its expectations.” 

The meeting in Austria, attended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and approximately 60 senior U.N. officials, was closely guarded. The briefing papers, which were meant to help Ban and his advisers brainstorm about the U.N’s future, were obtained and first posted online by Fox News.

The papers take stock of the U.N.’s role in key international issues including climate change, food and nutrition security, international financial reforms, global health and peacekeeping, among others. The paper, prepared by various bodies within the U.N., also discuss the Millennium Development Goals and the relationship between the U.N. and G-20.

The papers attempt to chart a “way forward” for the organization by posing challenges, which if effectively addressed, could make the U.N. a stronger organization with stronger influence. These challenges include:

- Harnessing the U.N.’s capacity to respond to global challenges by taking the lead in setting the global agenda, engaging effectively with other multilateral organizations.

- Using upcoming international conferences on climate change, in Mexico, and sustainable development, in Argentina, as well as various U.N. instruments to “connect the dots” between climate change and other key global issues such as the Millennium Development Goals. “Connecting the dots” should be the U.N.’s “unique added value.” 

- Focusing the U.N.’s attention on governance and results in helping member states ensure their food and nutrition security. The U.N. should encourage a more effective implementation and monitoring of international food and nutrition initiatives. 

- Encouraging G-20 countries at an upcoming summit in Seoul to meet their commitments to the U.N. and persuading them to become more engaged with the U.N. system.

One of the briefing papers is dedicated to the MDGs, which will be reviewed next week at a high-level plenary meeting in New York. The paper, prepared by the U.N. Development Program and U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, urges the U.N. to prioritize strategies and policies that support country-led development, inclusive economic growth, and increased investments in health, education, water and sanitation, and women and girls, among others.

Devex News – live breaking news coverage of the Millennium Development Goals and the Sept. 20-22 U.N. MDG summit in New York.  

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.