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U.N. Reform: Tackling the Challenges of the 21st Century

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The United Nations has officially nominated South Korea's foreign minister, Ban Ki-Moon, as the next U.N. secretary-general to succeed Kofi Annan, last Monday, October 9, 2006. His term will take effect on January 1, 2007. But he is going to inherit the fundamental issue of reformation of the U.N. as an organization, to adapt to the evolving challenges that confront the whole world in the 21st century.

The state of affairs at the U.N. is presently loaded with tension. The U.N. has to undergo reformation, after 60 years of substantial contribution into the evolved world of today. At the moment, the predicament that afflicts the U.N. while being pressured by criticisms, from the US administration for example, is assaying on crossing boundaries of prevailing agreements. For instance, most of the 750 amendments put forward by US ambassador Bolton are considerably threatening the International Women's Movement and the U.N. is paralyzed in countering these. The apt question to ask therefore is--were the member states of the U.N. sufficiently robust in keeping such threats away during the negotiations of the World Summit?

Without delving much into the underlying reasons of this impending crisis, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has posed to the international community an historic challenge--to " pass on to our children a brighter inheritance than bequeathed to any previous generation." The Secretary General deems that the coming years present an outstanding prospect to gear towards that direction and to arrive at a new agreement upon which to base collective endeavor. Governments and heads of state convened in New York on September 14 to 16, 2005 for the World Summit to muster up decisions on the wide ranging agenda--from human rights and security, development, to the reformation of the United Nations itself, as sketched out by the report of the Secretary General entitled, "In Larger Freedom."

As the organization's chief executive officer, the U.N. Secretary General has placed particular focus on streamlining, fortifying, and re-organizing the U.N. system in order to render it a more accountable, transparent, and efficient system. Kofi Annan conceives of an extensive refurbishment of the outdated system.

As an organization, the United Nations was established in 1945 principally to salvage and avert subsequent generations from the threat of war--to ascertain that the ravages of the two World Wars would never happen again. Sixty years from then, most of us understand all too well that the greatest threats to security that we face now, and most probably in the years ahead, resonate far beyond aggressive wars waged between States. Security threats reach out to violence and war within States; terrorism; transnational underworld crime organizations; proliferation and possible utilization of radiological, nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; and to poverty, contagious diseases and environmental abjection. The threats emanate from non-State players as well as from States, and imperil not only State security but also human security.

The engrossment of the founders of the United Nations was with State security. When they drew out the idea of constituting a new system of collective security they had in mind the traditional military sense of security--a system wherein States unify and vow that belligerence against one is belligerence against all, and commit themselves in that event to thwart collectively. But they also realized well, even way before the notion of human security attained popularity, about the indivisibility of security, human freedom, and economic development. According to the few starting lines of the Charter, the United Nations was established to endorse faith in fundamental human rights and to foster social advancement and improved standards of life in larger freedom.

The vital challenge for the twenty-first century is to shape an innovative and wider understanding of what "collective security" entails--all the commitments, responsibilities, institutions, and strategies that come along with it--if a collective security system is to be equitable and efficient. A new security consensus must begin with the realization that the forefront players in coping with all the threats that confront us, both old and new, remain to be the individual sovereign States, whose role, responsibilities, and right to respect, are absolutely acknowledged in the Charter of the United Nations. Nevertheless, especially in the twenty-first century, no State can endure entirely alone. Collective institutions, collective policies, as well as a sense of collective responsibility, are necessary.

Today, the case for collective security rests upon three underlying principles. Today's threats distinguish no national boundaries, are linked together, and must be dealt with not only at the global and regional levels but at the national levels as well. Regardless of how powerful it is, no State by its own efforts alone can make itself impenetrable to the present threats. Moreover, it cannot be supposed that every State will always be willing and able to take on its responsibility of guarding its own people without harming its neighbors.

We must not take too lightly the complicatedness of achieving a new consensus about the meaning of and the responsibilities entailed by collective security. Identifying whether a particular threat is really a threat to international peace and security is however a matter of debate. Although some believe that HIV/AIDS is a dreadful disease, they do not consider it as a security threat. While terrorism is a threat to some States, it is not a threat to others. Although the civil wars in Africa are considerably a humanitarian tragedy, still they do not pose a problem for international security. Furthermore, poverty is believed to be just a problem of economic development, not of security.

Diversity in wealth, geography, and power do shape what we identify as the most serious threats to our well-being and survival. Dissimilarity of focus leads us to set aside what others sense as the most serious of all threats to their survival. Discriminatory responses to threats additionally increase segmentation. Many people consider that what qualifies for collective security at present is merely a system for defending the powerful and the rich. Such perceptions create a basic challenge

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