Restoring the U.N.’s Credibility

The U.N.’s 60th anniversary celebration yesterday was devoted, not to the accomplishments of the past six decades but rather to the need to restore the organization’s credibility.

Annan Seeks to Restore U.N. Credibility (AP)

Bitter differences between U.N. member states have blocked many crucial United Nations reforms, and nations must act boldly to restore the world body’s credibility, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a summit of world leaders.

Presidents and prime ministers were more blunt about the U.N. system at the gathering that marked the United Nations’ 60th anniversary. If member countries want the United Nations to be respected and effective, they should begin by making sure it is worthy of respect,” President Bush said Wednesday. “The United Nations should live up to its name,” Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair said.

Instead of a celebration of U.N. achievements since its founding in the ashes of World War II, the summit was much more a somber reappraisal of its shortcomings and a debate about how to meet the daunting challenges of a world where poverty and violence are still endemic.

Coming into the summit, diplomats had to dilute a document on goals for tackling rights abuses, terrorism and U.N. reform because they couldn’t settle their disputes.

Therein lies the problem. Because of the diversity of the member states, there is little chance of achieving concensus on even the most fundamental issues. The underdeveloped states see the U.N. as a giant teat from which to suckle money from the prosperous whereas the West sees it as a mechanism for spreading democracy, law, and order. Reconciling those visions is next to impossible.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Terrorism, United Nations, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DL says:

    Their international docents are trained to tell visiting school children that the UN has kept world peace with no arms larger than a small sidearm. I reminded one such very charming U.N. propagandist that the battleship U.S.S.New Jersey and Iowa weren’t tossing marshmallows at North Korea when I was there as part of the U.N./ Korean War.

  2. ICallMasICM says:

    The problem is that the west looks at the UN as an NGO and the third world looks at the UN as a source of funding for their kleptocracy.

  3. Herb says:

    The UN has been a lost cause for as long as I can remember. Like the League of Nations, the formation of the UN showed promise of a group of Nations that would insure world peace. That expected promise has utterly failed just like the League of Nations.

    The US has funded the UN since the beginning and is doing so to this day. It’s like spending good money after bad. The internal corruption has and is running rampant and there seems to be no end. Member States see it as a giant money tree where they can pick this money tree like it is harvest time. And, what do we in the US do as one of the principal founders, continue to pour money into this corrupt organization. How stupid we are.

    The time has come and past when we as a country need to tell the UN to “Shape up or ship out”

    I don’t think that the UN has a hope or a prayer to be salvaged and it’s time we as a country to realize this fact ad pull totally out of the UN and let the world thieves go it alone and die in their own swill of deceit and corruption.

  4. McGehee says:

    Restoring the U.N.’s Credibility

    Something about that headline just doesn’t seem right…

  5. James Joyner says:

    McGehee: The thought occured to me as well. Still, the UN had a much higher credibility 25-30 years ago.

  6. Herb says:

    Have just read a Gallup-BBC poll listed on the Drudge Report about how the worlds population think about politicians.

    It indicates that a majority of the people in our world have no trust in their leaders.

    Is it any wonder? This survey is a testament to what people think of the “leadership?”, and credibility of the UN

  7. DL says:

    Did I understand the results to prove that the masses in Europe have little faith in their leaders? Well duh! Much of the same may happen here, if our leaders (Mr.Bush) don’t wake up in time to secure our borders. Europe slept while Hitler stayed awake. Clinton slept(around?) while the Islamist terrorists didn’t. Bush’s legacy may end up with one headline -translated from arabic headlines:”Bush failed to secure borders as America fell”

  8. Herb says:



  9. Lurking Observer says:

    James Joyner:

    But what was the nature of that credibility, 25-30 years ago?

    In the context of the Cold War, with two superpowers and associated alliances and the perception that everything was on a hair-trigger, the UN was useful in providing a forum for discussion—but no one, I think, genuinely expected it to do anything.

    Insofar as there were conflicts that didn’t quite fall into the East-West conflict, the UN could provide some additional resources, or even serve as a back-burner (see Cyprus), but actually solving problems was never among its capabilities.

    At most, it provided a figleaf (Korea 1950).

    In the one or two instances where they were really supposed to keep the peace between major warring states (e.g., Sinai 1967), they failed.

    In this regard, it’s sort of like the IAEA. So long as the nuclear genie was fairly constrained, the IAEA could handle the job, because really they were serving as agents of the United States/West and the USSR/East. (Notice that, when you had an external player intent on sabotaging the system, much like China proliferating to Pakistan, the system failed.) Remove the superpowers, and the UN (or, in this case, the IAEA) stops being effective.


  10. Dave Schuler says:

    As I’ve written before it would be nice if there were some sort of prerequisites for membership in the UN. For example, signing onto the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (impossible for many of the current members). Or the ability to project some kind of order-keeping capacity outside the major cities (beyond the current abilities of most of the African, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian members). And so on.

    Similarly, it would be nice if membership in the Security Council had prerequisites. How about the ability to participate actively in peacekeeping missions? That leaves out most of the current membership plus Germany and Japan.

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    Oh, and James, you wrote:

    The underdeveloped states see the U.N. as a giant teat from which to suckle money from the prosperous whereas the West sees it as a mechanism for spreading democracy, law, and order.

    I think the West is very divided on this right now. Much of what we’ve historically considered “the West” e.g. France has little interest in any of those things and is much more interested in preserving the status quo. The US used to be in that camp, too, until the status quo became unacceptable.

  12. Marcia L. Neil says:

    Yeah. The ‘United Nations’ are not a conduit for product-development schemes.