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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 September 2005, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Is the United Nations a spent force?
Kofi Annan stands in front of the UN logo

Can meaningful change be achieved at the UN?

Secretary General Kofi Annan urged world leaders to persevere on reforms and take bolder steps to fight poverty during the UN Summit billed as a "once in a generation opportunity".

Weeks of negotiations have produced a draft package of reforms to underpin discussions, but they fall short of the original vision for the summit.

The document includes pledges on the need to combat poverty but omits contentious issues such as disarmament.

Other proposed reforms which proved contentious were the creation of a new human rights body, the definition of terrorism and UN managerial reform.

Is reform possible at the UN? Or is the organisation crippled by its own members? What would you like to see the UN do about terrorism, nuclear proliferation, human rights and poverty?

We discussed UN reform in our phone-in programme, Talking Point, on Sunday 18 September. Click on the link to watch the programme.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion received so far:

This topic was suggested by John A Turner, Wales
Does the UN have any relevance in its present format?

The problem with the UN is that most measures go under the table as most UN bodies (except for the Security Council) recommend measures and do not have binding powers. But still the SC is mostly ruled by the five permanent members which have veto power. This creates an unbalance of power and refrains the scope and power that the UN would have otherwise.
Diana, Caracas, Venezuela

The UN is a force to reckon with. When whole world was devastated with wars the UN was a ray of hope and solidarity for the oppressed. Today as it is funded and operated by capitalist countries, its functions are marred by controversies. Every rich country gives to UN for the sake of some solid return rather than helping the deprived communities to get uplifted. The goals of the UN are changing and so its power structure must change for the benefit of the world.
Paul Belson, Chennai, India

Many on this page think the UN is some body that is greater than the nation states it is made up of. As a critic of the UN, I can say one thing it does well is push education to Third World countries. Education is the answer to the poor not access to our markets. If our markets take a dive the people of these nations will be once again in dire ways.
Patrick, Ohio, USA

As long as the UN continues to hamper those doing the dirty work on the ground its impact will be severely limited. Had UN troops in Bosnia been given more power to intervene countless civilian lives could have been saved. This is just one example of a situation where bureaucracy has cost lives.
James, Dundee, Scotland

Democracy can only work if it is democratic. The problem with the UN is that George Bush considers that it can only be effective if it is democratically managed by the President of the United States.
Edmund Burke, Kingston upon Thames, UK

The UN is an expensive talking shop and a place for states to feel important
Jim Hunter, Belfast
The UN is an expensive talking shop and a place for states to feel important. If it was really useful it could have solved the world's problems ten times over. In effect it's a purely cosmetic gathering without the will or want to change anything.
Jim Hunter, Belfast

The UN can hardly be held responsible when nation states put their own narrow interests before that of the world in general. The USA is all too often the guilty party in using its veto and then has the temerity to blame the organisation it seeks to sabotage.
Derek Amory, Richmond, Surrey

The United Nations failed miserably in avoiding catastrophes like Darfur mayhem and wars like the Iraqi war. Controlled by some Western powers this world body has long lost its credibility and hence without any hesitation we can call it a spent force.
M Bashir Bharadia, Mombasa, Kenya

A majority of countries have lost faith in the UN when it was unable to prevent the American invasion of Iraq and inability to prevent the atrocities of Israel.
Shams Tabraz s, Bangalore, India

The UN needs to be adaptable, to match the changing face of the world. Meaningful change will only take place, when world leaders decide to regard the UN as meaningful. This is a pity because a neutral force with the ability to take on serious problems in the world is truly necessary.
Jonathan Gill, Derby, UK

The United Nations was formed for all the world's countries to speak with one voice. It was a noble idea but too many countries look to protect their own interests at the expense of the people of this world. It is not just the United Nations who need to change but the ideals of the countries who are members of the organisation.
Graham, England

The Security Council is not representative
Anna Adhikari, Olesnica, Poland
I used to live and work in China, I'm Polish citizen and currently I've been living in Nepal. There is no doubt, that UN is needed particularly for weaker countries it's the only place to have their say and to be listened to. But those people who have access to the UN agencies rarely come from the majority of society and rarely truly represent their societies. The Security Council is not representative; its permanent members care more about own national interests than world peace.
Anna Adhikari, Olesnica, Poland

The United Nations is as flawed as the League of Nations before it. Until we abolish the idea of the 'Security Council', where a handful of rich countries have more say than anybody else, and embrace a more democratic model, where countries are represented in terms of their population, and everyone has equal vote per citizen, the UN will always be fundamentally corrupt and unmanageable.
Jack White, Glasgow, Scotland

The UN is seemingly starting to give legitimacy to the notion of humanitarian intervention. Recognising that democracy is beneficial to humanitarian conditions among other aspects of concern to the UN, should we be expecting 'democratic' intervention in the future?
Thor Nielsen, Norway

Over a quarter of the UN's resolutions have concerned Israel, a country the size of Wales with a population of just 4 million people. Contrast this with the fact that there have been no UN resolutions concerning China, a country with a population of over a billion that has gross breaches of human rights, limited freedom of speech and widespread exploitation of workers. This is clear evidence that the UN is corrupt institution that has been hijacked by various countries to pursue a very narrow agenda. The UN needs a total overhaul to address the true concerns of all the world's people.
Greg, London, England

If the summit was a "failure", let's have more than generalised groaning, let's have the names of the countries who blocked reform, then let's turn the heat onto them. Who watered down what? What arguments did they use? Only such transparency will drive the public debate which will eventually shame the back-sliders into coming on board. Let's get those slippery diplomats out of the shadows and make them account for their actions - supposedly carried out in our name!
Angus Macdonald, Strasbourg, France

Is it possible to reform the UN under its present construction - no. While every state claims sovereignty and looks at protecting it's own interests the UN can never be anymore that a plaything for the key word sovereignty, it will always take second place.
Richard Ryan, Australia

The US now runs the globe with brut strength
N Alexander, Durban, South Africae
The UN is a chamber of opinion lacking the power to enforce any positive action whatsoever. The US now runs the globe with brut strength. With the UK as it's sidekick.
N Alexander, Durban, South Africa

I think what the UN needs to kick-start reform is an expansion of the Security Council and a major re-think of how exactly that body works. History has shown how the will of one of the 'club of five' can utterly hamstring the UN and render it impotent. This particular institution is very much a product of a very different political climate that hasn't existed for the past 15 years or so.
Thomas Brown, UK

It can only be as good as the people representing it, its a sign indicating the state of the world today.
Khalid Omari, Danbury-CT, USA

UN reforms are possible only when member-states are giving a fair play environment to contribute without the fear of been bullied by the powerful. This means the UN should be seen in global context rather than the United State, African Union, European Union or Arab League etc. Given the UN this global thought, policies, programmes and proclamations will be seriously obeyed. Today most member-states see the UN as a club of five
Lawrence Ebi, Dare Ssalaam Tanzania

The UN is a critical force. I live right near it and see all the people from all over the world mingling with each other and with New York. It is the same thing as a business conference just on the hugest scale possible.
Susannah, New York, NY, USA

US has all that is needed to reform UN except the will. It still has some moral credibility, also being the only superpower, it can make a difference. But having guys like Mr. Bolton at the helm in UN - that is just a dream. But today if US don't act, then it is just a matter to time when it will join rest of impotent nations in UN - where, it has to watch the undemocratic governments playing around with mother nature, human life and values.
Vincent Furtado, Dubai, U.A.E.

When the US veto can cancel democratic voting, then what's the point of the UN?
Sean, Manchester, UK
When the US veto can cancel democratic voting, then what's the point of the UN? Many a time, the UN member nations have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion, but the US vetoes. I think we all know which country the US continually defends, going against justice and world opinion!
Sean, Manchester, UK

The UN, historically, has far more in the way of failures than successes that it might lay claim to. Some suggest that we need a one-world government led by the UN. Well, I ask you "Who wants to be ruled by a one world government that can't even agree on the definition of terrorism?"
Scott Williams, USA

The UN was not made for our time, but in reaction to a bygone era. The UN must be 'remade' for this one. Secretary General Kofi Annan has valid arguments, and should perhaps lead the creation of an entirely new organization, with those committed to similar reforms. The nations wanting to perpetuate business as usual won't bow out, and should be left out of the driver's seat.
David Stephen Ball-Romney, Seattle, USA

Agreement on "the right to protect" is potentially a huge step forward, and surely more fundamental than meeting Bob Geldof's strident demands. Ideally the UN needs to separate its delivery of development aid from its role as a political forum, peacekeeper and forger of international agreements. The presumption is that the bargain between rich and poor prevents such separation - but that is the key challenge for renewal after 60 years.
Nick B, London

Until the UN proves, via their actions rather than their words, that they mean what they say they will have no respect among the countries they wish to influence. When the failure to abide by their resolutions causes no greater penalty than yet another resolution there is no reason for the offending nation to alter its policies or actions. We have a saying in this country, "Talk is Cheap" and all this organization seems to be willing to do is talk.
Douglas G, Louisiana, USA

Despite its flaws, the UN still functions as the premier world forum
Ray Doherty, Waitsfield, VT USA
Despite its flaws, the UN still functions as the premier world forum for resolving international disputes and addressing important issues such as poverty, pollution, nuclear proliferation, refugee relief, etc. We can not expect perfection from a world body as diverse and complex at the UN. The world would be considerably worse off without the United Nations.
Ray Doherty, Waitsfield, VT USA

The UN is not easily reformed but it is not a spent force. That can be seen by the fact that Bush felt compelled to accede to international pressure and own his responsibility for the MDGs and the Monterrey agreement. Sharon was forced to come and make his peace with the General Assembly. While no one knows what is next, it is clear that there is a consensus among the world's leaders, even the UN's harshest critics, that it is too important to let wither. It does not look as though John Bolton will be able to trim those 10 floors from the Secretariat building.
Elliott Sclar, Larchmont NY USA

If the UN is a spent force this is just a reflection of the inability of the governments of the World the put aside ideological differences for the common good of humanity. The UN is no more or less than what its members make it.
Jay, London

The UN is even more relevant in these days of the dying nation state. People need to look at the bigger picture - the borders between countries and how effective the governments are within those borders are becoming increasingly irrelevant. The UN needs proper funding and a public education campaign, never mind the cost. The UN is arguably mankind's greatest achievement.
Andrew M, Walsall, UK

Mr Annan could shame the member nations into proper actions if he only tried. He has been playing politics throughout his entire time as Secretary General and not used his power to the benefit of the organization. If he were to go to the media and start pointing fingers at the members whom drag their feet, he would be able to make great strides in getting things done.
Dwayne Chastain, West Jefferson, Ohio

Just imagine the world without the services it offers
Jallah Kennedy, Galloway, USA
The UN is, and will continue to be, a viable source. Hopefully, when people realize that religion and capitalism has no tangible solution to the world's problem, the UN will become the world government. If you want to assess the importance of the UN, just imagine the world without the services it offers.
Jallah Kennedy, Galloway, USA

The UN is a spending force not a spent force. They should leave the wealthy confines of New York and move to regional headquarters in areas needing economic revitalisation. Then at least some impoverished areas will prosper while they do whatever it is that they do.
Chuck, Pennsylvania, USA

The UN is a group of reps from different countries. Although it'd be wonderful to think that we'll all work together for the common good, we all have different ways of doing things. Arguments over whose way is better is inevitable and problems don't get solved fast enough that way.
Greg, USA

The UN showed itself to be a farce over Iraq when France said it would veto any resolution that allowed the US/UK to invade Iraq regardless of the circumstances. Since the invasion we find that the French were getting oil privileges from Iraq - national self interest or the greater good?
Andrew, Toronto/London

The UN since its inception has been nothing more than a quasi off shoot of the US state department. As such it is a 'comedy of errors' and a waste of time, money and effort.
Mike Talbot, Brisbane, Australia

The major villain standing in the way of the removal of agricultural subsidies is France. For too many years the rest of Europe has allowed French farmers to remain incompetent because for some unknown reason the French who have done nothing for the good of anyone but themselves have the right to veto in both the European Parliament and the United Nation.
Ray Nugent, Brisbane, Australia

The UN controlled by Western countries has miserably failed to solve global issues. Reform is a must to bring not only credibility to UN but also to have a fair representation of based on population and not of colour of skin.
Siva, Toronto, Canada

Today's terrorism is just the history of imperialism coming back to haunt us. A UN which is fairly represented will be better equipped to address this 'karma' of history.
Raj, Metro Manila, Philippines

The UN needs to convince the very people who need its help most that UN does not equal US
name here
To regain credibility in the developing world where its efforts are most needed as a medium for inter alia the distribution of humanitarian aid from the rest of the world, the UN needs to convince the very people who need its help most that UN does not equal US. In light of recent historical events, it is understandably easy for the naive to assume otherwise.
Andrew Bergman, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

The UN may not be perfect, but it's the best we've come up with so far to work together in a world where we are more and more dependent upon one another.
Zach, Los Angeles USA

The UN has been too weak in dealing with world threats in the past with too much red tape, bickering and just plain non committals by countries such as Spain, France and Germany especially over terrorism. I would say let the US be allowed to deal with the bad elements in the world but let the lazy or scared Europeans pay for it. The rest of the world is doing its part in combating this scourge like Zambia, Japan and Great Britain so those are the countries that should be rewarded for their gallant, valiant and courageous efforts.
John Doe, Lusaka, Zambia

The US's arrogant attitude towards its own inclusion in the Security Council is daunting. What right do some countries have that is superior to others to be included in the Security Council as permanent members?
Jaco Visser, Stellenbosch, South Africa

It seems to me that the UN members appear incapable of seeing the 'bigger picture' and are too concerned with petty squabbles fuelled by national self interest. Until someone can galvanise the nations into enthusiastic action on a truly global scale it will forever remain a huge ineffectual committee which cannot even decide what terrorism is in order to combat it.
Bryan Bithell, Haslemere, Surrey

The UN can work for the benefit of all people if it is fully democratic based on one nation, one vote and no vetoes. Also we accept the motions that are passed by the majority. Also we need to remove the worst part of democracy - lobbying by the rich and powerful.
RD, London, UK


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