The Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has proposed far-reaching reforms of the organisation following the divisions brought about by the invasion of Iraq.
He says the UN should agree on a definition of terrorism, enlarge the security council, and set out rules on when it can authorise military force.
"The United Nations must be brought fully in line with today's realities," Mr Annan told the UN General Assembly.
What do you think of the proposals? Do they go far enough? Is the UN still necessary?
This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
The one thing that has to change radically is the veto power in the Security Council. Five nations can decide the fate of others with utter disregard for the majority. How can this be justified by the torch bearers of freedom and democracy?
Hamza Sheikh, USA
Overhaul means change but we must ensure that will be in the right direction. Regarding the Security Council proposed reform, option B (8 new semi permanent and renewable seats allocated on a regional basis) is more appropriate because will allow for wider participation of leading countries. In this respect Italy (currently G6 country), whose contribution to world's peace efforts is widely recognized as being stronger if compared to Germany's or Japan's, must be allowed to have one of the two new seats reserved for the European region.
Max, Milan, Italy
The UN needs definite reforms in addition to Mr. Annan's proposals the Veto should be revoked from all permanent members and UN Security Council should be enlarged as well as permanent members of the Council should be increased making sure that every continent has enough representation in the council' permanent members.
Imran Bhatti, Nottingham, UK
Of course the UN needs reform. Can this reform be done equitably in an inequitable world? I seriously doubt that it can. It is precisely this reality which has landed this institution and that which preceded it, into the failures they experienced. The real problem isn't with the institution per se, the real problem lies within its' membership.
David Lawrence, New York City, USA
UN should safeguard the rights of the minorities and their lives in each and every country in the world. It has to build up its own forces and to punish all who ignore UN.
Indiran, Trincomalee, Tamil Eelam
Yes, it does need an overhaul and it's first goal should be to separate itself as far as possible from the current US government, who's only goal is to dismantle it, even to the point of moving to Geneva and denying membership to the US. The world needs a collective voice to stand up to the Bush regime and the UN is the only real one available. With only one superpower in charge, the world will suffer and it is up to the UN to balance that un-checked power. Or does everyone really want a world ruled by George W. Bush and company?
Randy, Los Angeles CA USA
The amount of graft and corruption at the UN is endemic and needs correction. However, I doubt seriously if the UN membership states in general have the stomach for the task. I fear that needed change will be cosmetic at best.
Frederick D. Clements, Washington DC USA
The UN in 2005 is a body which has turned out to be irrelevant and largely ineffective. Does it represent the interests of the member countries? No. The Security Council has turned out to be a "club" for some nations and does not represent the larger interests of the global community... For the UN to be relevant in the 21st Century, it has to be a democratically elected body, representing the interests of the humanity at large.
Jagannath Rao, Bangalore, India
The United Nations is like an old home in bad need of repairs. Rather than spend enormous sums to fix the problems, it is best to replace it with a more contemporary model. First, only allow countries committed to democratic principles to belong. Second, focus on encouraging non members to become democratic. Third, co-ordinate humanitarian relief for natural and man made disasters.
Edward, Chicago, USA
The UN has been and will be a tool for the Christian west to impose their will on others. The UN didn't solve a thing in the past and it will not solve a thing in the future. The world's Muslims are paying a heavy price because of the so called United Nations.
Ahmed, Beruwala, Sri Lanka
The proposals are spot on. The United Nations is absolutely necessary. However, the world body should have the clout to bring all nations in line with its binding resolutions. The problem right now is that the United States is able to flex its muscles and ride rough-shod over decisions which it finds unpalatable. The United Nations is currently the best organisation we have to face today's realities and to act as a counterweight to the great powers. Of course, it has its shortcomings but with vision and hindsight the organisation can evolve and grow from strength to strength. We cannot allow the United States to steam-roll its policies over other smaller nations.
Pancha Chandra, Brussels, Belgium
After the UN's debacle of allowing the illegal invasion of Iraq by the US, it's about time the UN was revamped, preferably with a nuclear-armed force to annihilate anyone trying this nonsense again.
Gordon, Toronto, Canada
The problem with the UN is that it became too big and tries to do too much. Therefore it needs huge amounts of money that only the rich countries can provide. Countries who contribute the most money seem to feel that that money buys them more say in world affairs. Perhaps the UN should be scaled down. Countries need to decide once and for all if they support the UN or not. I would rather see the UN stay essentially as it is with the only major reform being with the Security Council, either do away with it or do away with the veto. The Security Council paralyses the entire organisation.
Rey, Spartanburg, USA
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Any reforms will bound to upset the balance of power. Getting rid of the security council or adding new members will tilt the favour to the United States. I say, remain as it is.
Wilson, Hong Kong
The UN needs changes and reforms because it could not be the protector and development agent of the world. It should behave equally to all the countries of the world and all international problems should be resolved by the initiation and decision of this organisation. It should be able to take concrete decisions at the right time. In the Iraq case, it could not take any bold decision at the right time.
Som Bahadur Thapa, Nepal, Kathmandu
For all its shortcomings, there is no denying the good that the UN does, and what it is capable of doing. A globally-elected parliament is so very romantic and also completely unrealistic. Although the Security Council's structure is hypocritical of an organisation dedicated to promoting peace and democracy throughout the world, convincing its permanent members to surrender their veto is simply never going to happen. These proposed alterations may not answer all of the UN's problems and inefficiencies but are realistically all that can be done for the time. The only way to achieve the utopian UN that we see in our dreams is by implementing reforms like these; one step at a time.
Madison, Sydney, Australia
The UN needs changes, mostly because of the unfair amount of influence a few countries have on it. Action of the most influential nations, such as the USA, China and Russia, have rendered it ineffectual. Here, in the US, the political right wing is clamouring for UN reform, but they have it backwards: a UN with less concern over pleasing the US is the most important thing. This is not to say a UN obsessed with opposition to the US would be good at all, but you cannot deny that tragedies like the recent genocide in Sudan result because the US fights against any UN relief and peacekeeping, except when it is politically advantageous.
Adam, Charleston, USA
The UN needs more transparency, as the mess with the oil for food programme and the sexual abuse of children by peacekeepers have damaged the organisation's reputation. When it becomes clear that those responsible have to face punishment for their actions, I suppose many sceptical people will trust the UN again.
Ursula, German currently living in Austin, TX, USA
I'm not sure if a reform would make a difference. The US is still going to act on what they think would benefit them. Maybe sanctions for the countries that do as they please would be more appropriate. Like for when "someone" decided to go to war against terrorists with weapons of mass destruction - or was it really just to get their hands on Iraq's oil supply?
Julia, Edmonton, Canada
After the Boxing Day disaster in the Pacific it took the UN six weeks to send someone to investigate what was required. The US, Australian and UK military were onsite and active after 12 hours renewing water supplies. It's pretty obvious that the UN has nothing to offer the world and should be closed down. The money it costs each nation could go onto the aid budget of that country where it would have more effect.
John R. Smith, UK
I work for the UN. It most certainly does.
Don't reform the UN, the Security Council makes perfect sense. Just keep those who were powerful in 1945 on the council and keep the rising powers out. And if it is expanded - make sure everyone keeps their veto. That makes everything run so smoothly already.
Eric Hovius, Saskatoon, Canada
Yes it does. However, the overhaul should be determined by referendum of world citizens, not just by politicians and countries in the current UN assembly who may have conflicts of interests which could impede real progress. With that, the reforms can then be more legitimate in the eyes of the people, and as a result, more far-reaching and beneficial.
The UN Reforms are long overdue, especially the enlargement of the Security Council to include more permanent members with veto. The world has moved on a long way since the victors of the Second World War decided to set up their elite club. No one can deny the importance, both economic and political, of Japan, Germany and India to be included in this group. After all, the G-8 already invites India to its meetings now a days - so why the contradiction in the UN?
Aruni Mukherjee, Kolkata, India
I seriously doubt that any "grand" revamp of the UN will actually accomplish anything. With many large countries such as the US, China, India, and Russia preferring to look after national self-interest, "collective action" will go the way of the dodo.
AM, Cincinnati, OH
When advocating and emphasizing democracy around the world, we must believe that "veto" power is un-democratic.
Muzaffar Hashmi, Lahore - Pakistan
UN shouldn't be kept as a rich man's club. A wider representation is needed.
H. Harilal, London
The UN wouldn't need any restructuring if USA stopped meddling.
It's ironical that the UN ,supposed to be a kind of "global parliament" where the views of every member must be equally important runs on a discriminatory "veto power" principle. The UN has to be reformed, when it takes place is a just a matter of time.
I think the fact that this story is listed under 'The Americas' tells us something about some of the problems with the UN!
Justine Smith, Harare, Zimbabwe
It needs a major overhaul, but all Mr Annan is going to accomplish is making the UN bigger and fatter and less responsive. In the same way the UN deals with issues, these "changes" will take a lifetime to implement.
Kevin, Chicago, USA
The UN is an irrelevant organisation. It's not a global government-in-waiting - at best it is a talking-shop, with one or two useful parts. The notion of giving France/Russia/China/Zimbabwe some sort of veto over the US is just laughable !
Noel, Stockport, UK
I believe that the UN ceased to exist the moment that Britain and the US decided to go to war in Iraq, perhaps it's time to scrap it all together.
Maya Al-Jubori, London, UK
I'm amazed. I was sure everyone thought the UN was doing a fine job and that it's current structure, management, and employee behaviour was optimal. It seems crazy to radically change something that's so popular and working so well. Is this some sort of over-reaction to the Bolton nomination?
I C Johnson, Washington, DC, USA
I strongly believe that the Security Council should be abolished altogether and the United Nations should be the embodiment of "unity" among nations that pursue and nurture common values. All contentious issues confronting our world today should be resolved by consensus rather than brute force. Despotic regimes should be expelled from the organisation, and only readmitted if they change their ways.
Farai Muchaka, Brussels, Belgium
The UN does not need an overhaul. UN is the toothless League of Nations, because at the present time the decisions are being taken by the strong states. The UN should have exclusively a humanitarian role and should not take any political decisions.
Valentin Rimdjonok, Ottawa, Canada
The UN is ineffectual, biased and corrupt. It should be disbanded immediately. Small democracies stand no chance of justice when the middle eastern oil interests decide to combine their votes to criticise the one country in the world willing to stand up for itself. Yet it is this one country that stands for everything the UN is supposed to uphold. It is pitiful and disgusting.
Monty, London UK
These reforms are a step in the right direction, but they don't go far enough. Currently the UN is a bloated, bureaucratic organisation run by the affluent West under the false pretences that it fairly represents all nations.
The UN should be allowed to act more positively and decisively without its tail being constantly trodden on by a selfish minority of its own members.
Graham Rodhouse, Helmond, The Netherlands
The overhaul should start with the resignation of Kofi Annan. His total lack of leadership and help for Rwanda during the genocide is unforgivable.
Leigh, Hartford USA
The world is a global village. The UN should become the world parliament. One million people, one representative. Maybe several continental parliaments as well. The nation state concept where rich and poor bully and coerce for no good at all must end. We all share this one small blue and green pea in a space of infinity. Democracy for all and universal peace - where the value of one human live is the same as any other human life is the only way to make sense of the human condition.
Jim and Yumiko MacNamara, Southampton, UK
Where is the cry for democracy now, Mr Bush if you truly believe in democracy then prove it now, make the UN more democratic.
If voting in the General Assembly is to carry any weight dictatorships should be excluded. Apart from China and Russia this should be enforced also for the security council. It is farcical that Libya and Syria can vote on human rights issues.
John Murray, London UK
The UN is not democratically elected. It does not represent me in any way. So why should they exist? Scrap the UN now and replace it with a democratically elected world body. It would force people like Robert Mugabe, The Saudi royal family and Tony Blair to actually listen to their people. If they don't agree, sanction them hard until they do. How hard would it be to have a global election once every 10 years. I offer this as an idea, unlike our politicians who are more concerned with their own power and keeping their grubby hands on it.
If you want an example of the effectiveness of the UN, think of Rwanda in 1994, or of Bosnia 1990. Lots to be proud of, eh? Besides, how many of the 182 or so countries of the UN are actually free and democratic? Is the vote of Sudan or Libya really equal in moral authority to that of Sweden or Norway? Time to scrap the whole corrupt shebang.
Any change for the UN can only help. How many people have died in the past few years because of its inability to act? The organization has become impotent under the guidance of Mr Annan and his resignation should be included in any new agenda.
Dwayne Chastain, West Jefferson, Ohio
The problem is not so much that the UN needs reform, though the proposed changes sound useful. The problem is that the world's only superpower is prepared to ignore the UN and international opinion; the USA's allies are guilty in letting it off the hook here, rather than insisting it comply with international law.
Tom, London, UK
I have a lot of respect for the UN. However, it is laughable that the power of veto can essentially let America and Israel run riot around the world as they always back each other as far as UN resolutions are concerned. Resolutions should be passed by a majority and no country should wield more power than another.
That the Security Council must be upgraded and expanded is a done thing. But, how this 'upgrade' is brought about is the question. Who, how and by what means are new members going to be chosen? What will be their powers etc? The main problem is the fundamental differences between the present Security Council members.
Steve, New York, USA
I think reform based upon past experience can only be a good thing, but with the Iraq war, America went out on its own ignoring the UN. All the reform you can think of isn't going to stop the US doing what it wants if it disagrees with the organisation.
Matt, York, UK
The UN does need some work, unfortunately this reform misses two important points. Firstly the veto powers have to go and secondly the Security Council should be subordinate to the General Assembly.
Richard Read, London, UK
The UN should become more representative of world opinion. This can be achieved by giving every state population related voting rights similar to representation in the EU as well as the removal of ALL veto powers.
Darren Brooks, Braintree, England
The circumstances in which the UN was created, including the legacy of its failed predecessor, created an organisation that was right for the times. Since then the world has moved on, the global village has come into being and world affairs are now based on different, more human issues. So therefore is it time for the UN to shed its skin and re-invent itself to provide a central council that represents the needs of the world.
First on the agenda should be to ensure that it is transparent and accountable in all its activities to foster trust. Second is to endow itself with balanced powers to promote world security. Third is to focus on the needs of individuals and let geo-politics manage itself. This latter enables the UN to weave itself into the fabric of the world's societies and removes the notion that it will forever remain powerless in the face of the concerted political agenda of a handful of countries.
The credibility of the United Nations will always be questionable, while China is a permanent member. China's human rights record is both appalling and widely known. The United Nations may not be perfect, but it should at least be seen to be taking a moral stance.
Does the UN need an overhaul? Somebody has a sense of humour. It needs scrapping. It serves no useful purpose and has failed at nearly every opportunity when it could have done something. As it stands it is a very expensive 'talking shop' and a stage for tin-pot dictators and genocidal regimes to 'strut their stuff'.
The sooner UN member countries lose the right to veto, the better. Far, far too much legislation has been wiped away as inconvenient by the most powerful countries and too much multilateral action has been stopped in its tracks because it was aimed at "friendly nations". The removal of the veto would leave Israel less protected by the overarching hand of the US and more exposed to the rest of the UN's democratic decisions, leading to more talk, more action and a greater hope for equality and peace in the Middle East.
Andy Quin, Exeter
As one who has worked for the world body it does need an overhaul, but for the overhaul to be effective the support and commitment of its members, especially the larger states, also needs an overhaul. The UN is not free-standing. It will be as effective, whatever its structure, as its member states want it to be.
James Dunn, Canberra Australia
When (a few months ago) the Speaker of the Security Council (Pakistan at the time) refused to condemn what was happening in Darfur, because he "did not wish to interfere in the internal problems of another Muslim country," then, yes, there are major problems in the UN. And when the Secretary-General says or does nothing about this, then, yes, there are major problems with the UN. Reforms are long overdue, but who will come up with the reforms, and who will accept them, makes this quite a daunting task.
DS, London, UK
The UN has an important place in the modern world, but simply because something is better than nothing. Having said that, it is now a bloated bureaucracy full of overpaid and under worked executives. Reform is definitely needed - to cut down expenses and waste, and make executives more accountable. Only then will it be taken more seriously on issues such as authorising military force and terrorism.
Mandrake Callis, Ilford, Essex, UK
There is no real need for reform in the UN. The current drive for reform is only an American pretext for damaging an organisation that goes against American wishes.
Odd Hansen, Lyngen, Norway
Any organisation which has had a Libyan heading its most important Human Rights Commission and which currently includes Zimbabwe and the Sudan on it is beyond reform.
Paul , Walthamstow
After 50 years of existence what has the UN got right? Security - no. Peace - no. Economics - surpassed by others. The only thing it has got right is world health, and one other thing which escapes my mind...
A small Security Council of the world's military and economic powers is rightly seen as a self-serving club by the smaller nations. But the less grand nations who do get to be associate members to give the Security Council its global credibility merely queue up for handouts from the permanent members to pass contentious resolutions. Enlarging the Security Council to more non-G7 nations will only increase this bung taking. Now I remember what the modern UN is best at - corruption!
The Permanent Membership of the UN Security Council is based upon a post-World War II anachronism, with representation only from those nations that were nuclear powers at the outset of the Cold War. It is ridiculous today that Japan and India are excluded, while Germany, Brazil, Pakistan and South Africa must have fair claims. It would seem sensible to have a rotating seat reserved for Arab nations. A United Nations that is more representative of today's balance of power and economic strengths - regional as well as global - is likely to renew its clout in the geopolitical arena.
Edward Ferguson, London
Hopefully UN reform will bring the organisation up to date with more focus and clarity. Then the US will have less excuse to sideline it and will have to take more note of world condemnation for it's president's actions.
Chris Cullen, Surrey, UK
There are some suggestions for UN reforms.
1. End of the Veto power rule.
2. Establishment of 1/3rd majority rule to veto any decision.
3. Change the name of Security Council to Peace Council.
4. The establishment of an Inter-religious forum under the banner of UN.
Hammad Ahmad Malik, Islamabad, Pakistan
An overhaul would be good because then the UN could start looking forward instead of reliving the last few years. It's symptomatic of the problem that the comments here are mainly about the UN's past - the start of the Iraq war, where it did not distinguish itself as a leader - rather than its future.
The UN does not need to be overhauled, it needs to be disbanded
The UN is nothing more than a colonialist tool of the Western governments in order to impose their will on the other nations through the so-called "international law".
If democracy and free and fair elections are good in the conduct of national politics, is it not equally good in the conduct of international relations as well? Should we not evolve a democratically elected global federal government, democratically accountable to human society as a whole, with constituent political entities bound together by the principle of subsidiarity? The anachronistic system of the economically powerful and the militarily mighty is not acceptable to the international community of seven billion people.
Reform is clearly needed if the UN is to regain legitimacy. Though my question is: where to begin? Let us not focus only on Iraq - the UN has more fundamental problems: corruption; many incompetent staff - even at senior levels; lack of inter-agency cooperation; money-wasting that makes the civil service look efficient... and this is just the tip of the iceberg!
Ex-UN officer, UK
Having worked for the UN in the past, it seemed to be more concerned with its bureaucracy than with what it was trying to achieve. The UN's worst enemy is itself, which only plays into the hands of those who want to bypass it such as Bush and Blair. Kofi Annan has achieved a great deal of reform - not least by getting the US to pay some of its long-outstanding overdue contributions, but there's still a long way to go.
The question shouldn't really be 'Does the UN need an overhaul?', but instead 'Is the UN still necessary and if so, how should it reform itself?'. I think the people who think it is working fine as it is are in a very small minority. I think the UN must be kept, but to have permanent security council seats for the UK, France and Russia while excluding India, Brazil and Africa in its entirety suggests an institution whose outlook stems from a world that no longer exists.
Derek Breslin, Edinburgh, UK
The UN is just bowing to pressure from the United States. We shouldn't forget that it was founded to create peace and prevent wars at all costs. At this rate it will merely become a rubber stamp for American wars.
In my opinion, it is vital that the UN does reform in order to maintain any authority over world issues. Following the Iraq war, the UN's role has been called into question and the organisation must re-establish itself. If powerful countries such as the US and the UK can ignore the decisions of the UN whenever it pleases them, with no repercussions, what then is the function of the UN?
Charlotte, Bracknell, Berkshire
Increasing the size of the Security Council will merely promote more bureaucratic deadlock. Perhaps those voting in favour of the use of force should be compelled to supply troops. A 'stronger' UN will cost more in money and peacekeeper lives, and will require a much stronger will from its member states.
Rob, Bath, UK
Having worked with the UN in Kosovo, the biggest problem with the organisation is its collective inability to make decisions. UN staff don't want to risk a black mark on their record from making a bad decision, hence they'd rather do nothing and wait for their next mission.
Andy, London, UK
Is there any point? Does the UN Security Council actually have any real power or credibility with world leaders regarding world security issues after it was so blatantly ignored by the USA and its Allies over Iraq? As the UN did not give its backing to the invasion of Iraq then it was seen as an illegal act but nobody has been punished by the UN Security Council.
Overhaul? Well, I'm still waiting for Kofi Annan to begin proceedings against Bush and Blair who must be prosecuted for war crimes at The Hague. Annan has done nothing about it, and that is the biggest UN disgrace of all.
Tom Franklin, London, UK