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The United Nations - ripe for reform under Antonio Guterres


Set up more than 70 years ago with fine ideals, the United Nations has been often criticised as ineffectual.

The new Secretary General Antonio Guterres brings to that difficult job 10 years experience as the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees.

Can he be the man who reforms the organisation and restores its credibility when he succeeds Ban Ki-moon in January?

Guterres takes office at a time of many conflicts in the world – the most pressing is Syria where the UN’s role has been minimal.

The United Nations came into being in October 1945, just after the Second World War ended.

The deaths of tens of millions from that conflict led to a resolve to change the world.

Fifty one countries signed on to the effort to work to preserve world peace, to build friendly relations between states, to promote human rights and democracy.

After World War II, the Cold War between east and west meant a long period of paralysis for the UN.

Deadly conflicts like that in the former Yugoslavia led to sharp criticism of its inability to end the fighting or effectively protect civilians.

Right now the war in Syria is the focus of of that censure and Aleppo the symbol.

One problem cited by former Secretary General Kofi Annan as holding back the UN’s efforts is that the composition of the Security Council.

He said: “I urge member states to make the Security Council more broadly representative of the international community as a whole, and I suggest that the renewed Security Council should make clear in a resolution the principles by which it intends to be guided when deciding whether or not to authorise the use of force.”

Syria is just the latest war to underscore the rifts created by its make up.

Can it be reformed?

Currently, the Security Council has fifteen members, five of those are permanent and have a veto – France, the USA, the UK, China and Russia. The so called G4 – India, Brazil, Germany, Japan – say it should have 25 members, with six additional permanent seats, with two of those occupied by African countries.

Those reforms would create a fairer and more geographically balanced Security Council, and could change the balance of power with regard to the veto, which too ofter leads to deadlocks.

Antonio Guterres has considerable experience of humanitarian work, which could useful in the years ahead as tried to move the United Nations forward in its key task of maintaining peace in the world.

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