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How to Reform the United Nations: A Proposal

John E. Trent
Fellow, Centre on Governance, University of Ottawa


Reform of the United Nations has been proposed since its inception. In the past two decades many wise tomes and reports have specified reforms. Kofi Annan made strenuous efforts to modernize the structures, but to little avail. In the literature, much attention is paid to the "what" and "why" of UN reform but relatively little attention has been given to "how" reform should be brought about. This is the subject of this paper. After a review of the literature on reform, it uses five propositions to zero in on a strategy of how civil society can mobilize efforts to transform the UN's structures, based not only on the need for global reform but also on new theoretical perceptions that entrepreneurially driven change in the international system is now possible. As a "normative project", the paper spans the gap between empirical research and normatively driven goals.

Paper for presentation at the
International Studies Association Convention
San Francisco, March 26 – 29, 2008

How to Reform the United Nations: A Proposal

John E. Trent
Fellow, Centre on Governance, University of Ottawa

Introduction: How might we usefully think about modifying the United Nations – in the sense of transforming its structures rather than just adapting or reforming its administration? So far, most of the thinking has concentrated on why change is necessary and what to change. Here we focus on the question of how to bring about transformation of the UN.

Chad Alger's historical account of the founding and evolution of international organizations (Alger 1995) is a useful way of opening the subject. He proposes that we have seen two eras of change in international organizations and we have now entered the third. Some refer to it as "third generation organizations"(Bertrand 1988). The 19th century produced international organizations that were institutionalized in the 20th. In the present époque, we are advancing toward global governance.

Another group of researchers have been studying in greater depth the origins of international organizations in the 19th century to see what lessons they hold for us concerning UN reform. They demonstrate conclusively how innovation and change in these bodies, both in the past and the present, have been brought about by a combination of private and public actors. This strange mixture of activity involved governments, budding non-governmental organizations, concerned citizens, international lawyers, economists and scientists as well as social movements of labour, women, and pacifists (Archer 2001, Reinaldo 2003, Schmeil 2003, Kupchan et al. 2001).

In his masterful 1995 synthesis of more recent proposals on reform by specialists and commissions, Gene Lyons thought he had found a consensus – at least on the urgent need for reform of the UN's organs if not on the actual reforms themselves (Lyons 1995). He also found that there was much thunder but little rain. All the debates about reform did not lead to much change. The proposals of the Jackson report in the 1960s on the rationalization of development programs were repeated by a new group of experts in the 1980s. The carefully crafted, multi-year reports of the Nordic UN Project and the USA-UNA international teams got no responses from governments (The United Nations Association of the USA 1991, the Nordic Project 1987).

The broad scale analysis of structural change by Brian Urquhart and Erskine Childers and their focused proposals on improved methods for selecting secretary-generals were not rewarded with actual changes in processes (Urquhart and Childers 1990, 1992). Nor was Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali's much heralded and clear-sighted An Agenda for Peace on international intervention ever subjected to serious review by the Security Council or the General Assembly (Boutros-Ghali 1992). So we can see that the difficulties Kofi Annan and his High Level Panel faced in theirlengthy struggle to bring structural reform to the UN institutions was only the latest in a long list of very mitigated achievements (Trent 2007: 1-6, 183-197). Also in recent years there have been other reform documents such as the International Labour Organizations A Fair Globalization and another effort by INGOs in Ubuntu, "a world forum of networks of civil society, to propose a three step model to improve the efficiency, legitimacy and the democratic credentials of the UN (both in 2004). Maurice Strong, himself having had the title of Executive Coordinator for UN Reform in the 1990s, was to write several years later, "These reform studies and recommendations had become something of an industry, and the fact that actual reforms had thus far been minimal was not for the lack of ideas but for lack of political will and a sufficient degree of consensus among member governments (Strong 2000: 289).

The exception proved the rule. Most of the attention from the 1980s to the present has been focused on administrative and financial adaptations in the UN rather than structural reform. The Group of 18 and Davidson reports in 1986 on the functioning of the UN did lead to a cut in top-level staff, simplifications to cumbersome procedures, zero budget growth from then to the present, and a form of budget "veto" based on "consensus" decision-making . But even these limited changes required the full and persistent weight of American diplomacy, a consensus with other major states, and the American non-payment of assessments. It is clear that reform is highly dependent on a supportive political context. Reform success comes from a convergence of interests among countries centrally involved in an issue (UNA-USA: 33). It also requires a political center through which broad support can be mobilized (Lyons: 57).

But, some authors go much further. Knight et al take a "straddling position" on the modernization of multilateralism. In a post-modern, transitional period, they believe case studies of multilateral action can still provide experience from which the United Nations can learn to be more effective and relevant. But a polycentric, more integrated system now requires a "neo-idealism or idealpolitik" that is "cosmopolitan and democratic, humane global leadership in the pursuit of world interests" (2005: 246). International organizations must be re-thought and reformed accordingly.

More recently, there has been another form of change dubbed A New Diplomacy (Cooper et al 2002). Frustrated by the hierarchical state system, closed agenda setting by the great powers, and the stagnant institutional structure, aggressive International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) in alliance with "like-minded" middle powers have spear-headed change in the international system. This has included the Ottawa Treaty to ban anti-personnel mines, the campaign for the International Criminal Court and the "Responsibility to Protect" resolution in the General Assembly. These latter two could be the harbingers of fundamental transformations in the UN and international politics. They depended on diplomatic skills and the focused concentration of resources in specific policy areas by a combination of strong individuals, activist INGOs and social movements, committed middle powers, and often the international organizations themselves. It is not necessary to wait for a crisis or for the great powers to strive for international reform.

From the above, admittedly partial, survey of studies on UN reform we should retain a number of lessons. In the era of global governance we need effective international organizations that are capable of dealing with global challenges ranging from global warming to pandemics to terrorism, civil wars and failed states. It takes enormous efforts to reform the UN. Few attempts succeed. Ideas are not enough. We have to focus on how to bring about change. We have found it takes great diplomatic leadership, a convergence of interests, and a power centre capable of mobilizing support. The political context, while unpredictable, is all important and must be managed. But we have also seen that there are alternative path- ways to reform that include not only government but civil society and leading individuals. As Henry Kissinger has written about our époque,
"The challenge is to build a viable international order without the impetus of having survived catastrophe (International Herald Tribune, 14-4-06).

Edward Luck, Director of the Centre on International Organization at Columbia University, is one author who has dealt with the "how" of UN reform (Luck 2003, 2005). Surveying the history of reform campaigns, Luck suggests a number of principles: the precedent-bound nature of the UN limits change; political convergence proceeds institutional change; starting with the Security Council is a sure-fire formula to exacerbate tensions rather than promote convergence; and reform is a process best achieved by de-linking controversial items and not insisting on complete packages (2005: 408-412). These wise principles lead to a "glacier-like" view of "modest and sensible renovations" (p. 411). Unfortunately, this state-centric view of change in international organizations fails to deal with the alternative models of reform that have worked in the past and present – and the fact the glaciers are melting too fast to ignore the urgent need for more effective institutions.

Simon Maxwell, director of the Overseas Development Institute of London has also written that, "The key question on UN reform has always been not "why" or "what" but "how" (Maxwell 2005: 415). Based on multidisciplinary research on the promotion of cooperation, he has a number of proposals for international institutional reform. Among them are: Use a core group to build trust and a shared vision. Cooperation is a matter of self-interest and ensues when actors have something to gain and when defection entails significant costs. As well as positive incentives, cooperation requires an enabling social environment in a "mutually reinforcing mix of calculus and culture". Sometimes you need packages for tradeoffs. It helps to establish institutions that will manage these interactions, one with the right rules, spaces and procedures. (2005: 416-20).

This paper elaborates on how one might bring about UN reform. In brief, I want to show that bringing the UN up-to-date is necessary to deal with the anarchy of globalization. It shows how, both in the past and the present, leading international associations and individuals, now often called 'civil society', using their knowledge base and their organizational networks, have often lead the fight for international organizations. Civil society may be the only force that can provide the momentum, both at the national and also the international levels, that is required to modernize an organization that is 50 years behind the times. The paper concludes by proposing a strategy for a campaign coalition to spearhead the reform of the UN.

The question of UN reform would appear to be straight forward, but it has a number of ancillary aspects. To focus this paper, I will ask five questions: What has changed in the world since 1945 that requires corresponding change in the UN? Why bother with the UN – is it not irrelevant? In a transitional period of complex turbulence is rational reform not rather unworkable? Given the many failed attempts at UN reform who might carry it through? If the proposal of how to reform falls on the shoulders of civil society, is it not too fragmented. This presentation is organized around a series of five propositions responding to these questions

In terminating this introduction, let me just say for clarity that when I speak of "adaptation", it is when an institution changes its policies or organization on an ad hoc basis simply to respond to the demands of its evolving context. "Reform", on the other hand, is a stronger process of purposeful, managed change involving conscious, deliberate, and collaborative efforts to improve the operations of an organization. An even more fundamental change is called "transformation" that modifies the ends, purposes and goals of organizations and their basic principles so as to radically alter their structures and functions (Knight 2005: 28-36). While often speaking of "reforms" I am, in fact, aiming at the basic "transformation" of the UN.

Proposition 1: Globalization has conspired with world politics to establish a global situation and global problems that did not exist when the UN Charter was written in 1945.

First, there are the actual cases of inhumanity in the internal wars that are a blasphemy to the human spirit. We all know them by heart: genocides in Rwanda and Darfur, the killing fields of Cambodia and the civil wars Yugoslavia and what was the garden of Sri Lanka, continuing so-called "reconstruction" in Afghanistan and Haiti, on-going oppression in Burma and Somalia, the barbarous civil conflict in Iraq. The list seems endless. In recent years, some of the worst civil wars in history have devastated populations with genocide, rape, torture, and mutilation–to say nothing of the use of child soldiers. They are a blot on the soul of humanity. Everywhere, thinking people ask themselves when we humans will create a world regime that will put an end to this butchery.

Second, it's unfortunate, but these unspeakable horrors are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing the global problems that face mankind. The globe is spinning out of control and no one seems to be able to do anything about it. We hear about it in the media every day. The gap between rich and poor is expanding. While the world gained 111 new billionaires in 2003 alone (IHT 1-03-04), one billion individuals are still trying to live on less than a dollar a day. Despite the end of the Cold War and the supposed "peace dividend," by 2006 the world's governments were still spending in the realm one trillion dollars U.S. annually on their war machines while they invest less than ten percent as much on economic development. New pandemics threaten us. Global warming, climate change and pollution put the whole planet at risk. Criminal gangs—international mafias—run the drug trade and launder money across borders. Single-hulled tankers belonging to numbered shipping companies pollute the seas and shores.

And the list goes on. Rogue corporations, rebels, terrorists, pirates and gangs act with impunity against the common good. Some governments kill more of their citizens than wars do. Terrorism expands as American authorities prepare for possible nuclear bombs planted by new waves of terrorists at the same time as the U. S. threatens to use nuclear weapons in pre-emptive first strikes. Some huge companies pay little in taxes, falsify their books, steal their employees' pensions and exploit the environment. International financial institutions are mesmerized by the bottom line as though the market and profits were the only value. In many countries, women are still treated as second-class humans. This avalanche of global threats and problems are challenges which international organizations are simply not equipped to handle.

Recently newspapers headlined a new European Union report claiming that Europe will be inundated by migrants from neighbouring countries in the East and Africa by 2020 due to climate change that puts stress on food and water supplies , provokes natural disasters and undermines political stability in poorer countries.

The report points out that no parts of the world will be able to insulate themselves from the impacts of these changes. So serious are the threats that the multilateral system of global governance could be at risk if it does not react in time, the document claims. Migratory pressures, political instability and conflict could increase on Europe's borders.

The report was prepared for submission to the European heads of government meeting on March 13, 2008 by Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief. It points to rising sea levels, a reduction in arable land, droughts, flooding, water shortages, and diminishing food and fish stocks that will destabilize poor nations (International Herald Tribune 8-3-08).

Third, there is one more, even more profound level of threat to humanity. A number of thoughtful books have observed similarities between historical trends in collapsed civilizations and current trends in our modern world. Ronald Wright's A Short History of Progress provides an analysis of half a dozen collapsed civilizations ranging from the Sumerians to the Mayans. By analogy he shows how our current abuse of nature and our unconcerned elites are potentially condemning today's global civilization. With the growth in technology, production and pollution, change is running out of control. The world population has multiplied by four in the last century. Now, 820 million people in developing countries lack enough food
(World Food Program, 10-3-08) Jingoistic nation-states still engage in arms races and sales. Social exploitation, urban slums, contamination of air and water, and cultural imperialism are still with us. One cannot fail to observe "the massive onslaught of 'progress,' whether it is the loss of farms to suburbs, jungles to cattle ranches, rivers to dams, mangroves to shrimp farms, mountains to cement quarries, or coral reefs to condominiums" (Wright 2005: 124). We are a pray to increasing natural disasters, extinct species, and loss of forests and fisheries.

What does the analogy with past civilizations tell us about the need to reform international institutions? First, it shows us that humans have a tendency to over-exploit their natural and social environment until they drive it to collapse. There are many indications we are nearing the carrying capacity of our globe. And only global institutions will be able to cope with the problem. Second, no one—rich or poor, old or young, weak or powerful—is spared by generalized destruction. Third, this is not a benign problem. Like climate change, it is driven by human actions. Tax-cutting and deregulation have hobbled government's capacity to deal with collective problems. Messianic evangelism and market extremism have united to impede policies on the environment. The levers of power have been transferred from elected governments to unelected corporations. The backlash against the redistribution of wealth adds to the gap between rich and poor. This wanton lack political capacity and political will plus observable accelerations in growth, population and pollution should reinforce our resolve for global reform.

I apologize for this rant about the misdemeanours of the world, but it is necessary to set the stage for explaining the current necessity for reforming international institutions. We should notice first of all that all the challenges I have just mentioned are new. That is, they were not present in 1945 when the UN Charter was being written and therefore our international organizations were not created to deal with them. For instance, the aim of the UN was to stop wars between states and it has done a pretty good job of it. But it was not mandated to stop internal civil wars of which there are now about 30 at any given time. The international system has changed in everyway and international institutions must catch up to these changes. They must be modernized.

Second, we must recognize that today's challenges are global in nature yet authority systems are still founded on national sovereignty. What used to be national problems are now international and global problems. Sovereignty is weaker and power is shifting so there are international voids of authority. There is a lack of a supra-national authority with the capacity to enforce its writ. Sovereignty is also complicated by the arrival of new international actors that reduce the effectiveness of governments. As regards security it has been multiplied by three. No longer do we just talk of sovereign international interests but also of human security from fear and hunger and also global security for the protection of humanity – each calling for different levels of institutional intervention. The multilateral system is going through a period of transition characterized by complex turbulence and ambiguity and shot through with institutional gaps and asymmetries that demand reconstitution.

Third, the attitudes of member states and the power relations between them have also changed greatly in the past 60 years. Of most significance for us is the change from a spirit of collective well being in our governments to a narrow selfishness of national interest. Government missions at the UN in New York are instructed to look after national priorities first. There has been a change of generations. The politicians of today seem to have little recall of the memories of economic and military devastation faced by the leaders of World War 11. We thus have all the more reason to remind them of the potential calamity facing the world and of our need for collective, multilateral action.

Finally, one might say, the world has faced pretty awful problems in the past, so what's new? What's new is that some of these problems could destroy humanity. We are mutually vulnerable to all of them. Because of global interdependence, complexity and diversity in a turbulent world, the Secretary-General's High Level Panel demonstrated that most of the problems are interrelated. For instance, underdevelopment can be a cause of insecurity. No country is capable of dealing with these problems or protecting itself. We require effective global governance. So can we do anything about it? I think we can.

As Marina Ponti, Deputy Director of the UN Millennium Campaign said in an interview entitled "International Battles Need to be Fought Nationally", "As long as we jump from conflict to conflict without asking the very boring long-term questions – the questions that politicians in many cases don't ask, because they may not still be in power in the long-term – then we have very little scope for success. With just a short-term view, whatever solution we may find would be a short-term solution. Of course, we have to respond to what is happening in the world, but at the same time we need to know and address those long time questions and challenges that are not under the spotlight." (Other News – Robert Savio,,

Proposition 2: Solutions to global problems must be collective and multilateral in scope and centralized around, but not exclusive to, one global authority. The UN has been a better model than most of us give it credit for.

Let us start by seeing what the UN has accomplished. The former Deputy Secretary –General, Louise Fréchette, gave a vibrant description of some examples of the institutions capacity to adapt. As an example, peacekeeping was added to the UN's mandate in the 1960s. There were 13 operations in the next thirty years and twice that number in the past 15 years. In 2006 the UN had 70,000 men deployed under its flag, more than any country except the United States. The mandate has been expanded to include peacebuilding with police services, disarming militias, facilitating political transition, managing the courts and elections, protecting humanitarian workers and helping to build new institutions. Now there is even a new Peacebuilding Commission within the UN. Experimentation with three ad hoc criminal courts led to the eventual creation of the international criminal court. Human rights have become evermore central in the UN's work with the creation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and now a new Human Rights Council.

It was the UN that put the structures in place for the fight against terrorism and that provided both the legitimacy for the campaign in Afghanistan but also organized the humanitarian efforts and the creation of a new government and elections. After their blunder in Iraq, it only took Bush and Blair six months to come back to the UN asking for help. The UN's humanitarian agencies help millions of people a year; it leads the fight against communicable diseases; its Millennium Goals mobilize the world against poverty; and now it has a new fund to support democracies (UN/DSG/SM/278).

In a new history of the "Power of UN Ideas", we learn that the UN played a leading role in promoting "global" goals, human rights, sustainability, gender equality, human development, human security, global governance and civil society (Jolly et al. 2005). These are refreshing reminders after the attacks on UN "bureaucracy", "corruption" and supposed "irrelevance".

In The Parliament of Man, Paul Kennedy shows how, in a myriad of ways, the UN has become a model of our global requirements, "aside from the fact we have made terrible mistakes". With the UN we have established:

  • A central place to assemble, raise a common budget and empower international actions;
  • A world secretariat to coordinate needs and request;
  • A security body that can be summoned day or night;
  • An international early-warning system;
  • Powerful international financial institutions;
  • Myriad agencies to help the poor and medium income economies;
  • Agencies to respond to the needs of women and children;
  • An international human rights regime;
  • An international monitor of the environment (2006: 286-7)

So when it comes to reforming the United Nations, we should be guided by the old saw, "let's not throw the baby out with the bath water".

This is not to either praise or to bury the United Nations. It is simply to demonstrate what even the present UN teaches us about the need for a paramount authority in the world. The UN gets its legitimacy from being a universal organization uniting all the players in an open, permanent forum for international diplomacy where crucial issues can be brought before the world. This single institution must also strive to balance security, development and rights. In our reform efforts towards the transformation of the UN we must remember legitimacy, continuing victories and governmental and public buy in. Let us also be warned that those who continually denigrate the UN or are just apathetic towards it without giving adequate recognition to its achievements are falling into the trap of giving additional ammunition to those whose agenda it is to destroy multilateralism and to promote anarchy or hegemony.

Finally, let us recall that recent events in Iraq and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan serve to remind us that no one state, however powerful it might be, or even a "coalition of the willing" has the global knowledge, the diplomatic dexterity, or the trust and confidence of local populations and different cultural communities that is required to intervene in situations of rampant dictatorships, internecine warfare or aid and development. In addition, single governments or groups of governments are blinded by their biases and hobbled by their own interests which tend to make them suspect in the eyes of those they are trying to "help". Certainly these two examples demonstrate the very limited value of war fighting as a tool of intervention in a globalized world.

Proposition 3: To our great surprise, globalization and world politics not only cause headaches but also open up opportunities for entrepreneurial activity to reform the UN and reshape the world.

For many, it is rather surprising to come across a body of research on globalization which concludes that the present world situation is not hopeless. On the contrary, it presents new opportunities for ordinary citizens to band together to take action for global reform. There are four components to this thinking.

The world is awash with new actors that have a real influence on international politics. It is no longer just a game between states. In fact, it is no longer just about politics – but equally or even as much about business and finance, religion, ideology, poverty, health, water, the environment and even culture. Now there are not only national and sub-national governments but also transnational, regional, and intergovernmental organizations to say nothing of non-governmental organizations (INGOS and NGOs) like Greenpeace and Amnesty International and also, of course, corporations, unions, churches and academics. There are also the inter-state groupings of national authorities like judges and bureaucrats and central bankers. And this is without even mentioning terrorists like Al Qaida or international crime syndicates or warlords. According to Rosenau we could even include elites and public opinion as additional players (2002: 81). Each of these is an influence in global politics.

Then there is the phenomenon of global interdependence. We can't get away from each other and we can't ignore each other. I don't mean integration. The world is not all that integrated. But we are interdependent and mutually vulnerable as in the SARs virus, or the more than 100 financial crises of the last two decades, or the worldwide fallout from 9-11 or with regard to the trillions of dollars of speculative international finance floating around the world waiting to descend on unsuspecting markets at the flick of a computer? The world is indeed inter-connected and we can have an influence on each other – especially those who are able to mobilize networks and put modern communications to work for them.

Then there is the rebalancing of power. First there was the "diffusion of power" as the state attempted to adjust to the pressures of globalization so "the territorial boundaries of states no longer coincide with the extent or limits of political authority over economy and society (Strange 1996: ix). While states remain very powerful, their power now is much more relative to that of corporations and civil society. Much more visibly, in a few short years we have gone from a two super-power Cold War, to the world hegemony of the United States hyper-power, to a budding multi-polar world including China, India, Japan and Europe with a whole bunch of other players moving in on the sidelines. As we have noted, war is no longer a very dependable instrument of power. But resources and capital and reserves and population and even public opinion are moving on to the stage. In other words, no one, not even the United States or China can act with impunity without worrying about competitors and allies. A fascinating article on China in the 2008 edition of the L'État du monde explains how China not only influences the global markets and politics but is hemmed in by them. Power in the global society is diffused, diverse and available.

And then there is the multitude of new spaces for international action. International relations are now complex, multi-level, multi-regional locales for negotiation, diplomacy and power flexing. There are the G-7 and G-8 and G-20 and G-77 but beside them there are the international financial institutions and the OECD and NATO and the Arab League. And each time one of these tries to act the international media immediately run to the spokespersons of the powerful international associations like Green Peace or Amnesty or the Crisis Group asking them to set the situation straight with information or commentary or an exposé. Everywhere individuals and organizations are struggling to be key players to shape the world structures and institutions in their favour (Cerny 2006).

The world of globalization, despite all its opponents and critics, actually opens up opportunities for pluralist groups and entrepreneurial leaders to have greater influence on global governance and to manipulate the development of structures and institutions. Existing hierarchies are being challenged by new coalitions of transnationally linked interest and value groups. Little can be achieved without the nation-state but the state itself can do less. Control of the state no longer means control of policy outcomes. The globalizing world with trends of internationalization, transnationalization, trans-local networks and uneven pluralisation within webs of global governance offers unprecedented opportunities to shape change. "The development of multi-nodal politics is both an existing reality and a pluralist project in the making" (Cerny 2006: 108). The key element would be the existence of groups and leaders from civil society who are able and willing to act in a creative entrepreneurial fashion.

To use a metaphor, we might imagine the world as a free-for-all similar in nature to our pioneer, frontier societies where there was a degree of pluralism, a sense of openness and competition, in which the shape of the future society could be set by those with vision, competence, knowledge, foresight, strength and entrepreneurship. It is in this sense that the world of competing power bases is open to those with the will to act. As Cerny claims, "Globalization is increasingly what actors make of it" (2006: 110).

Each of these authors represents whole schools of research on "globalization and the changing logic of collective action" (Cerny 1995). It is quite possible that this complex new pluralistic, multi-polar, multi-level turbulent world will still be dominated by traditional economic and political powers. But it also offers an environment in which individuals and groups can combine to create institutions that care about humane, global security.

Proposition 4: Who is most likely to lead and to succeed in the transformation of the United Nations? When all the other possibilities have disqualified themselves, then it is Civil Society, meaning in a practical sense national and international associations (NGOs and INGOs), that are the most likely contenders.

If we ask ourselves who might lead the struggle for the transformation of the United Nations the list rapidly becomes very short as various potential players put themselves out of the running. Normally we would assume it would be the governments of the member states of the UN. They had a chance in September 2005 when the largest number of world leaders, 162 of them, came together in New York for the 60thAnniversary of the UN and to consider the carefully laid plans of the Secretary-General for reforming the World Organization. Their mountain of rhetoric came forth with a molehill of action. There was potential for reform but no definitive action. The new Human Rights Council is making a mockery of itself. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has resigned in frustration. The new Peacebuilding Commission cannot take preventative action. The General Assembly resolution on the Responsibility to Protect has no teeth because it has no criteria for Security Council intervention.

The next likely the candidate would be the Organization itself led by the Secretary-General. Heaven knows, Kofi Annan tried hard enough. His first day in office, he named Maurice Strong as the head of reform and together they wrought the largest administrative reform in the history of the UN. But, after ten years, Annan was not able to get the members to modify the Organization's structures. In part it was because the Secretary-General is a public servant and does not have the clout or the flexibility of a political leader to mobilize countries and civil society. It part it was because he was bush-whacked over the Iraq oil-for-food deal where, once again, the UN was used as a scapegoat by its member states.

Who else can we imagine leading the charge? Business traditionally reacts to politics. Corporations are in business for profits, rarely for the public good. Academics are interested and implicated but they act as individualists and their associations are not mandated for political action. And the global elites fly high above the toiling masses in their private jets and their limousines and live apart in their gated communities thus having little contact with ordinary people or their global concerns. As Ann Florini of the Brookings Institute put it in her book on The Coming Democracy, "With the private sector ever more powerful and the wealthy ever more isolated from the rest of society, governments find themselves unable to compel those with money to help pay for such basic public needs as defence and police functions, economic infrastructure, environmental protection or a social safety net (Florini 2003: 3).

Civil society, on the other hand, and by this I mean mainly the organized associational life at the national and international level, does have the mandate, the knowledge, the leadership, the networks and the disinterested motivation to operate in the public good (see, for example, Edwards 2004, Keane 2003, Kaldor 2003, Keck & Sikkink 1998 , Khagram , Tarrow 2005. They are a large force. Researchers tell us there are now more than 50,000 international non-governmental organizations (Keane: 5). And they are ambidextrous: they have the extremely important capacity to act at both the national and international levels. They are in business to influence national governments and they have the largest resources of knowledge and expertise on the international scene. Even the media and the UN turns to them.

NGOs are already a significant policy-making influence. The reasons for their rise to prominence include a new political "space" at the end of the Cold War, new issues such as human rights and the environment, and their comparative advantages such as experience, expertise, credibility, modern communications competence, and the quality of their personnel. "They are partners in policy formulation, information dissemination, standard-setting advocacy, monitoring and implementation" (Thakur 2002: 277).

But all this would be peripheral if we could not point to the fact that civil society also has demonstrated that it can effect chage. Many of us think that because governments took the initiative after two world wars to form the League and the UN that this is the way things get done. This is not completely true. As we have seen, a growing body of historical research confirms that during the 19th century it was individuals, social movements and associations which took the lead in promoting the evolution of international organizations. And in our own times, the only institutional reform in the UN system since its founding, the creation of the International Criminal Court, was lead by INGOs. The good news is we do not need to wait for a calamity or for great powers to lead the way to UN reform.

Proposition 5: To undertake the transformation of the UN, Civil Society must first transform itself. It must give itself the organizational structures and motivations to carry out this historical enterprise to be led by a campaign coalition of International Non-Governmental Organizations backed up by a worldwide network of national NGO coalitions.

The sizeable literature on civil society and its competence in international advocacy also acknowledges its weaknesses. It will be necessary to overcome its deficits and press its advantages. A number of analysts have noted how INGOs tend to be dispersed, fragmented, Northern, idiosyncratic and not always very transparent and democratic. In particular, associations promoting institutional reform tend to be relatively small and centered on small groups of individuals. They lack centralized staff and budgets and operational support from the largest players. So far, they have not had widespread impact.

Our goal is to give INGOs clout in the field of UN reform. To do this my major proposal is that all interested INGOs and NGOs should invite their members who have a special fascination for the subject to create "institutional reform" sections. These sections will be allocated their own budgets. Both the sections and the budgets would come together in a stand-alone "Campaign Coalition for UN Reform". "Acting collectively requires activists to marshal resources, become aware of and seize opportunities, frame their demands in ways that enable them to join with others, and identify common targets (Tarrow 2005: 8). Campaign coalitions, Tarrow says, are collaborative, means-oriented groupings that permit distinct organizational entities to pool resources in order to effect change. They gain their strength by combining a narrow focal point and a high level of structured, long-term involvement. With a sufficiently wide base, the Coalition will be able to have the expertise and the autonomous finances to carry out a highly visible, continuing campaign for institutional transformation. It would develop its own secretariat, assembly and council to be fully representative and responsible to its members.

The "Campaign Coalition for UN Reform" would continuously seek to broaden its base and its impact. It would initiate a broad-based discourse on the principles, values and norms of a 21st century, global organization. It would pursue on-going victories in areas such as "the Responsibility to Protect" which is at the core of the transformation of sovereignty; and also a program of weighted voting in the Assembly, which is fundamental to getting greater buy-in from members and giving the Assembly wider decision-making powers. And the Coalition would work with others to improve the world conditions that form the context in which reform would be undertaken. I am thinking particularly of rebalancing international power, developing a greater sense of world community, reengaging the Americans in multilateralism, and enhancing the image of international organizations.

Most of all, the "Campaign Coalition for UN Reform" can help improve democracy in all countries. This is a first step toward creating the conditions for enhanced, international, institutional democratization. Democracy must be the core value and the goal underwriting the mobilization for institutional reform.

Individual citizens, acting together, can have a much greater impact than many believe on affecting change in today's volatile and indeterminate international system. Intense domestic and international struggles over meanings and policy are best explained by human agency (Keck & Sikkink 1998: 199-217). The motors of profound change, they claim, are not just states but individuals and groups in internally differentiated societies who determine the preferences of states, which in turn determine final outcomes. Advocacy networks constitute new actors who transform understandings and interests through persuasion, socialization and pressure but also through a process of mutually transforming negotiation. Political learning takes place in INGOs and civil society. Individuals have more potential than they like to think. Even so, as a prudent author I am not saying a transformative campaign coalition will come about. I'm just saying that a movement to reform the UN in time for its 70th anniversary in 2015 could become a reality if the leaders of pertinent INGOs decided it should. March 2008


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