The UN

SummaryAcknowledgementIntroductionWhy Should We Help?The BenefitsThe Venture ItselfHow to Avoid the Marie Antoinette SyndromeThe Action PlanConclusionSelected Bibliography


The UN is a remarkable organization and certainly deserves our support as the only international organization even marginally capable of keeping a semblance of world peace between countries (Dyer, 2004, p. 200). It is also excellent at emergency response during natural and man-made disasters (on the ground, in-country, where its work is most evident and truly appreciated) (Lewis, 2005, p. xi).

But it is a Byzantine monolith mired in red tape and seems incapable at times of taking action. For a view of UN operations, the extraordinary book, Race against Time by Stephen Lewis, is highly recommended. Lewis, shown below in Figure 9, is the Canadian politician and diplomat who was the UN special envoy for AIDS in Africa until December 2006.


Figure 9: Stephen Lewis

(Stephen Lewis, 2006)

This photograph shows Lewis speaking at the University of Alberta on January 30, 2006. His book is a depressing but eye-opening account of the tortured processes and resulting paralysis at the UN.

As recounted by Lewis, the UN has, over the last twenty years, created outstanding documents, such as the Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, etc. But while they are stirring and idealistic documents that numerous countries have ratified (made them law), the UN does nothing to enforce them. (Lewis, 2005) Jeffery Sachs concurs: ([T]he United Nations system is much better at articulating goals than actually fulfilling them) (2005, p. 222).

As well, often no specific, measurable goals are delineated, so progress and success are impossible to measure. The UN is mired in in-fighting and battles with other organizations, including the World Bank and the IMF, making it difficult to get things done. (Lewis, 2005) ([W]ilful inertia or outright irresponsibility [is] at work within the UN family) (Lewis, 2005, p. xi).

There will always be internal UN resentments and rivalries that bedevil rational responses (o ye of little minds) [sic], and there are always infinite numbers of people who feel that turf and security are threatened by any novel initiative. (Lewis, 2005, p. 155)

It is almost impossible to get new and innovative programs going in such an environment. But above and beyond the nightmarish entanglements of the UN bureaucracy, the main problem is that the UN doesn’t get funding. Without money, it can do nothing. Over and over again, the governments of the world refuse to fund the UN’s programs. (Lewis, 2005; Sachs, 2005, pp. 337-340) As a result, nothing gets done.


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