The UN Should Stick to What it Does Well: Development

The United Nations is best setup to undertake matters related to development support. The reality we have witnessed over the past half century is that the UN has grown in the areas in which it has legitimacy. This is apparent in the diversity of organizations where the world actually desires its services.

This is why UN organizations that work and invest in the development nexus and that are primarily funded by public funds have grown so remarkably and deservedly over the past 50 years.

Analyze the historical growth of the UN Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in development, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the humanitarian sector. Or the strong legitimacy of specialized agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and how they have remained in vogue over the years, their services demanded everywhere.

They remain relevant in the 21st century.

These organizations have been accepted by the world and embraced because of their usefulness in people's lives. They must undertake changes so that they are equipped to help countries meet complex and difficult challenges, but people and governments take an interest in these organizations as they work effectively for the public good.

Even new specialized agencies like IRENA -- the international organization that deals with renewable energy -- are growing, spreading wings rapidly and acquiring legitimacy for what they do, because countries need and demand their knowledge and services. IRENA, as like the organizations in the development nexus, reflects the needs of a 21st century world grappling with major upheavals, such as those caused by climate change.

I would go as far as to say that the fact that UNDP has not grown as rapidly over the last 15 years, and UNAIDS over the past three, is precisely because the world has witnessed less demand for their services as countries around the globe have progressed and are becoming better at meeting their own development needs and pursuing their ambitions.

This is an indication of success not failure. After all, development agencies are supposed to work themselves out of business, or at the very least adapt to match evolving demand.

The Universal Postal Union (UPU) is a case in point. The UPU helped to create the international architecture for postal services. It was once an important and central agency. Regular mail was everything in a post-Victorian world and it helped to make the 19th and 20th centuries the high watermark of nation states. Not anymore. The UPU is now in a deep decline that reflects the state of postal services in a world where 'snail mail' has been overtaken by the transformative power of the internet and social media.

Now contrast this dynamic history and current situation in the development and humanitarian nexus to that of the UN peace and security architecture.

In light of the demand for peace and security in the world, one would have expected that great, legitimate and popular arrangements would have evolved and arisen around these two important areas of global need. Nothing like that has happened.

Instead, UN's three bodies tasked with the maintenance of global peace and security - the UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council, and the UN Peacebuilding Commission - have remained anemic, mysterious to many, and ineffectual. The most famous of the three, the UN Security Council, is lacking in legitimacy and has struggled woefully over the past few years. Its glory days immediately after the Second World War and arguably through the early 1960s, are long gone and forgotten.

The UN peace and security operations first faced their legitimacy crisis in the face of the Cold War. These operations have never overcome the contradictions presented by the "first among lesser equals" role of the P5 powers in the Security Council. Over time, not only that these five powers consolidated their hold on the UN architecture for peace and security, but they were joined in semi-permanent roles by other emerging powers whose claims to prominence was driven not by an exemplary drive for human rights, or of social and economic equality, but rather by regional military might and dominance.

Thus, by the dawn of the 21st century, a sad irony has taken hold where the biggest claimants to the Security Council and its related institutions and operations in the peace and security are also the largest arms manufacturers and merchants in the world, and some of the most pernicious purveyors of war in modern history.

This ironic circumstance and its blatant contradictions have delegitimized the entire UN peace and security architecture. Today, the Security Council appears to be incapable of resolving any war, large or small, and the Peacebuilding Commission can claim no transformative role in building peace anywhere. They play a marginal role at best. Peace and security arises, where it does, in spite of these bodies and not because of them. The peacekeeping operations of the Security Council are a sham, a cover for an expensive pretense to intervention, arms cartels and resources carpetbaggers.

The Security Council and the entire peace and security architecture will never grow in influence. Neither will it be effective and legitimate in the eyes of the world as long as this fundamental contradiction continues to prevail.

The Peacebuilding Commission will itself never come out of the dark shadow of the Security Council until and unless it embraces the primacy of politics and rejects solutions for peace building premised on military and securitized solutions. The same countries that create gridlock and ineffectiveness in the Security Council do the same in the Peacebuilding Commission.

Sadly and tragically, the same problem also goes to the heart of the problem that faces the Human Rights Council, although here the UN General Assembly has a role to play too. In the end, the legitimacy and viability of the Human Rights Council as a purposeful agent for the promotion of human rights in the world will also continue to fade. As long as some of the most heinous human rights abusing states continue to have pride of place and presence in this Council, we can never expect neither human rights to flourish nor the Council to grow in influence and legitimacy.

After eight years as Ambassador to the UN, I see little genuine appetite for reform of the Security Council. Neither, for similar reasons, of the Human Rights Council. The Peacebuilding Commission has shown a willingness to change. Its crafting of progressive resolutions this year to expand its mandate and deepen its work, which were subsequently adopted by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, shows what can be achieved with a little determination and grit.

This brings me back to where I began. The UN is at its best doing development. Helping nations come together to promote prosperity, fight poverty, advance the cause of women and girls, build credible states, improve governance, while saving lives and reaching out to those left behind. It is also the only global institution that has the legitimacy to bring the world together to protect the planet and its biodiversity from the worst consequences of human activity and climate change.

The entire world agreed on a unified set of goals for sustainable development (the Sustainable Development Goals) in 2014, and on a universal agenda in 2015 (the Post 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development) to help attain those goals. This is a remarkable proof that UN's work in the development field is universally accepted, legitimate and celebrated.

We should all come together to help the Organization do even more of this work.