5 problems facing UN as it nears 70th anniversary

AP News
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Posted: Dec 01, 2014 1:17 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The world has changed dramatically since the United Nations was established after World War II but the organization has not adapted to reflect the 21st century.

While the U.N. has had its share of successes, its aging structure has struggled with new threats like Ebola and terrorist groups that control large areas of its member countries. U.N. members have been discussing change for decades, but agreement has proven impossible because of competing interests.

As it approaches its 70th anniversary next year, here are five problems facing the United Nations:

OUTDATED POWER STRUCTURE

The same five countries — the victors of WWII — have been the power players since 1945: the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. They are the only permanent members of the powerful, 15-seat Security Council. Each has veto power, which has led to near-paralysis at the council on some major crises like Syria and Ukraine.

Critics say the council simply doesn't represent the world today. At its inception, the U.N. had 51 member states. It now has 193, many of them clamoring for more clout. All countries are represented in the General Assembly, but that body can only pass non-binding resolutions.

Often mentioned as countries deserving of permanent Security Council seats are Germany, Japan, India, South Africa, Nigeria, and Brazil. But there are no signs the big five intend to give up any power or share it with more countries.

UNWIELDY ORGANIZATION

The U.N. has become a sprawling system with 15 autonomous agencies, 11 semi-autonomous funds and programs, and numerous other bodies. There is no central entity to oversee them all. The secretary-general, currently Ban Ki-moon, can try to coordinate their actions but he has no authority over many of them.

The cumbersome structure was recently blamed for the World Health Organization's delay in recognizing the Ebola epidemic. The WHO's country directors in Africa report to the Africa regional director, not WHO headquarters in Geneva. And the WHO's director in Geneva does not report to the secretary-general in New York.

INCREASING DEMANDS

The U.N. is almost constantly asking its member states to contribute troops for its far-flung peacekeeping mission, currently numbering 16. The number of peacekeepers has risen to a record 130,000 — compared to 11,000 at the end of the Cold War — but the system is under severe strain. More than 100 peacekeepers have died this year and dozens have been taken captive.

The world's refugee population has soared amid a growing list of humanitarian crises. The U.N. refugee agency is trying to help over 51 million people forced from their homes and displaced inside or outside their country, the highest figure since the U.N. began collecting that data in the early 1950s. The U.N. humanitarian office is tackling a record of four top-level emergencies — in Africa and the Mideast — as well as Ebola.

UNRELIABLE FUNDING

Raising money is a constant problem with so many crises vying for the world's attention. Many U.N. agencies and humanitarian operations are funded by voluntary contributions, and appeals aren't getting enough donations. On Monday, the World Food Program suspended a food voucher program serving more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees after many donors failed to meet their commitments.

All 193 member states contribute to the U.N.'s regular budget and a separate peacekeeping budget, but some countries are chronically behind on their payments. In early November, members owed about $3.5 billion for regular operations and peacekeeping.

POLITICAL HORSE-TRADING

There is widespread behind-the-scenes jockeying for top jobs in the U.N. Secretariat and U.N. agencies, not to mention seats on key bodies like the Human Rights Council and the Security Council. Every country belongs to a regional group that lobbies to ensure it is well represented. There is often criticism that those who get the seats are not the best qualified, such as dictatorships elected to the rights council.