The United Nations can claim many achievements over the 70 years of its existence. In preventing another World War, it has done what the League of Nations singularly failed to do. It can legitimately take credit, however, for much more--for upholding human rights, promoting the rule of law, providing international dispute settlement mechanisms, protecting the environment, eradicating diseases, and bettering the living conditions of millions of people around the world. Just in the last five months it has shown its enormous convening power and consensus-building capacity--in New York last September when the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was agreed, and in Paris in December 2015 when the Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted.
But there are many problems the United Nations has not managed to resolve, and it can hardly sit on its laurels. It must address many new challenges and much unfinished business. A few are enumerated below.
The graph of conflict across the globe, which had been in significant decline at the turn of the millennium, has turned the wrong way again. As Jean-Marie Guehenno pointed out recently in his article in Foreign Policy, "for twenty years after the end of the Cold War, deadly conflict was in decline. Fewer wars were killing fewer people the world over. Five years ago, however, that positive trend went into reverse, and each year since has seen more conflict, more victims, and more people displaced. 2016 is unlikely to bring an improvement from the woes of 2015: it is war--not peace-that has momentum." (1)
East-West rivalry is back, both direct and by proxy. Ukraine and Syria both offer testimony of this. Who would have predicted that NATO would seek to reinvent itself at the 2014 Wales Summit? Likewise, how many would have foreseen that the G-8 would revert to the G-7?
The seemingly inexorable advance of democracy appears to have stalled and is even being reversed in some places. There are more and more examples of elections not being held on level playing fields, of powerful executives seeking to control the legislature and/or the judiciary, and of leaders who pay no heed to term limits.
Violent extremism is showing its most ugly face and the mix of extremist ideology and politics is more toxic than ever before. The combination of rising extremism, radicalization of young people and inward migration is testing societies the world over and strengthening the hands of right wing political parties and those that seek to erect new barriers.
According to the World Bank, 12.7 per cent of the world's population still lives at or below US $1.90 a day. The World Food Programme estimates that some...