The United Nations (UN) is among key international organisations that have been clamouring for change for decades now. The calls for change have been initiated by the need to transform the organisation into a more responsive entity, with up-to-date solutions for the problems faced by its member countries in the 21st century.
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In the past the UN has been at the centre of accusations that it does not meet its core mandate, and this according to analysts featured in this report is termed as the core reason why a former Secretary General challenged member nations to adopt reforms.
While it is apparent that all member countries agree that the UN was and still is in need of reforms, the lack of consensus beyond the initial reform stages has led to a drag on the intended changes.
To date, drastic changes have only been witnessed through the dismantling of the UN commission on Human Rights and its replacement with a better, more responsive Human Rights Council. Attempts to institute changes in the organisation’s Security Council and the General Assembly are either dragging on or partially complete as is the case with reforms in the General Assembly.
The UN has been accused for years on end of being unresponsive to the needs posed by its member countries. In 2005, the then secretary general clearly concerned about the mounting accusation drafted some proposals, which he argued if adopted could change the way the organisation handled challenges within its mandate. Before the proposed changes, the UN was accused of too much talk, without much action (Srulevitch, 2005).
But what exactly is UN’s mandate? Well, the organisation which was founded in 1945 has a responsibility to ensure that peace and stability is maintained among its 191 member countries. The UN is also mandated with fighting disease and poverty, address environmental issues, rebuild countries which have been hurt by natural or man-made causes, protect refuges and stabilise shaky international financial markets (Kresse, 2001).
The main flaws with the United Nations are the lack of support from countries that have both the financial and military capacity to do so. As a result, the organisation watched as Rwanda went to war in 1994. In 1997, despite help foster an agreement between the US and Iraq, the former went ahead and broke the agreement leading to the war in Iraq. According to Kresse (2001), this happened because the UN lacked the ability to punish member countries which violate rules set by the UN.
In 2005, the then UN secretary General Kofi Annan authored a report dubbed, “In Larger Freedom: towards development, security, and Human Rights for all” in which he wrote down the changes that needed to be adopted by the UN if it were to become effective in meeting its mandate internationally.
To Annan, strengthening the UN was among the key changes that member countries needed to institute immediately. Of notable interest, the secretary general admitted that the organisation could not comprehensively challenges and circumstances of the 21st century using outdated techniques and approaches.
If member countries were to agree to Annan’s proposals, the UN’s General Assembly would establish mechanisms that would enable it to speed up deliberation on different issues, streamline the different agendas before it and engage more systemically with the civil society.
The Security Council on the other hand would enjoy more financial and military support from member countries, especially those in the developed world who had the capacity to make such contributions. The report further proposed changes to the Economic & Social Council, that if put in place would enable the council to play a more vibrant role in the development agenda in UN member countries.
Annan also proposed the replacement of UN’s commission on Human Rights with a smaller Human Rights Council. He argued that the former suffered from declining professionalism and credibility issues. In the proposals, the UN secretariat would also undergo changes meant to realign the decision making organ in order to meet current decision-making needs presented by member countries, while strengthening its autonomy and authority.
Assessing the Approach of Change in the U.N.
For organisational change to occur, GOSW (2007), notes that there must be a clamour for the same. This must then be acknowledged by the leaders in the organisation, who need to make decision on how best the change can be attained. The UN seems to have met this specification because after a clamour by member countries about the organisation’s inefficiencies, the secretary General finally yielded in 2003 by championing for change.
Addressing head of governments in 2003, Freiesleben (2008) notes that Annan addressed heads of governments categorically stating that, “I respectfully suggest to you, Excellencies, that in the eyes of your people the difficulty of reaching an agreement does not excuse your failure to do so….If you want the [security] Council’s decisions to command greater respect, particularly in the developing world, you need to address the issue of its composition with greater urgency” (p. 5).
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Under the directive of Annan, the organisation in 2004 appointed a panel that was mandated to analyze and assess the threats in people and suggest how the Security Council could be reformed to meet the identified threats. A year later, the panel came up with a report that suggested 101 changes in the Security Council organ of the UN (Freiesleden, 2008).
Member countries had to choose between two proposed plans, with Model A, recommending letting six more members to have permanent seats in the UN. The six would also be given Veto power in addition to having elected seats which could be held for three-two year terms in elected posts.
Model B on the other hand proposed eight new seats to the Council, which could be renewed in four years, in addition to a one new seat lasting two years. The former was non-renewable. As one would expect, member countries were divided with some preferring Model A, while others favoured Model B.
After long deliberations and voting, Model B carried the day and was the most preferred by most countries. However membership issues dog the reform agenda to date and no compromise on which countries should be in the council remain a question that is yet to be resolved (Freiesleben, 2008).
According to McKinsey Quarterly (2010), successful change requires leaders and the led to be equally engaged in the change process. More to this, the people involved must be convinced that change is necessary for the organisation’s future well-being. In the UN’s member countries agreed that reforming the Security Council was absolutely necessary. However, they lacked consensus on how to go about reforming the same.
This is explained by the endless talks that have dogged the organisation since the official commencement of the reform agenda in 2003 to date. To date, the US, the UK, Russia, France and China are the only five permanent members of the Security Council. Since other countries do not feel sufficiently represented, the legitimacy of the Council is still under question suggesting that the clamour for a more-involving representation will continue.
Changes in the General Assembly
Having established that the change process on the Security Council has stalled, this report looks at the UN general assembly and the changes therein.
First, it’s noteworthy that the reform agenda in the assembly has been ongoing for more than 17 years in a body that is mandated to handle human-rights issues, health crises, environment, education, disarmament, development and terrorism in the international arena (Swart, 2008).
Unlike the Security Council, the General Assembly allows all members countries to contribute to debates brought up in meetings. Some of the changes that Kofi Annan suggested for the Assembly included faster decision-making and adoption of mechanisms that would ensure that the resolutions reached in the General Assembly’s meetings were implemented (Swart, 2008).
Over the years, the GA has been able to streamline and rationalize its agenda. According to Swart (2008), the GA used different elimination methods to shorten its agenda in order to tackle priority areas for the member countries. Initially, the GA had more than 300 agenda items.
In 2008, the GA’s agenda list had 167 items only. To ensure that no single agenda item is dismissed without being given a hearing, the GA agreed that the less important agendas would be relegated to the committees, which would address the concerns raised by the member countries.
The GA also changed its documentation processes in order to reduce the heavy volumes of reports generated by the body. To start with, it requested the Secretary-general to use annexes, tables, information or oral correspondence to while responding to information requests and only issue formal reports when it was completely necessary to do so.
Other changes in the GA includes improved proceedings whereby promptness, following rules and voting rules must be adhered to by the members; issuance of detailed reports to member states by the Secretary General; and improved coordination between committees. In addition, the changes had resulted in some modest progress, which made the GA more efficient and effective (Swart, 2009).
Changes in the secretariat
According to Martinetti (2008), Kofi Annan also pushed for institutional and management changes in the UN’s secretariat in 2005. Having been at the helm of the UN for two terms, the secretary General was well aware of the shortcomings of a semi-autonomous, inflexible and insufficiently funded secretariat.
To enhance its performance, Annan had proposed that the organisation be allowed more authority, financial support and flexibility to enhance its performance. While all member countries agreed that the UN secretariat needed changing, few agreed on the way the reforms would take place. Martinetti (2008), notes that just like was the case in reforming the Security Council; changes in the Secretariat were dogged by mistrust between the developed nations and the developing nations.
While developed countries did not want to wield too much decision-making power to the secretariat, the developing countries were more cautious about giving the developed countries more influence in the organisation.
Since developed countries contribute 80 percent of the secretariat budget, their reform agenda is pegged more on the need to change the secretariat’s spending habits in order to reduce costs. Developing nations however feel that the regular budget given to the United Nations needs to be increased in order to enable the organisation enhanced capacity to carry out its programs.
The changes proposed in the UN secretariat include a review of the secretariat’s management, the human resources where it was established that employees needed to work under streamlined contracts and harmonized working conditions, it was also established that the secretariat needed to establish an ethics office and a governance and oversight system. In addition, the secretariat needed to have improvement information technology (IT) infrastructure and its procurement procedures needed to be reformed.
Establishing the Human Rights Council
The scrapping off of the Commission on Human Rights and replacing it with a Human Rights Council was the only proposal by Kofi Annan that was received with gusto from all member states. So hasty was the decision to implement this proposal that Yeboah (2008) notes that negotiators abolished the commission without first negotiating the components of the proposed Council.
Though some member countries later agreed that the hasty decision-making led to a half-baked council, most agree the new organ was an improvement of the Human Rights Commission.
How were Stakeholders Dealt with?
According to Kane (2005), change management in any organisation is a people issue (p.21). This means that for any meaningful change to occur, the person in the leadership position must be able to motivate people under him and consequently influence their behaviour. This would in turn allow him to break old attitudes and habits hence creating an environment where new reforms can be embraced.
In an organisation as big as the UN, the then secretary General, Kofi Annan seems to have understood that organisational leaders have a key role to play in driving change. As Kane (2005) observes, any leader intent on driving change in an organisation must be willing to face these four steps namely: “signalling change, enlisting constituents, aligning the organisation and facing resistance” (p. 22).
Analysing how Annan handled the reform agenda in the gigantic organisation, it notable that he tried engaging stakeholders (read UN member countries) from an early stage. Having been convinced that the UN would become a defunct body if it did not change with the times, Annan took the UN meeting in 2005 to challenge the old way of doing things in the organisation and staged an appeal for change that resonated with the member countries.
According to Lynch (2005), Annan engaged the member countries by telling them that, “These are reforms that are within reach if we act boldly… and if we act together… we can make people everywhere more secure, more prosperous, and better able to enjoy their fundamental rights” (p. A01).
As one would imagine, implementing change in the UN is among some of the most challenging responsibilities that one can be given. Unlike smaller profit-making organisation, the planning, management and decision-making is more complex because every member country feels they have a right to contribute to the decision making.
This makes the third step as identified by Kane (2005) more challenging since aligning the organisation made up of independent members is a tough thing to do especially if each is fighting for a position that will serve their interests well. This would have been different if the member states agreed and Annan was instead working with the UN staff to institute changes agreed upon by the member states.
As its stands, the UN member states knows exactly the reforms that needs to take place in order to make the international organisation better in handling challenges and issues that fall within its jurisdiction within the member countries.
However, the lack of consensus on the ideal way to implementing the identified changes remain a stumbling block to the majority of the proposed changes. The only successful change that was instituted fast was changing the Commission on Human Rights to the Human Rights. This was a perfect case of how consensuses among the UN member countries enhance the reform agenda.
There is no doubt that being a complex organisation, any changes in the UN can only be brought about by consensus-building by the member states. As such, member countries who would like to see change should mobilise others in order to garner the necessary numbers needed to push change in the organisation. It is almost obvious that without consensus among member countries about issues like the Security Council, no much change will ever be attained regardless of the UN leaders push for the same.
The UN is no doubt a different organisation from other organisations. It is more complex, and its decision-making capabilities more tied to the will of the member nations. This is unlike other less complex organisation where change can be inspired by the leaders and passed down the leadership echelons, to the stakeholders and the employees with relative ease.
As Kane (2005) contends, change agents in smaller and less complex organisation can choose individuals to champion the concept of change. In the United Nations however, individuals are less likely to attain any meaningful progress. Committees formed among the member would on the other hand be more successful in paving new ways through which change can be brought about in the organisation.
Freiesleben, J. (2008) Reform of the Security Council. (eds). In Managing Change in the United Nations. New York, Centre for UN reform Education.
Government Office for the Southwest (GOSW). (2004) Managing change. Web.
Kane, K. (2005) Creating the Climate for Change: Mobilizing the executive Team and Your Organisation. In: (eds) Managing Change to reduce resistance. Harvard, Harvard Business Press.
Lynch, C. (2005) Annan Drafts Changes for U.N.: Use of force, terrorism among issues targeted. Washington Post, Monday March 19 2008, p. A01.
Martinetti, I. (2008) Secretariat and management reform. In: (eds) Managing Change in the United Nations. New York, Centre for UN reform Education.
McKinsey Quarterly. (2010) Creating organisational transformations: Mckinsey Global Survey Results. Web.
Srulevitch, A. (2005) In Larger Freedom: Kofi Annan’s Reform proposal. Web. Conference of Presidents of major American Jewish organisations. Web.
Swart, L. (2008) Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly. In: (eds) Managing Change in the United Nations. New York, Centre for UN reform Education.
Yeboah, N. (2008) The establishment of the Human Rights Council. In: (eds) Managing Change in the United Nations. New York, Centre for UN reform Education.