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75 Years of UN: Need For Reforms (18 September 2020)

75 Years of UN: Need For Reforms (18 September 2020)

Why in News:

75th anniversary of the United Nations (UN) will be celebrated on 24th October.


United Nation General Assembly's 75th session is underway and the need for reforms is an aspect which has been talked about for quite some time now in terms of multilateralism, democratization of United Nations as well as financial reforms.


The name "United Nations" was coined by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Each year on 24th October, the UN celebrates its anniversary.

To mark its 75th anniversary in 2020, the UN is igniting a people’s debate: UN75.

Through UN75, the UN will encourage people to put their opinions together to define how enhanced international cooperation can help realize a better world by 2045.

The main organs of the UN are:

  • the General Assembly,
  • the Security Council,
  • the Economic and Social Council,
  • the Trusteeship Council,
  • the International Court of Justice,
  • the UN Secretariat.

Summary of the Debate

Reasons for the constant talk of reform at UN:

  • Rise of new powers: Today, the world has changed, there are many new powers, there is Japan, there is Germany, which are major economic powers. India has emerged as both an economic power and a major political power in the world, there is Brazil and South Africa. These countries that have emerged in the global scene, now want to play a prominent role and enjoy equal status with the permanent five.
  • Human rights: The human rights has become extremely important in international relations today. So, the idea that only governments should deal with international relations and other major powers like transnational corporations, NGOs and human being themselves, the idea of human rights and the idea of national sovereignty, all these are being questioned in the international system today.
  • Multilateralism: There are various aspects of multilateralism in the world today and in most of these issues like trade, like the digital world, the UN does not play much of a role. These are largely in the hands of private bodies, other international organizations and in the hands of regional organizations.
  • Democracy: There are issues of democracy, of liberal democracy, of human rights, which are extremely important to the western countries and when they talk about human reform, they talk about strengthening the UN’s capacity to intervene in bringing about democracy and protecting human rights and countries.
  • Outdated Administrative Reforms: The oldest set of reforms that was proposed during the last decade and some of them actually got implemented which were called as the administrative reforms, those administrative reforms no longer seem important or even enough in terms of what the challenges the world are facing today.
  • Power Structure: Given the challenges that the world order is facing both from the existing power structure as well as the emerging power structure. UN reflecting a certain power structure that existed at the time of 1945, that is coming under strain.

            India: Permanent Seat In UNSC


  • The expansion of security council or any other aspect of reform of the UN is extremely difficult today given the fact that there is no International consensus today, even among the P5, there is no consensus.
  • The multilateral system in the UN system so far have been controlled by the USA and its allies in western countries. Now China has emerged to game the system and the Chinese control over it not only through constitutional means but also through bribing which has happened in the past.
  • China seems to be more and more interested in gaming the system. It’s now heading towards so many major institutions with in the UN, it takes active interest on, who actually gets appointed, for example; the whole crisis on WHO is a result of Chinese supported individuals being there and therefore, performing more in sync with Chinese priorities than in sync with the global priorities.
  • The top leadership of the UN and UN bodies have been openly supporting Chinese projects.
  • Digital economic issues are those of the future trade issues that the world is going to be fighting over or coming together. The WTO is very poorly equipped to look at those type of issues.

What needs to be done:

  • There is need to focus on certain areas of reform like the specific question of expansion of the security council, the issue of the Veto, the issue of permanent member itself.
  • There are lots of new global challenges and the UN perhaps needs to find a new structure to handle them, an obvious one is now pandemics- the WHO has shown itself to be a solid organization but in this case, it failed miserably to get its act together and its internal structure where it was dominated by the combination of NGOs and incoherent set of regional groups without a very strong central command proved to be incapable of handling the present crisis.
  • Climate is an enormously important challenge, the most important long term challenge the world faces today and while the UN obviously has been at the head of it through the climate conference and apparent things like Paris Accord, it need something much more than just being a council conferences in the secretariat attached to it, something more needs to be done at the international and even at the regional level.


  • The great power contestation is now very much part of the UN functioning and the question of resources, question of financing is inextricably linked with how far reforms can go within the present-day system.
  • In the last 5 to 6 years, the kind of challenges that have emerged are quite distinct from the kind of challenges world were talking about during the last 15 to 20 years. In that sense, the pace of change in the larger International environment has been quite rapid, the rise of China has been quite rapid. Therefore, the conversations have not really, the discussions around have not really kept pace with those changes and for all those reasons, reform is the need of the hour.

Important points made by the Guests

Dilip Sinha, India's Former Permanent Representative to UN

  • UN’s achievements have been in various fields, but it is rather limited in security council.
  • The most important of them being the peacekeeping operations that they have and they have taken some military actions.
  • There is a larger picture of what general assembly has achieved in terms of decolonization, anti-racism against apartheid and then the efforts to bring about a new international economic order where success was rather limited and there are the various other bodies, the UNESCO, etc. and the specialized agencies like WTO, WIPO, etc. all of which have played a major role in promoting globalization and creating an international border in which globalization could flourish.
  • When we are talk about reforms, we are essentially talking about reform of the security council and relations of the security council with the general assembly. These are the two areas where the open-ended working group that is currently there in New York is focusing on.
  • Multilateralism is being question today because the earlier power structure, the permanent five that were given the special status in the security council and the UN system itself. That is the structure that was there 75 years ago.
  • The UN has been successful in the environment field, in climate change and then it essentially goes back to its primary role for which the security council was setup, for maintaining International peace and security and that by far is the most difficult role today in globalization.
  • There is an alternative model that China offers of its own single party state, its own autocratic model where it thinks that, that is the model that the world should move towards which would really mean an International organizationthat is confined to only certain aspects of inter-government relations, it will not intervene at all in anything that comes in the sphere of national sovereignty and the permanent five remain in full control of the organization because China is totally opposed to any kind of expansion of the security council.

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Foreign Affairs Editor, Hindustan Times

  • The primary concerns of the UN at present is its relevance and there are number of points it needs to rework itself and most importantly, the question of expanding UNSC and making it more representative of the present global power structure.
  • UN needs to have a couple of big successes in the next decade or so, to revive a global or public relief that this is an organization that matters. Its big accomplishment is largely in the past, its present record, associations are with failure or irrelevance.
  • World’s most powerful nation basically losing interest in UN as an organization. China, the second power seeing the UN as an organization that is something that it should actually be trying to capture and use for its very narrow-minded domestic purposes.

Professor Harsh V. Pant, Head, ORF’s Strategic Studies

  • We have become so used to United Nations being with us since 1945, there is very difficult to visualize world order without it.
  • The problem today is a bit more acute in terms of the future of global multilateralism.
  • Both these established powers such as existing power structure and the emerging power structure are looking at multilateralism in a different light. When Mr. Trump says America first, he is responding to a certain instinct in the western world today and that is the more inward looking than in the past and this has grave implications for the larger multilateral order including the UN.
  • When the China refuses to abide by the multilateral order that exist today, it poses another set of challenges. So, the multilateral order which anchored around the UN is facing a challenge today unlike we have seen in the recent years and that is why the debate when UN is celebrating 75 years of existence become that much more acute coming on top of larger structural changes that are already being happening in the world and are shaping this larger requirement.
  • Financial accountability is an important aspect while talking about reform, because the countries especially the USA which have been the biggest financier of the UN has often used that leverage to make it displeasure clear at various points and now this contestation happening between USA and China and there are many countries that they feel that they have contributed so much financially.
  • A lot of the times initial questions came up a lot about corruption, a lot about mismanagement of finances and those UN system has tried to rectify by initiating a set of administrative reforms. But those administrative reforms have not been enough to fundamentally alter the structural imperatives of the UN.


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