Is United Nations Both ‘Indispensable’ and ‘Imperfect’?


U.S. Ambassador for United Nations Management and Reform today reiterated President Obama’s statement that the UN is both “indispensable” and “imperfect.”

In his remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. Torsella said it is his duty to address UN imperfections.

Mr. Torsella explained that the Obama Administration believes in UN reform just as it believes in multilateral diplomacy and paying its UN bills on time and in full.

He cited that as the United Nations enters the 21st century, the United States is leading the charge to make it more efficient, more accountable, more respected, and more effective.

Deputy SecretaryGeneral Asha-Rose Migiro meets with Joseph M. Torsella, United States Representative for Management and Reform to the United Nations.

UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

“Because a strong, effective UN is critical to American national security. Because at its best – the UN can help prevent conflict, keep the peace, isolate terrorists and criminals, go where nobody else will to care for the neediest of the world, smooth the channels of global commerce, and promote universal values that Americans hold dear.” -Mr. Torsella

He pointed out that the United States led in creating the UN in 1945, and it continues to lead in renewing the UN today.

“With our engagement comes the obligation and the opportunity to raise our voice for reform. Because the UN is not always at its best.” -Mr. Torsella

He noted that what began as a diplomatic meeting-place for 53 countries, with a small budget for typists and interpreters, is now a vast and diverse public organization, with 193 members most of whom were not even states in 1945.

He stressed that the UN system is involved in everything from feeding malnourished children to ensuring sustainable political transitions to preserving world heritage sites. He said acording to UN figures, the entire UN system is now a $36 billion enterprise, larger than the individual GDPs of half its member states.

“Now any large organization has built-in frustrations. On days at the UN when I forget that, I remind myself of the one-page memo it took me seven weeks and counting to get approved in the US government. But something bigger than just bigness is at work at the UN.” -Mr. Torsella

He added that as the size and scope of what the UN does has grown dramatically, the way the UN does it like the nuts and bolts of running the plac is still, in too many ways, stuck around 1950.

“When I say “UN,” of course, we should remember that there are really at least two UNs. One is the UN as a global institution, delivering much-needed services from peacekeeping to humanitarian assistance.” -Mr. Torsella

He stated the other is the UN as a stage where diplomats represent 193 sovereign nations and sometimes 193 different viewpoints.

“One thing that hasn’t changed since 1945 is that when it comes to almost any problem “at the UN,” the member states often blame the institution…and the institution often blames the member states.” -Mr. Torsella

He stressed that there’s enough blame to go around. He added that the responsibility for solutions has to be shared between the two UNs as well.

“Neither UN has changed as fast as the world around us has. As the ink was drying on the UN Charter, President Harry Truman said in his closing address at the founding conference in San Francisco, “changing world conditions will require adjustments.” But the chill of the Cold War meant that “world conditions,” in Truman’s phrase, soon became rigid.

-Mr. Torsella

He stressed that the institution needs greater transparency.

“Our first priority is thrift: getting the UN to adjust to tough times exactly as families and governments in American and around the world have had to by learning to do more with less.” -Mr. Torsella

He stressed that by pursuing a broad-based reform agenda, it can multiply good stories dramatically. The world can equip the UN to work for this century as well.

“We owe that kind of leadership to the Americans, of both parties, who helped found the UN in 1945.We owe it to the billions of people who depend, many for their lives, on crucial UN services.” -Mr.Torsella

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.