David Hannay: It's fragile and weak. Don't let the UN be ineffective too

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The Independent Online

The New York meeting will not be faced with a blank sheet of paper. On the table will be a complex set of proposals designed to provide practical responses to the most pressing needs for reform. It is the most ambitious reform package to have been put forward since the organisation was established in San Francisco 60 years ago. There are measures to increase the resources allocated five years ago to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and since proven entirely inadequate, and policies to ensure that those increased resources are put to better use. There is a comprehensive strategy against terrorism, including the worldwide outlawing of attacks on innocent civilians, There is a strengthening of the policies against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. There are guidelines for the use of force on behalf of the international community. There is the acceptance by the international community of a responsibility to protect citizens when their own governments are unwilling or unable to do so. There is the establishment of a new Peace-building Commission, aimed to plug a gap in the UN's armoury when it comes to dealing with post-conflict peace-building. There are steps to strengthen the co-operation between the UN and regional organisations when they work together on conflict prevention and peace-keeping. There are proposals to enlarge the Security Council to make it more representative, and to substitute a new, full-time Human Rights Council for the present discredited part-time Commission on Human Rights. And there are reforms designed to make the secretariat more accountable and transparent and to strengthen the secretary general's hand in the management of its resources.

The need to address a broad agenda in this way has become ever clearer in recent years. It is not a case of there being two conflicting and competing agendas, one for classical security issues and one for development. Failure to address one part of this broad agenda will impact negatively on others. So, while not every one of these proposals will be endorsed this week in New York, if there is not a critical mass of decisions made, there will not be much left but warm words and disappointed expectations. And beyond the New York summit will lie the task of implementing the decisions, which is where the UN has so often fallen short in the past. What is needed is not just the determination to reach decisions at the summit but the will and the resources to make them work when they are put to the test by events.

When Tony Blair travels to New York he will be representing not just a permanent member of the UN's Security Council but a European Union that has given crucial support to Kofi Annan's package of reforms and which needs a strong UN if its policy of effective multilateralism is to be made to work.

He will need to overcome the ambivalence of the United States towards the UN, epitomised in its recently appointed permanent representative, John Bolton; and he will need to overcome the doubts of many developing countries that the organisation can bring solutions to their most pressing problems, while at the same time showing it can solve those perceived as most pressing by the developed world. This will be a tough task, but his strong links to the US administration and his work on Africa in the run-up to the Gleneagles conference will make him well-suited for the job.

In recent months we have been reminded again and again of the United Nations' indispensability - over co-ordination of the response to the Asian tsunami and the handling of Darfur - but also of its fragility and weaknesses. It will be a tragedy if, as a result of divided counsels in New York, we end up with an organisation which is both indispensable and ineffective.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick was British Permanent Representative to the UN (1990-95) and a member of the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change which was set up by the UN Secretary General in 2003 and has prepared a report for the New York summit