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Cover Stories Series 2011
UPDATED: October 24, 2011 NO. 43 OCTOBER 27, 2011
Challenges and Change for the UN
The UN faces an uphill battle to promote world peace and development

BELL TOLLS FOR PEACE: Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the 66th UN General Assembly, rings a bell at the UN headquarters on September 15 to mark the 30th International Day of Peace, which fell on September 21 (SHEN HONG)

Pressing tasks

It is incumbent on the UN to take action. And the General Assembly should be at the heart of international efforts to cope with the world's major challenges.

Last year, the 65th UN General Assembly was worth applauding. While emphasizing the importance of poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals, it brought to the fore issues related to the green economy and sustainable development. The meeting reaffirmed the UN's key role in global governance and pushed forward vital internal reforms including the revival of the UN General Assembly.

A great deal is expected of this year's 66th General Assembly. It is hoped the meeting will make a significant contribution to addressing some of the world's most pressing problems.

One of these problems facing the General Assembly is the Palestinian bid for UN membership. The General Assembly can serve as a platform reflecting most countries' attitudes on the Palestinian application. Palestine's position in the UN can be upgraded from an "observer" to an "observer state" if its bid passes the General Assembly voting process. Once Palestine gets a majority of votes from General Assembly participants, no country can veto this result. But whether Palestine can gain full membership depends on voting in the UN Security Council.

Qatari diplomat Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the General Assembly, gave an opening speech on September 13, in which he stated the General Assembly had a packed agenda and confirmed the four focal points. These were the peaceful resolution of conflicts; UN reform and revitalization; improving the response to natural disasters; and sustainable development and global prosperity.

Al-Nasser said the world was at a historic turning point when the governments of various countries were being held to account by their people and the world economy was facing its most severe crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s. In the face of these challenges, the UN had to rethink its own methods of operation, he said.

The four major focal points of this year's UN General Assembly are realistic and practical. The ongoing turmoil in West Asia and North Africa requires mediation. UN-backed mediation, of course, is better than military intervention.

The famine in the Horn of Africa is also a current challenge, which calls on the UN to play a pivotal role in natural disaster prevention and response.

Promoting sustainable development has always been at the top of the UN's agenda, and it is vital that the UN play a leading role in coping with climate change, water and energy shortages, global health problems and food security.

The UN is also making an effort to reform itself. To play a more effective international role, the UN desperately needs institutional reforms. But progress in internal reforms depends on the political will of the UN's member states. To inject impetus to the reforms, they should strengthen the role of the General Assembly and promote cooperation between the General Assembly and other UN agencies.

The reform of the UN Security Council is particularly complicated. What the UN General Assembly can do is to seek a wider common understanding to avoid serious disunity. If the UN Security Council reform proceeds too fast, serious discord is possible. As Al-Nasser observed, cooperation and consensus will be crucial to the 66th UN General Assembly's success.

The author is an associate research fellow with the China Institute of International Studies

Focal Issues

- Peaceful resolution of conflicts

- UN reform and revitalization

- Improving the response to natural disasters

- Sustainable development and global prosperity

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