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'How relevant is the United Nations today?'

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Let me place before you four propositions, or more correctly, truisms: One: organisational lethargy begets structural blind spots; Two: the lessons of history will remain lessons of history if not properly learnt and understood; Three: reform or step aside; Four: denial is not a governance response.

And, let me now start by taking up points that were made. Why is Economic and Social Council () not addressing the in ? ECOSOC could not even address the world economic and financial crisis, when it broke out in the last few months of 2008. The finance ministers meeting in decided to convert the G20 to a heads of state/government. Lo and behold, what would have happened if ECOSOC had actually addressed the world crisis? The total irrelevance of ECOSOC to that crisis would have stood out. What do we do with it? My recommendation to all those who are dealing with it is do some serious introspection and decide where you want to take it.

There is an optimistic streak about today’s theme, a presumption that UN is relevant today. And, that what we do here has a bearing on what happens in the world.

Let me take one example, the so-called political process in . Resolution 1973 talks about cessation of hostilities. We cannot get a ceasefire in the security council. Why? Because those who sit in the council and those who voted in favour of 1973 have decided, maybe due to mission creep, that regime change is essential. So, their position is, first the current political dispensation must give way and then the political process can start. In other words, if the current dispensation is not removed physically or otherwise, the large-scale devastation going on there will continue.

And, I was astounded in the security council yesterday to have to hear from a senior member of the Secretariat saying it seems has killed more civilians than , which means that you are acknowledging Nato’s contribution to the killing of civilians — it was supposed to go in there for their protection. If we cannot get action on a ceasefire in Libya in terms of our own resolution, we have a crisis in our hands and let us acknowledge that crisis.

Let me come to the second truism. Everyone knows that the institutions of global governance do not reflect the shift that has taken place of global economic reality, the power, the economic activity from Europe and the Americas to Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Reform or step aside is my third truism. The G20 arose as a response to a global reality because the current institutions did not have the wherewithal to address the challenges. But what did we do in this organisation. And, I am like — I am neither for nor against the G20. To me the G20 was a response, a product of the times. What did we do? We didn’t say, let’s find out what we can do to deal with the macroeconomic issues that the G20 was addressing. And, all the time we were carping on how the G20 does not have the legitimacy, the G20 must not do this; there must be a response.

Denial is not a governance response. I keep asking myself President, whether we need something terrible or awful to happen again before we can put in place another appropriate international architecture to replace the current one. The current one clearly reflects the outcome of the Second World War and the thinking “to the victor belong the spoils”. Do we remain blind to the fact that 70 per cent of the Security Council’s meetings have been on Africa in the last six months? And, yet there is not a single African country as a permanent member on the council.

Recently, we had a large meeting of the least developed countries in Istanbul. Of a total of 192 nations in UN, 48 are least developed countries, and if you take the other categories, you have a total of 90. There was not a single high-level representative of the G7 or the G8 in Istanbul. There was no new commitment on official development assistance (). Existing commitments are sought to be reiterated where they can.

The question is how relevant UN is today and whether it will remain relevant in 2025. I am not entirely sure about our relevance beyond those of us who are actually involved in the industry of UN. I think the market place’s perception of us is quite different.

Someone said the special envoy of the secretary-general is not being able to get an audience with a political leader here or there. There’s a clear explanation. Because the shots are being called from elsewhere.

Edited excerpts from extempore remarks by Hardeep Puri, India’s permanent representative in UN, in an informal debate on “The United Nations in global governance”, in New York on June 28

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