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Reform of the United Nations

By Andrea Cofelice


With the publication of An Agenda for Peace (1992), An Agenda for Development (1994) and An Agenda for Democratisation (1996), the then-UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali launched an ambitious program to reform the United Nations, in order to strengthen, democratise and adapt the Organisation’s structure and working methods to the changed international context, marked by the end of the Cold War. What remains nowadays of that “reform afflatus”? What are the initiatives undertaken and the unresolved issues?


At institutional level, the few initiatives implemented so far date back to the Secretariat of Kofi Annan (1997-2006), who chose to focus his agenda on the reform of the peace and human rights pillar, by encouraging the creation of the Peace-building Commission and the Human Rights Council.

After the Ban Ki-moon mandate (2007-2016), marked by a disappointing stasis on these issues, reform efforts have been relaunched by the current Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Few months after his election, Guterres presented, in a series of detailed reports, his proposals to strengthen the UN development system (Repositioning the United Nations development system to deliver on the 2030 Agenda: ensuring a better future for all, doc. A/72/124–E/2018/3); reform the peace and security pillar, by creating, within the UN Secretariat, a Department for Political and Peace-Building Affairs and a Department for Peace Operations (Restructuring of the United Nations peace and security pillar, doc A/72/525); and simplify the Organisation management (Shifting the management paradigm in the United Nations: ensuring a better future for all, doc. A/72/492).

However, the elephant in the room is undoubtedly represented by the (failed) reform of Charter-based bodies, especially the Security Council. Although several intergovernmental working groups have been discussing how to reform the UN Security Council since 1993, the current debate is so polarised that member States have not even managed to prepare a draft text for negotiations.

Accordingly, it is not surprising that, to date, the most advanced reform proposals coming from civil society, such as the transformation of the Security Council into the Chamber of Regional Organisations, the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly, or the democratic reform of global economic and financial institutions (namely World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organisation), have not (yet) entered the agenda of intergovernmental negotiations. Most of these proposals are contained in the report “Confronting the Crisis of Global Governance”, launched in 2015 by the Commission on Global Security, Justice & Governance, that develops new frameworks for collective action in response to threats to global security and justice.

However, the activism demonstrated so far by the current Secretary-General offers some hope for the goal of reforming the UN to be resumed and re-launched in actual terms.

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