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2005 World Summit
The UN of the Future
Much left undone

International diplomacy seems so abstract, yet it affects people's lives every day. Among the issues on the agenda for the recent summit of world leaders at the United Nations were the struggle against terrorism, measures to protect human rights, the prevention of conflict, and the reduction of malaria—a preventable and treatable disease that kills more than one million children in Africa every year.

Such varied threats present tough challenges to the political leaders of the world community and to the United Nations, the international body through which they cooperate on these problems. Indeed, world leaders' best prospects for tackling such challenges is by working together, and the purpose of the 2005 World Summit was to equip them with a stronger United Nations for that very task.

Collective Action
In his address to more than 160 presidents, prime ministers, and monarchs, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "The challenges of our time must be met by action—and today, more than ever, action must be collective if it is to be effective."
After more than 18 months of commissions, reports, and preliminary drafting, an ambitious draft reform agreement was presented to UN member states by then General Assembly President Jean Ping and a team of ten UN ambassadors. The package would have created two new UN bodies: a Human Rights Council to replace the controversial Human Rights Commission and also a Peacebuilding Commission to help conflict-torn countries rebuild and break the cycle of violence.

The agreement also included strong statements on terrorism and genocide. Its chapter on development pointed the way forward for developing and developed nations to work together to reduce poverty. And in the wake of scandals such as Oil-for-Food and sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers, there were provisions to improve management and oversight.

Salvage Operation
But while Kofi Annan and other proponents of sweeping reform called on UN member countries to focus on how such steps could help solve urgent problems, the reform discussions were marred in bickering and resistance to change. Wide-scale, last-minute amendments and deletions to the summit's draft Outcome Document were kicked off by American ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, but other nations joined the frenzy as well. Delegates were particularly stymied over the details needed to create the new human rights body, give new management authority to the secretary-general, define terrorism, and stem the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
In the days immediately prior to the summit, it appeared that disagreements might leave world leaders without any statement. So reform supporters performed a salvage operation, locking in what modest agreement could be reached and defering many issues to the next session of the UN General Assembly, which opened during the summit.

Final Commitment
sIn the resulting summit statement, therefore, world leaders committed themselves to create the Human Rights Council and Peacebuilding Commission only after further discussion, rather than agreeing now on the particulars. The debate over whether terrorism is ever justifiable resurfaced, but leaders committed to sign a new comprehensive treaty against terror. The summit statement's language on genocide and ethnic cleansing acknowledged the need to intervene forcefully if peaceful means prove inadequate.
On development, negotiators pushed to strengthen the US commitment to poverty reduction. After a last-minute effort by Ambassador Bolton to weaken the text, the goal for aid donor countries to give 0.7 percent of the gross domestic product in aid (to which the United States won't commit itself) remained in the document.

It was clear at the close o f the summit that much work remained to be done. But it was equally clear that the work must continue. As the secretary-general put it, "Whatever our differences, in our interdependent world, we stand or fall together."


— David Shorr
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