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On Oct. 8 I wrote about the second report by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, published Sept. 23, on reforming the U.N. An important innovation in this report (Chapter Two entitled “Doing What Matters”) is that it actually tackles the substantive agenda of the organization’s work program. The reason for this is very simple: The U.N. must be clear on what to do before it can learn how to do it well. As Annan notes in his report, “Unless we make sure that the organization is focusing on the issues that matter most today, as well as the issues that will matter most tomorrow, our goal of strengthening the organization will elude us.” For in the end, “The remainder — the structures, procedures, personnel and systems — is intended to ensure that whatever we do, we do well.”

The U.N. work program is both complex and comprehensive, as is to be expected of an organization asked to deal with almost every aspect of international cooperation. The U.N. Secretariat, like any bureau, is a means of structuring political vision into a feasible legislative agenda. All that the U.N. does today should reflect our collective vision of what we — the peoples and governments of the world — wish the world to be like tomorrow. Instead, far too much of what organizations do today tends to be determined by the precedents and inertia of yesterday.

The three great challenges facing us remain the creation of a world in which people live in freedom from want, freedom from fear and the freedom for future generations to sustain their lives on this planet. The great demand on the U.N. is to facilitate the attainment of the three goals in parallel, and to avoid a collision between growing ecological pressures, developing threats to political order and stability, significant challenges to social cohesion and equitable economic expansion. The organization must meet these demands and expectations by refining and modernizing its capacity to be the central forum for reaching and implementing common solutions to global problems.

The Millennium Summit, the Copenhagen conference of least developed countries, the Monterrey conference on Financing for Development and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg were especially important milestones in guiding the organization in selecting the goals to be reached in the foreseeable future. The Millennium Summit adopted a remarkably clear declaration that captured the aspirations of our time and established the Millennium Development Goals as the global frame of reference for all our efforts to achieve economic and social progress.

The conferences mobilized governments, civil society groups, the private sector and others around a common vision of economic and social progress. These landmark events created a common policy framework that now guides the action of all the entities of the U.N. system.

The Millennium Declaration and the world conferences outlined a comprehensive vision of what member states seek to accomplish through the U.N. The organization must now ensure that its work program is adjusted to support these goals and priorities. It must take a critical look at all its activities, and ask whether they are relevant to the implementation of the Millennium Declaration and other conference outcomes and whether they have the desired impact. If the answer is no, the U.N. must be willing to let them go, not the least because there is no shortage of contemporary issues on which it must deepen its knowledge, sharpen its focus and act upon more effectively.

The landmark Millennium Summit of September 2000 marked an unprecedented global consensus on the human condition and what to do about it. The Millennium Declaration, along with other major policy frameworks, and in particular those arising from major world conferences, was thus the font of the logic and legitimacy for the reform exercise, and set the parameters for the reform package. Together they should ensure and enhance the continued centrality, credibility and relevance of the U.N. to the member states, civil society and peoples of the world.

The Millennium Declaration provides the basic template for the work of the U.N. during Annan’s second term. The areas of work identified below are those that require more focused and integrated attention, less constrained by departmental boundaries and with more resources dedicated to policy planning, if the U.N. is to fulfill its essential role of putting tomorrow’s issues on today’s agenda.

This does not mean that other subjects are less important; Africa and human rights, for example, remain high-priority items with cross-cutting relevance for all of the organization’s work. The primary implementation of this work agenda will be through next year’s program budget following the debate in the General Assembly this year. Key areas that need strengthening include:

* Pursuit of the Millennium Development goals;

* Eradication of extreme poverty;

* Globalization and its impact on developing countries and the resulting need to ensure that the proper framework of rules, norms and standards are in place;

* Population flows within and among countries, which now involve hundreds of millions of people and affects countries of origin, transit and destination;

* Issues of water scarcity, water pollution, and water-borne diseases (which figured so prominently in Johannesburg at the World Summit on Sustainable Development);

* Issues of energy security, rural electrification, renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency;

* Disaster risk management;

* Pernicious effects of HIV/AIDS;

* Social and policy consequences of severe demographic imbalances between the youth and the aged;

* How best to harness science and technology to serve all of humanity;

* Coping with the heightened threat of international terrorism;

* Policy gaps in governance (rule of law, democracy, human rights, corruption);

* Conflict prevention and postconflict transition and peace-building;

* Pursuit of sustainable disarmament, especially with regard to small arms and weapons of mass destruction.

There exists the need to sharpen the focus of U.N. activities by identifying priority goals with respect to those important emerging issues that are not currently receiving due attention, and concentrate on the attainment of those goals within the specified short and medium terms. I hope to pick up on most, if not all, of these themes in a series of essays in this column.

The motivating spirit behind the secretary general’s sustained attention to reforms is how best to translate the ambitious template of the Millennium Declaration into an achievable agenda of action within a realistic time frame, through institutional, programmatic and administrative arrangements.

Improvements in the professionalism of the U.N.’s research, analytical, policy development, operational activities, support services, coordination, and communications infrastructure and strategy, in combination with an enhanced quality of decision-making in all parts of the system, will deliver gains in competence, efficacy, efficiency and effectiveness.

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