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If you are interested in development, you have to be an admirer of the United Nations. But which part and what aspect of the United Nations? Certainly not the Security Council or the General Assembly. Sebastian Mallaby (who wrote the book on James Wolfensohn, The World's Banker) writes elegantly if depressingly about the impossible challenge the new Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon now faces -- as "less the leader of the international system than its prisoner". Mallaby recommends the Kemal Dervis solution of weighted voting (set out in the 2005 CGD book A Better Globalization) to fix the Security Council, where the veto power of the 5 permanent members ensures that "the United Nations is condemned to tardiness and toothlessness". But he also says that idea is going nowhere.
Mallaby continue: Some UN agencies that are accountable to their funders, the rich country donors, rather than to the General Assembly get things done (unlike the Security Council and the General Assembly) -- WHO, Unicef, the World Food Program.
That seems good. Those are among the dozen or more involved heavily in on-the-ground work in the world's poor countries. But wait. Among these better performing agencies, competition for funders' contributions and lack of coordination leads to hopeless fragmentation of their efforts on the ground, and needless burdens on recipient country governments and local programs. Kemal Dervis is now head of the UNDP, and is responsible for fixing that too. See the recent high-level report, Delivering as One (pdf). But to succeed he needs much more vocal support from local and international civil society and NGOs who know the problem. Otherwise there is the risk that, like Kofi Annan, despite his being a superb leader he'll end up mostly a prisoner of the UN system.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.