Issue 12: The Bloated Agenda of the 53rd Session of the General Assembly

Today, all 185 members of the UN are gathering in New York for the start of the 53rd session of the General Assembly.


Analysis:  Over the next three months the General Assembly will attempt to deal with a breathtaking 165 agenda items. (The agenda itself is 15 pages long.) The agenda encompasses countless reports, discussions and debates across virtually every field. And yet, there is almost no optimism that any real progress on issues of global concern will be achieved.

Activity in the UN is too often marked by slow decision-making, political grandstanding, and the pursuit of narrow self-interest much like in many national parliaments. Given that the UN is supposed to be a parliament of man, it is worth comparing the two types of institutions.

On the one hand, the UN and national parliaments are similar in that Member States and national political parties are both motivated by self-interest. On the other hand, the UN differs from most national parliaments whose competing parties strive to convey their conception of the national will. Although political parties are focused on specific constituencies, they all share a commitment to serving the national good. Conversely, at the UN, there is very little evidence of action or compromise in the name of the global common good.

Piercing the veil of cynicism, lets look at what the General Assembly could be. If the UN is to function for the benefit of mankind, a greater commitment by all Member States to the principles of the Charter is required. This commitment must be instigated at political and operational levels. Reforming the General Assemblys agenda can help serve this end.

One problem with the current agenda is that it covers too many issues. Without a process of rationalization, no item can be given adequate attention. Consider the possibility, therefore, of the General Assembly dealing with only five or six substantive items corresponding to the UN Charter objective of achieving international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all. (Article 1 (3))

It is too late to change the 53rd session that opens today. But perhaps the greatest achievement of this gathering could be to adopt serious reforms for its future conduct. The General Assembly could then act as a global think tank, initiating substantive world change and generating innovative solutions.


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