Proposed reforms often reflect the political, economic, and cultural climate of the time. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, member states focused on increasing membership on the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to account for growing U.N. membership.1 In the 1970s, as the economic and political gap between developed and developing countries grew more pronounced, the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to appoint a group of experts to recommend structural changes that would help the United Nations address “problems of international economic co-operation.”2 The most recent wave of U.N. reform may be driven by a combination of U.N. budgetary and financial issues, controversy over mismanagement of the Iraq Oil-For-Food Program, perceived ineffectiveness of U.N. human rights mechanisms, and recent allegations of sexual abuse committed by U.N. staff and peacekeepers, among other things.
Reform Efforts (1980s and early 1990s)
U.N. reform initiatives in the 1980s and early 1990s focused primarily on financial and structural issues. In 1986, under pressure from the United States and other industrialized countries, the General Assembly established a high-level group of 18 intergovernmental experts to “review the efficiency of the administrative and financial functioning,” of the United Nations. The group made 71 recommendations to the General Assembly, including a revised budgetary process that introduced the use of consensus-based budgeting.3 In the early 1990s, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali introduced broad reform proposals in reports, “An Agenda for Peace,” (1992) and “An Agenda for Development” (1994).4 Some of these reform initiatives proposed in the early 1990s led to substantive changes to the U.N. structure.5
1 U.N. membership grew from 51 countries in 1945, to 114 countries in 1963. Currently, the United Nations has 192 member states. Amendments to the Charter related to increased membership are discussed in the “Mechanics of Implementing Reform,” section of this report.
2 The General Assembly approved some, but not all, of the recommendations in 1977. For more information on this group and other U.N. reform efforts prior to the 1980s, see “Reforming the United Nations: Lessons from a History in Progress,” by Edward C. Luck, Academic Council on the United Nations System — Occasional Papers Series, 2003.
3 U.N. document, A/RES/41/213, December 19, 1986. The group of experts was convened, in part, because of U.S. legislation popularly known as the “Kassebaum-Solomon Amendment,” which directed that U.S. contributions to the U.N. regular budget be reduced if larger U.N. financial contributors did not have a more substantial influence in the U.N. budget process. See “Previous Reform Legislation” section of this report.
4 In response to the proposals in Boutrous-Ghali’s reports, the General Assembly created five open-ended working groups to consider reforms in specific areas, including peace, development, the Security Council, the U.N. financial situation, and strengthening the U.N. system. Only one working group completed its work (the Working Group on Development), and three stopped meeting due to an inability to reach agreement on key issues. The fifth Security Council Working Group still meets regularly. For more information on this working group, see “The Mechanics of Implementing Reform” section of this report.
Notably, in 1994 the General Assembly established the Office of Internal Oversight (continued...)