The Future of Global Affairs: Managing Discontinuity, Disruption and Destruction. The United Nations (UN) was founded 75 years ago to advance peace, human rights, and development—a mandate as relevant today as it was in 1945. Its most remarkable year in recent times in achieving global consensus on a better future for all was 2015. That year, agreement was reached on Agenda 2030 and its seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, and the Paris Climate Agreement. The New Urban Agenda was agreed the following year at the UN’s Habitat III Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development. Taken together, these constitute an ambitious agenda, which if implemented in full would transform the prospects of the world’s peoples and ecosystems.
This ambition is consistent with the UN’s impressive track record of agenda-setting—the UN was credited by the UN Intellectual History
Project for having been an incubator of new and powerful ideas which have shaped norms, policies, and practice in many areas. It has been a
platform for the negotiation of a substantial body of international law, and it has enabled much practical development, and humanitarian work. In earlier years, it played a significant role in supporting decolonization, which in turn led to the expansion of its membership from the 51 member states present at its founding to the 193 of today. The Future of Global Affairs Managing Discontinuity, Disruption and Destruction.
Challenging as the outlook for the multilateral system currently is, however, it would be wrong to walk away from it. Its institutions need to
be maintained for times when geopolitics are more conducive to making them effective. Disengaging only contributes to their decline in relevance. Meanwhile thought should be given to how to reinvigorate the system. Not all parts of it are useful. Some need a fundamental overhaul and reorientation. Some entities barely continue on life support, and would be better absorbed or eliminated altogether. Others need radical improvements to their efficiency and effectiveness.