The UN needs updating as much as reform. An outstanding short blog, Power Games, offers this useful précis:
Much has been made of the UN being obsolete and increasingly irrelevant. Is this an assessment that you would agree with, or is it too simplistic and harsh?
There are many reasons why the UN’s credibility suffers: the corruption of high-profile efforts such as the Oil-for-Food Program, the dubious membership of the Human Rights Council, and the failure to do more to stop humanitarian crimes, for example. Given the sheer number of agencies and initiatives that fall under the UN’s auspices, however, it would be misguided to declare the entire organization obsolete. Consider the work of its peacekeeping forces, which, according to Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations, “are deployed in roughly fifteen conflicts around the world to preserve regional security”; or that of the UN Children’s Fund, the UN Development Program, the World Health Organization, and the World Intellectual Property Organization.
The UN plays other important roles: the Millennium Development Goals that it articulated in 2000, for example, are widely embraced benchmarks for gauging the modernization of developing countries; documents such as the Convention on the Law of the Sea provide a basis for adjudicating disputes; and UN data and reports shape our understanding of numerous issues, ranging from refugee flows to nuclear safety to climate change. It is also revealing that while countries that seek to use force to achieve their objectives are unlikely to be dissuaded if the UN denies them “permission,” they nonetheless try to secure its imprimatur.