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Does the UN Still Matter?

In the poisonous political atmosphere that has bedeviled the UN after the Iraq War, widespread disillusionment is not surprising. But, rather than calling the UN into question, states are likely to find that they need it more than ever.

With 192 members and a mandate that covers everything from security to refugees to public health, the United Nations is the world’s only global organization. But polls in the United States show that two-thirds of Americans think the UN is doing a poor job, and many believe it was tarnished by corruption during the Iraq oil-for-food program under Saddam Hussein. Many also blame the UN for failing to solve the Middle East’s myriad problems.

But such views reflect a misunderstanding of the UN’s nature. The UN is more an instrument of its member states than an independent actor in world politics.

True, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon can make speeches, convene meetings, and propose actions, but his role is more secretary than general. Sometimes likened to a “secular Pope,” the UN Secretary General can wield the soft power of persuasion but little hard economic or military power.

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