On November 22, 2023, the Valdai Club hosted an expert discussion on the role of the UN in the changing world order. Moderator Andrey Sushentsov, programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club, emphasised that the United Nations remains a unique platform for discussing global challenges and resolving crises.
Vladimir Kuznetsov, director of the UN Information Centre in Moscow, briefly reviewed the history of the Organisation and noted that the creation of the UN and the adoption of its charter laid the foundation for the entire post-war security system. Now the world has changed, and the question arises whether the United Nations is capable of meeting the needs of humanity amid the new conditions. Answering this question, Kuznetsov emphasised that the UN in any case remains the cornerstone and an integral part of the world order. It serves as a stabilising factor, setting boundaries for the behaviour of states in international relations, and it is often taken for granted as something that is always present. If it one day disappears, he conjectured, the world will probably realise how important it was. At the same time, the Organisation undoubtedly needs a certain evolution that can prepare it for the challenges of the future.
Asoke Kumar Mukerji, Permanent Representative of India to the UN (2013-2014) and Honorary Fellow of the Vivekananda International Foundation, described India's position in the United Nations. He emphasised that India signed the UN Charter separately from Britain on June 26, 1945 and is thus one of the founding members of the Organisation. According to him, India has made and continues to make great contributions to the activities of the UN. It takes an active part in peacekeeping operations and sustainable development programmes. According to the Indian diplomat, the UN Charter was originally oriented towards cooperation rather than confrontation, but the Cold War caused it to be misinterpreted. Now it needs revision. “Now we are being dragged into a new cold war, and we must clearly say that we do not want and should not take part in it,” said Mukherji.
Vladimir Grachev, Head of the Expert Council on Geopolitics of the Just World Institute, former senior advisor to the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General (1997–2003) and director of the Conference Management Office of the UN Office in Geneva (2006–2014), also believes that in a changing world the UN has to adapt to new challenges, and believes it is necessary to reform the Organisation to some extent. In his opinion, the Security Council should undergo the greatest reforms, which will require a revision of the Charter. Perhaps countries should be included in the new Security Council not only geographically, but also demographically, Grachev suggested. Reform is also necessary for the UN Secretariat.
The presence of the UN in the global agenda is like air: if it is removed, we will immediately feel a shortage, said Vladimir Chernigov, President of the Social and Industrial Foodservice Institute and of the non-profit organisation For School Nutrition. He added that the projects of the structures he heads, dedicated to the development of school nutrition, could not take place without the participation of the United Nations. In his opinion, the topic of food security can become one of the pillars of the new UN system. “Issues of a high agenda can be supported and partly directed by everyday topics,” Chernigov emphasised.
“Reforms should be aimed at returning the UN to its main original goal - maintaining peace,” said Altinbash University Rector Çağrı Erhan. Despite the importance of the humanitarian agenda, the UN is not a charitable organisation. If you look at the preamble and the first article of the organisation’s charter, it becomes obvious that its main task is to save the next generations from war, ensure human rights and the equality of nations, and maintain international peace and security. The current UN mechanisms cannot cope with these tasks; that is why the question of reform arises, Erhan added. In his opinion, first of all it is necessary to ensure fair representation in the Security Council.
Mikatekiso Kubayi, Researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue at UNISA and Research Fellow at the Institute of Pan-African Thought and Dialogue (South Africa), presented an African perspective on the problem. According to him, Africa definitely wants to reform the UN, sharing in this sense the sentiments of the whole world. “There has to be room for compromise, which is not happening now,” he argued, adding that countries with power in the current system should give up some of their privileges. This is especially significant against the backdrop of the Global South gaining weight and subjectivity. Kubayi also considers the organisation’s promotion of the development agenda to be an important topic.
According to Alexey Borisov, Secretary General of the Russian Association for the United Nations and Vice-President of the World Federation of UN Associations, the organisation still maintains its effectiveness on many issues. At the same time, the need for its modernisation is obvious: the world has evolved, and international structures cannot keep up with this process. “To ensure that the UN does not get lost in the historical universe, it is important to focus on working with young people to ensure continuity,” he said.