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Basically the GA is a toothless forum, but it has been quite proactive during the Syrian crisis and at times genuinely succeeded in challenging the Security Council’s approach to the conflict. In February 2012, for example, China and Russia vetoed a Western resolution aimed at putting pressure on the Syrian regime. Saudi Arabia and Western members of the GA put together a big coalition of states to call for a more effective UN response and the appointment of UN mediator for the crisis. Ban Ki-moon chose his predecessor to do the job, and the Security Council’s members at least agreed to support his mission. Annan and his successors have not ended the war, of course, but at that moment in 2012 we saw the GA stand up and assert itself in the UN system. There have been further GA resolutions on Syria, plus one criticizing the Russian-backed independence referendum in Crimea, but none have quite had the same degree of impact.
So I think the GA can make a difference in UN politics. Both last year and this year the annual high-level week of top leaders for the opening of the GA has got a lot of media attention. The global public wants to know if the GA can sort out the many crises the world faces today. In many cases the answer is sadly no, and I doubt that things would change very much in a reformed UN. But the GA does maintain some residual prestige."
We also covered the Security Council reform, of which Mr Gowan is rather sceptical: "When people tell me they want to concentrate on Security Council reform, I generally suggest that they look for a more concrete and rewarding hobby, such as fly-fishing or basket-weaving."
Speaking about a formal, overall, UN reform, the debates in New York are not making a new way forward:
"My expectations for formal UN reforms, such as Security Council reform, are not very high. It simply isn’t a priority for the U.S. and other big powers right now. Even states that aspire to permanent seats on the Security Council, like Germany and India, have bigger worries. Debates about UN reform in New York have become circular and a bit pointless. "
Make sure to read the full interview here: United Nations Reform in the Focus: A Special Interview With Richard Gowan