If you are a national representative to the United Nations General Assembly, or even a spectator of the meetings, I am sure you know how the meetings seem a bit robotic.
Everything is loaded onto the Trello card and all the representatives read the speeches or bills and then vote on them. There doesn’t seem to be much discussion or debate on things before they are thrown in for a vote. No real way for nations to express their dissent or support for the resolution or application. No real way for the sponsors to clarify the resolution or for an applying nation’s leaders to answer questions from the current members. This is not the way the UNGA should be running.
“…we need to fundamentally overhaul the way the [United Nations General Assembly] works. “
To address this problem, we need to fundamentally overhaul the way the UNGA works. First off, the President needs to take a more active role in the meeting. Currently it seems that the UN Secretariat staff are running everything. I know the importance of having staff to help facilitate meetings of large bodies — I have been on the dais (read: staff) for a large General Assembly committee at a Model United Nations conference that my collegiate club puts on. However important the staff are, the chair of the meeting needs to be the one running the meeting; they need to be moderating the speeches and debate on topics and entertaining motions. The chair cannot moderate debate if there is no debate, though. That is the second major part of the UNGA that needs to be changed.
Speeches of applying nations as well as draft resolutions should still be submitted ahead of time and posted on the Trello; that part of the system makes sense. Instead of giving nations two minutes to read over the speech or resolution, the delegates should be instructed to have read the documents prior to the meeting being called to order. This eliminates the time needed to read over the documents and frees it up for questions to be asked by the body to the sponsor(s) or applicant(s). The President should invite said persons to the podium to give a short speech summarising the document and/or open the floor to points of inquiry (read: questions). The President would then call on three to four points of inquiry which the person(s) making the speech or submitted the resolution would answer. This would be allowed for people who wish to speak for and against a resolution or application, especially ones that are controversial or are predicted to be a close vote. Once the points of inquiry are exhausted then the body, being fully informed on the topic at hand, can move into voting procedures.
“Allowing time for debate and questions on the topic not only eliminates … moving too quickly … but it also makes it so nations can express their opinions on topics.”
Once debate and voting on resolutions and applications is complete, the General Assembly would then move into discussion for the remaining time allotted for the meeting. Ideally UN staff could collect and make a speakers list, which depending on the time left, each speaker would have a set amount of time in which to speak on a relevant topic.
Allowing time for debate and questions on the topic not only eliminates what some in the community see as the problem of the General Assembly moving too quickly through the voting portion of the agenda that leads to forty-five minutes of useless discussions, but it also makes it so nations can express their opinions on topics. This is something that seems to be reserved to only Security Council nations. For those who haven’t been able to view UNSC meetings, topics and resolutions do receive time for debate and are not steamrolled through.
Although this proposed system would extend the time spent in the traditional “voting” section of the agenda, every meeting it seems as though we have a very large amount of time for discussions. Some of this time would be better served for debate on topics at hand and I am confident that all will fit in the hour time slot given for UNGA meetings. If there are highly important discussions that are happening, I am also sure that delegates and UN staff would not be offended if the meeting went slightly over the time frame.
BenjaminMoreau is a Guest Contributor to RTA and is the Hawaiian Chief of Elections, Hawaii’s Ambassador to the United Nations, and a candidate for President of the United Nations General Assembly; find him on Twitter at @DrBenMoreau.
This article was written by an individual personally involved in the subject matter, RTA in no way formally endorses them, their policies, or their actions.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of its authors and RTA does not formally endorse said opinions.