Resolved: Uniting Nations in a Divided World

As the fundamental vision of the United Nations, outlined in 1945, remains as essential to global order as ever, Matthew explores pressing challenges and opportunities articulated in Ban Ki-Moon’s 2021 book- Resolved: Uniting Nations in a Divided World.

Resolved is a memoir from the former secretary general of the United Nations. Early in the book, author Ban Ki Moon recalls his childhood and ascent to power within South Korean politics and the United Nations. He recalls responding to several distinct conflicts before moving on to global trends and issues like human rights and reflections on the UN itself.

Individual conflicts:

Some of the conflicts Ban Ki presided over remain contentious today. Specifically, he talks about natural disasters in Haiti and Myanmar, violence in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the Arab Spring, and Iran’s security threat. The author’s analysis of these conflicts can provide excellent contextualization and comparison points for extemp speeches.


While many of the specific global developments the author talks about are mainly relevant to his term (2007-2016), organizational reform, one of the most critical aspects of his time at the UN, finds itself in many current extemp questions!

Food oil scandal +aftermath :

  • A 2004 scandal revealed that the UN office which oversaw Iraq’s oil sales had allowed allies of dictator Saddam Hussain to take billions of dollars meant to relieve people impoverished by security council sanctions. As a result of this scandal, Ban Ki sought to limit organizational corruption by asking the top 250 people in the bureaucracy to submit financial disclosure. 

Barriers to reform:

  • Ban-Ki argues that anti-American narratives are a key barrier to the structural reform of the UN. The United States had long called to cut the budget of the UN, and many countries rejected the idea of broader reform as appeasement of American demands. The solution he suggests is to decouple reform from the budgetary concerns of the US to take a broader look at organizational structure, transparency, and efficiency. 

Security Council:

The UN assigns the security council the simple task of “maintenance of peace and international security.” It seeks to manage the global response to crises, from wars to pandemics.


  • There are ten elected members and five permanent members(France, England, America, Russia, and China). Each permanent member has a veto over any security council position. Given the vast geopolitical divide between Russia and China compared to France, England, and the US, this framework has made meaningful action difficult. One gruesome example was that the security council could not take steps against Syrian Dictator Assad’s human rights violations in the early years of Syria’s civil war because Russia and China protected him.
    • The failures of the UN security council come up ALL the time, especially surrounding the Russian war in Ukraine and as China and Russia continue to grow alliance networks in competition with the United States. 
  • One problem with the P5 is that the power structure from 1945 doesn’t give permanent status to any Arab, Latin, or African Nation. But changing this would require unanimous content among P5.


Seeing a Department of Peacekeeping slowed and made less effective by managing both the logistical and military aspects of missions. At the same time, Moon realized he could split the department into two and created a Department of Field Support/Operational support to oversee the financial, logistical, and personal challenges from the UN headquarters regionally or in New York. 

  • Although this reform eventually got approved, it faced an initial challenge from French diplomats. France had particular sway over peacekeeping matters, given it had run the department since 1997 and historically contributed more peacekeepers than other p5 members. The role between France and UN peacekeeping operations, especially in former French colonies like Mali, is something you can explore in speeches! 

Likewise, many members of the international community continue to question the efficacy of UN peacekeeping today and whether Ban Ki’s reforms went far enough.

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