For the U.N., it seems, no task comes easy. Charged with everything from preventing war to regulating international mail, the U.N. and its galaxy of agencies, funds and programs appear accountable to nobody, yet micromanaged by many.
Over a six-decade history, the U.N. has evolved into a world unto itself. Its 18-acre New York compound is international territory, not part of the U.S. or any other country. The U.N. operates everything from its own post office to a basement workshop that continually reupholsters hundreds of now-vintage chairs, keeping the organization's modernist headquarters perpetually in the 1950s.
As the U.N. struggles to redefine itself in a fast-changing world, a central problem is its own ritualized culture and bureaucracy, which seems stuck in another era. Diplomats still smoke under no-smoking signs. The General Assembly's regular session lasts just four months a year, on a schedule many delegates believe dates from 1940s steamship timetables.