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To stay relevant, the UN must compete

The United States is increasingly taking important issues – such as financial stability, climate change, and nonproliferation – outside the UN system.

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When officials from 47 countries met in Washington last month for the Nuclear Security Summit, they sent a subtle but unmistakable message to the United Nations: You don't matter as much as you used to.

The summit is just the latest example of the growing tendency of the United States to take important issues – such as financial stability, climate change, and nonproliferation – outside the UN system.

The Group of 20 has become the prevailing symbol of this trend of addressing complex international issues in informal settings, where participants are handpicked based on their global and regional influence. The G-20's prominence stems from its effective role in averting global depression.

Yet, many in the UN – especially developing countries – curse its rise. To them, the G-20 represents an elite club of rich countries, convening closed-door summits to determine the course of world events, without regard for their perspectives. Belying their fear is the concern that the UN, an organ in which they are represented with a vote and a soapbox, will become increasingly irrelevant.

These fears are overstated, if not unfounded, for three reasons.

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