Examine the meaning of this quote by Madeleine Albright, regarding the United Nations: "The U.N. bureaucracy has grown to elephantine proportions. Now that the Cold War is over, we are asking that elephant to do gymnastics."
Secretary Albright's quote is an interesting one. Said in response to then Senator Helms about the large budget of the United Nations, her quote might also point to a fundamental shift in geopolitics that few, at the time, could have understood. Certainly, Secretary Albright might not have gauged the full extent of her quote, but in hindsight, it is quite profound.
To a large extent, the Cold War made defining "the enemy" very easy. The battle between the United States and the Soviet Union enabled large institutional bureaucracies to develop in understanding that the battle was being waged on both sides. One or the other had to prove victorious. All other conflicts fed into this larger narrative. Yet, once the Cold War ended, the new conflicts that emerged were more varied, all over the world, and divergent in nature. The structure of the United Nations, glacially immersed in Cold War practices, now needed to become more nimble and agile, able to address problems in places like Rwanda, Kosovo, Ireland, India, as well as the Middle East. The issues that plagued the world were not conducive to the Cold War structure of the United Nations. At the same time, the emerging threat of global terrorism, something that was developing at the time of the Secretary's quote, was beginning to be felt. Naturally, this presence would force the United Nations to be a bit more flexible and responsive to the problems that the world faces. It is here where the Secretary's quote has a great deal of meaning. The overarching and totalizing structures that were understood during the Cold War had to become more nimble and effective in combating the problems facing the world, which were far from the resemblance of the Cold War. Asking "that elephant to do gymnastics" in order to appropriate the condition of the world was the fundamental challenge of adaptation for the United Nations. To a great extent, it still is.