SUMMARY Technical cooperation defines the role of the United Nations in its operational work for promoting social and economic development. This article reviews the meaning of this mandate, and argues that a major challenge for the United Nations lies in a wholesale retooling of this role. This retooling is needed to meet the needs of the twenty first century which are starkly different from those of the newly independent nations of the post war era. First, technical cooperation has become bogged down in its identification with its instruments (provision of specialist personnel and training) rather than its ends (capacity building). New tools are needed to adapt to the changing environment of today and the future. Second, the role of the United Nations in this area needs to be more clearly defined by its purpose, i.e. capacity building for development. Third, the future role of the United Nations must be reharnessed to its global responsibilities for setting global agenda for development. United Nations agencies must define a new role vis?à?vis the member states that they serve as advocates for debate and implementation of the global agenda.