Tuesday, June 14, 2005

United Nations Reform

The need for reform at the UN has become a hot topic. American opinion on the subject varies greatly, depending on individual political views.

Conservatives often fear it or at least strongly dislike it, wishing that the U.S. would get out of the UN or force it out of New York and reduce U.S. support. They see it as weak, ineffective, hopelessly corrupt, and an encroachment on U.S. sovereignty. Liberals often see the UN as the best hope for peace and cooperation in a chaotic international system, the legitimizer of the actions of nations, and the ultimate authority for international law. They admit that it has flaws but believe they can be corrected.

The more extreme views of the right and left are at best misinformed. The UN is a large, complex organization with many subordinate organizations and elements located all over the world. Some generally do a very good job, and some don't. It isn't just one thing, one group, or even one idea. Despite conflicting views and the complexity of addressing problems in the UN, however, there is consensus among informed observers that broad reform is necessary.

The New York Times published a concise, detailed, and very informative story on June 12:

A Congressionally mandated panel will report this week that the United Nations suffers from poor management, "dismal" staff morale and lack of accountability and professional ethics but will acknowledge the broad changes proposed for the organization by Secretary General Kofi Annan and urge the United States to support them.

Among its recommendations, the panel says the United Nations should put in place corporate style oversight bodies and personnel standards to improve performance. It also calls on the United Nations to create a rapid reaction capability from its member states' armed forces to prevent genocide, mass killing and sustained major human rights violations before they occur. ...

[The report] credited the United Nations with stepping up activity to combat the global threat of terror but warned of the consequences of obstructionism or neglect. "If the members fail to work together effectively, the pressures on the United States and other responsible governments to protect themselves by acting independently of the United Nations will become enormous," it said.

The House International Relations Committee, led by Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL), recently approved a measure to partially withhold U.S. funding to the UN pending progress on reforms. There's virtually no chance that it will get through both houses of Congress and be signed by the President. But the UN pooh-bahs in New York should pay attention to the sentiments such ideas represent.

The Washington Post, in an editorial dealing with the possibility of withholding UN funding, concluded in a way I think is logical and appropriate:

Is the U.S. national interest best served by disengaging from the United Nations and allowing it to atrophy for lack of resources? Or is the national interest served by supporting the institution, even while pushing it to reform? The actions of U.S. administrations, Republican and Democratic, suggest that the United Nations is a helpful tool of diplomacy. It provides a venue in which to seek consensus on global issues from nuclear proliferation to anti-poverty efforts, and even when that consensus is elusive, a visible effort to seek it can increase the legitimacy of U.S. action. At the same time, the United Nations' technical agencies help manage challenges, from the monitoring of avian flu to the care of refugees to the provision of peacekeepers and nation-builders. The United Nations, for all its flaws, is needed. Hitting it with a sledgehammer is the wrong way to go.

The United States was the driving force in the creation of the UN. We pay 22 percent of its operating costs and 27 percent of the cost of UN peacekeeping. We have the influence and the power to drive reform of the UN, and given the role we've played since the very beginning, we also have the right. We should work to fix the UN because if it were no longer there, we'd have to invent a new one.

And one additional thought. Despite our preeminent role, there has never been an American Secretary General of the UN. Maybe it's time to change that, at least temporarily. Adult leadership during this time of reform is a key ingredient in achieving success. My choice for the job is Bill Clinton, who has indicated he would do it if asked. Like President Bush, he's a far more serious and capable man than his critics give him credit for. These two men respect each other and can work together, and they share an experience base that other leaders can't match. We should swing our big stick as vigorously as necessary to put Clinton in the chair, get the UN into reasonable shape, and then give it back to another elitist from some minor country. Until next time.


Blogger Esther said...

VERY interesting post, Tom. Very reasoned too. Not sure the world would take us putting an American at the top but then they can step forward and give more money maybe.

7:55 PM, June 14, 2005  
Blogger Kevin said...


It is interesting.I'm not sure what the medicine is for the UN, but I'm sure that something needs to be done.

More important as to who is on top, is what the staff will do. Many of those people are bureaucrats that have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are.

A shake-up is needed, I just don't know what kind, unless I look at it more.


4:42 AM, June 16, 2005  

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