years ago, the United Nations was founded to maintain international peace and
security, promote self-determination and basic human rights, and protect
fundamental freedoms. Sadly, weaknesses in the organization have prevented it
from fully realizing these high aspirations.
with U.N. management and effectiveness goes back nearly to the organization’s
founding and the situation has only grown worse over time. An accretion of
mandates, insufficient transparency and accountability, and resistance of
member states to reform have resulted in a system that is bureaucratic, costly,
cumbersome, lacking in oversight, and often incapable of fulfilling the
responsibilities placed upon it by its member states. Detailed descriptions of
the U.N.’s failings are readily available.
past six decades have seen dozens of initiatives from governments, think tanks,
foundations, and panels of experts aimed at reforming the United Nations. In
the wake of recent U.N. scandals, the Secretariat and the General Assembly
have been forced to implement some initial reforms, but many member states are
draft General Assembly resolution introduced by South Africa on April 18, 2006,
to the 5th Committee (administrative and budgetary) of the General Assembly on
behalf of China and the G-77 countries, the many member states opposing reform
revealed that they would delay and block the effort by requesting a series of
reports from the Secretary-General on his reform proposals.
On April 28, when the G-77 forced a vote, the South African resolution was
approved by a vote of 108 to 50 with three abstentions.
The General Assembly subsequently passed the resolution by a margin of 121 to
50 with two abstentions on May 8.
is a significant setback in the effort to reform the U.N., and reform-minded
member states must act to ensure that reform does not stall. Specifically, the U.S. and other
like-minded states should use the U.N. budget to press the other member states
to adopt reforms and force the G-77 (a group of 132 developing countries) to
face the consequences of their opposition to reform. When the General Assembly
adopted its 2006– 2007 budget, only $950 million of the $3.8 billion budget was
authorized, with the remainder dependent on progress toward reform. The U.N. is
expected to exhaust this funding by the end of June. The U.S. and other
like-minded states should oppose any funds beyond the $950 million until
reforms recommended in the Outcome Document and the Secretary General’s
follow-up reports (except those delayed by the G-77 resolution) are
implemented. If these reforms are implemented, the U.S. should agree to allocate funds
monthly, tying future funds to progress made in adopting necessary reforms. By
tying approval of the rest of the U.N. budget to reform, the reform-minded
states would place significant pressure on the other member states to adopt
reform and force the G-77 countries to face the consequences of their
opposition to reform.
also should step in and announce that failure to act on reform or approving
budget funds over the objection of the U.S. will lead to financial
withholding. Outside pressure from the U.S. Congress, such as reform benchmarks
similar to those in the United Nations Reform Act of 2005 (H.R. 2745), has
been effective in the past and would further increase the pressure for reform.
Such outside pressure is less susceptible to the internal U.N. politicking that
has watered down past reform efforts. Without tying reform to financial
incentives, the current reform effort— like past efforts—will likely fall short
of the fundamental reforms needed to improve the U.N.’s effectiveness.
Interminable Story of U.N. Reform
Charter of the United Nations clearly states that the organization was founded
to maintain international peace and security, which includes taking collective
threats to peace;
equal rights and self-determination of peoples regardless of race, sex,
language, and religion;
to solve economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian problems; and
“social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”
the U.N. has not done as well as it should have in championing these
War. There have
been approximately 300 wars since 1945, resulting in over 22 million deaths.
The U.N. has authorized military action to counter aggression just twice: North Korea’s invasion of South Korea and Iraq’s
invasion of Kuwait.
three most urgent threats to international peace and security today are conflict
within states, terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The U.N. is limited in its ability to intervene in internal conflicts; it
cannot even agree on a definition for terrorism because it has terrorism-sponsoring
states among its membership; and many member states protect states that are
seeking to obtain weapons of mass destruction, such as Iran.
Human Rights. The
U.N. counts human rights violators and repressive governments among its
membership. Equal rights for men and women are not observed among many U.N. members,
particularly among Muslim nations.
rights violators regularly sought seats on the U.N. Commission on Human Rights
to blunt action on and scrutiny of their human rights abuses. They were so
effective that the General Assembly voted to replace the discredited commission
with a new Human Rights Council. Regrettably, there are no criteria for
membership, and countries like Algeria,
China, Cuba, Pakistan,
Russia, and Saudi Arabia
were recently elected to seats on the council, making it likely that the new
body will be nearly as ineffective as the commission that it replaced.
Better Standards of Life in Greater Freedom. As for advancing social progress, individual
freedom, and the rule of law and improving living standards, Freedom House
reports that a majority of U.N. members are not politically free.
The Index of Economic Freedom, published annually by The Heritage
Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, also confirms that a majority of
U.N. member states remain “mostly unfree” or “repressed” in terms of economic
the many failings of the U.N. do not outweigh the advantages of continued U.S. participation.
As noted by U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations John Bolton:
Americans simply want to withdraw from the United Nations, believing that it
can never really be fixed. I understand the frustrations and the
disappointments that lead to that view, even though I disagree with it.
U.N. serves as a useful forum for multilateral meetings and discussion to
address mutual concerns. U.N. interventions through peacekeeping operations,
humanitarian missions, and political missions like election monitoring are
often more politically acceptable than unilateral or multilateral efforts
outside of the U.N. Crises or other problems that are not central to U.S.
interests will often be addressed through the U.N. or not at all. While the U.S. government should never make U.S. policy
decisions contingent on U.N. approval, this utility creates a strong case for
working through the organization when possible.
utility of the U.N. has led to numerous initiatives over the previous six
decades to make the organization more effective. Indeed, disillusionment over
the U.N. is nearly as old as the organization itself, and there hardly seems a
time when the U.S.
has not been pressing for reform.
the very beginning, the U.S.
sought to reduce its financial contribution to the United Nations. The initial
agreement on the U.S. share
of the U.N. Working Capital Fund was 24.614 percent, and it was assumed that
share of the budget would be similar. However, the initial proposed scale of
assessments in 1946 assigned the U.S. a share of 49.89 percent. The U.S. objected
to being charged such a high assessment, arguing that such a disproportionate
share would grant excessive influence to a single nation. In the end, the U.S. agreed to
pay 39.84 in 1947. Seven years later, the U.S.
succeeded in reducing its assessment to 33.3 percent. Not until 1973 was the
assessment reduced to 25 percent. It took another 30 years and the carrot of
paying overdue assessments to reduce it further to 22 percent.
two years after the U.N. was created, Congress issued a report calling for
sweeping reform of the U.N. system. A September 1947 study by the Senate
Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments found “serious
problems of overlap, duplication of effort, weak coordination, proliferating
mandates and programs, and overly generous compensation of staff within the
infant, but rapidly growing, UN system.”
the 1979 Kemp–Moynihan Amendment, Congress sought to limit U.N. support of
certain terrorist organizations by withholding a modest percentage of its contributions
until it was satisfied that the U.N. had stopped this objectionable practice.
over the increasing politicization of U.N. operations and programs, as well as
the organization’s rapidly increasing budgets, the United States and other Western
countries sought unsuccessfully to hold the U.N. to a zero growth budget in the
first half of the 1980s. This led former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Jeane
Kirkpatrick to testify that “[t]he countries which contribute more than 85
percent of the U.N. budget regularly vote against that budget, but are unable
to prevent its increases because the countries who pay less than 10 percent of
the budget have the votes.” This frustration led to the first major use of financial leverage to secure a
specific U.N. reform through the 1985 Kassebaum–Solomon amendment to the Foreign
Relations Authorization Act for fiscal year (FY) 1986 and FY 1987, which
withheld 20 percent of U.S. assessed contributions to the U.N. regular budget
and specialized agencies until weighted voting on budgetary matters was
voting was not adopted, but the U.N. did agree in 1986 to the consensus-based
budgeting process as an informal rule. While this process helped to constrain
budget growth, it failed either to force a review of mandates and spending
priorities or to reduce the budget. Consensus makes opposing budget increases
easier, but it also makes eliminating programs more difficult—it takes only one
sponsor to block action. The recent vote in the 5th Committee was the first
major break with this tradition of consensus on budgetary matters in two
former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, who served as U.N. Under-Secretary-General
for Administration and Management in 1992 and 1993, informed Congress of his
failed attempts to get Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to clamp down on
mismanagement and waste, Congress decided to withhold U.N. funds until the
General Assembly created an inspector general to monitor, audit, and inspect
U.N. operations. The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) was created
in 1994 as the U.N.’s primary investigative and auditing unit. Although lacking
true independence and understaffed, the OIOS has contributed to savings and
has exposed instances of mismanagement. However, as noted in an April 2006
report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the OIOS remains hamstrung
by the U.N. funding process, which leaves it subject to political pressure and
without sufficient resources to meet its responsibilities as the primary
internal auditing and investigatory body in the U.N. system.
- As a
condition for payment of accumulated arrears to the U.N., Congress specified a
series of reform benchmarks in the Helms–Biden United Nations Reform Act of
Among other conditions, the legislation required the U.N. to reduce the U.S. assessment for the regular budget to 22
percent and the U.S.
peacekeeping assessment to 25 percent. The U.N. General Assembly agreed to cap
the contribution of any individual nation to the regular budget at 22 percent.
Under existing formulas, this reduced the U.S. peacekeeping assessment to
about 27 percent. Congress deemed this sufficient and released the payment.
The U.S. has hardly
been alone in its attempts to reform the U.N. Independent scholars and groups
of experts have authored dozens of reports. At the behest of the U.N. General
Assembly and Secretary-General, various commissions and auditors have
conducted numerous reviews, and member states continue to conduct studies into
how the U.N. could be improved.
Secretary-General Annan’s tenure alone, the U.N. has undertaken numerous
efforts to reform the organization, including detailed reform agendas in 1997
and 2002 and over the past couple of years.
The 1997 and 2002 reform proposals by Annan attempted to institute an “extensive
and far-reaching set of changes that will move the Organization firmly along
the road to major and fundamental reform designed to achieve a greater unity
of purpose, coherence of effort and flexibility in response”
and, among other things, drop “[a]ctivities which are no longer relevant,”
“reduce the number of reports submitted each year,” and “move resources
according to needs.”
these reform efforts were only partially implemented. “As of December 2003,”
for example, according to a 2004 GAO report on U.N. reform, “60 percent of the
88 reform initiatives in the 1997 agenda and 38 percent of the 66 initiatives
in the 2002 agenda were in place.”
As a result, many of the key areas of reform identified in the 1997 and 2002
efforts remain objectives in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document,
such as overhauling human resources and management, weeding out deadwood staff,
realigning the budget away from low-priority areas to higher-priority areas,
implementing a performance-based budget system, imposing greater
accountability, eliminating duplication, streamlining reporting requirements,
and consolidating duplicative reports.
evidenced by the well-publicized scandals involving the Iraq Oil-for-Food
program, abuses by U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo and
elsewhere, and more recent revelations of corruption in U.N. procurement, the
organization has far to go in terms of improving oversight and accountability.
As one U.N. expert observed, “Critics keep calling for reform, in part, because
the United Nations has been so slow in delivering it.”
Most Recent Reform Effort
by reform-minded member states and recent scandals,
the General Assembly embarked on a new reform effort in late 2005. The General
Assembly’s final decision on reform was the World Summit Outcome Document,
which, though light on detail, accepted in principle a number of overdue
reforms, including replacing the discredited Human Rights Commission with a new
Human Rights Council (HRC) and asking the Secretary-General to propose
improvements in U.N. management, programs, personnel, oversight, transparency,
and accountability. Several lengthy reports on U.N. reform influenced the
Outcome Document, including the reports of the 16-member High-Level Panel on
Threats, Challenges and Change;
the congressionally appointed Task Force on the United Nations;
and the Volcker Commission, which detailed failures of the Oil-for-Food
of recent scandals, the Secretariat and General Assembly have been forced to
implement some initial reforms. However, many member states continue to resist
such efforts. Even the seemingly apolitical aspects of reform, such as
proposals to accelerate personnel recruitment and grant the Secretary-General
the ability to shift staff resources to meet urgent priorities, have met
resistance from the G-77, which sees the reform agenda as an assault on its
authority in the United Nations. Therefore, progress toward reform has been
eight months later, tangible progress has been disappointing. Only two reforms
can be considered complete: the Democracy Fund and replacement of the Human
Rights Commission with the Human Rights Council.
Democracy Fund. The
Democracy Fund, established in July 2005, actually preceded the Outcome
Document; but it fits within the current reform agenda, and the General
Assembly has endorsed it. Set up to fund projects to strengthen democratic
institutions, the rule of law, freedom of the press, and other characteristics
of representative government, the Democracy Fund has a 17-member advisory
board and $41 million in pledged resources. It is considering projects.
Human Rights Council.
The General Assembly has passed the resolution establishing the Human Rights
Council and has abolished the Human Rights Commission. Elections for new members
were held on May 9, 2006. Although the process is complete, the HRC fell far
short of U.S.
expectations. The U.S.
was one of four countries that voted against creation of the council and has
announced that it will not run for a seat on it, waiting instead to see whether
the HRC is an improvement over the discredited commission.
The election of human rights abusers like Algeria,
China, Cuba, Pakistan,
Russia, and Saudi Arabia to the new Human Rights Council
clearly validates U.S.
Another group of reforms are at varying stages of completion. While these
reforms are welcome steps in the right direction, they will require extensive
follow-up and support to ensure that they become embedded in the U.N. system
and perform as envisioned.
months of negotiations, the Security Council and the General Assembly jointly
adopted a resolution establishing a 31-member Peacebuilding Commission to provide
international support to help countries make the transition from post-conflict
instability to long-term stability. Funding and staffing are still being
paragraph 161(d) of the Outcome Document, the General Assembly asked the Secretary-General
“to scrupulously apply the existing standards of conduct and develop a
system-wide code of ethics for all United Nations personnel [and] submit
details on an ethics office with independent status.” The General Assembly
supported the proposal and approved resources for the Ethics Office on December
23, 2005. The Ethics Office has begun operations but is not yet fully staffed.
Financial Disclosure Requirements. The General Assembly also approved the Secretary-General’s
proposal to impose financial disclosure requirements on U.N. staff at the D-1
level or above in December 2005. The bulletin outlining the new policy was
issued on November 25, 2005.
Few disclosures have been submitted, although an updated bulletin has been
issued and a submission deadline has been set for May 31, 2006.
Policy. The General
Assembly supported the Secretary-General’s proposal to adopt “enhanced
protection for those who reveal wrongdoing within the Organization.” The new
policy was posted in a 2005 bulletin and became effective on January 1, 2006.
The new whistleblower policy has resulted in a number of complaints being
investigated by the Ethics Office. Progress to date has been admirable, but a
consistent record of following through on complaints has yet to be established.
Reforms. The bulk
of the remaining reforms endorsed in the Outcome Document, put forth by the
Secretary-General, or sought by the U.S. Congress in the United Nations Reform
Act of 2005 are being held up—in large part due to opposition in the General
of Terrorism. More
than four years after the 9/11 attacks, the United Nations has yet to agree on
and adopt a definition of terrorism. This failure has halted progress on the
Comprehensive Convention Against Terrorism.
the Secretary-General’s Managerial Authority. The General Assembly requested that the
Secretary-General, as chief administrative officer of the United Nations,
submit proposals to reform U.N. management. The Secretary-General submitted
his proposals on March 7, 2006, and they are under consideration by the General
the Secretary-General More Discretion to Move Personnel. In December 2005, the General
Assembly reauthorized the Secretary-General’s authority to redeploy 50 posts.
The General Assembly, however, did not broaden—and the Secretary-General has
not used—this authority. Additional authority to move personnel was proposed
by the Secretary-General but faces opposition from the G-77.
of Budgetary, Financial, and Human Resource Regulations and Policies. The Secretary-General submitted his
proposals, many of which require General Assembly approval, on March 7, 2006.
Additional changes are supposed to be submitted in a September 2006 report.
of Mandates Older Than Five Years. The Secretary-General submitted an initial report on the
review of mandates on March 30, 2006. The report’s recommendations were very
general and focused on reducing reports, eliminating redundancy, and recommending
procedures to avoid adoption of unnecessary mandates. The report contained few
specific recommendations on which mandates to eliminate. Accompanying the
report was a new Mandate Registry that, for the first time, provided a
comprehensive list of the over 9,000 individual mandates requiring action by
the Secretariat. Some of these mandates date back to the 1940s. The G-77 is
resisting efforts to eliminate older or duplicative mandates. Similarly, little
progress has been made on adopting sunset clauses in new mandates to prevent
repetition of this problem in the future.
Buyout. Many staff
employees contribute minimally to the mission of the U.N. because they lack
either motivation or the necessary skills. As the Task Force on the United
personnel system has accumulated a heavy load of staff who lack the skills or
the motivation to perform their duties, or whose duties are no longer
necessary. For too many of the member-states, the United Nations is seen as a
job placement bureau.
Secretary-General’s March 7 report estimated the cost of a staff buyout at
$100,000 per person, for a total cost of $100 million for the estimated 1,000
people determined to be poorly suited for employment in the U.N. Few details
were provided on these 1,000 staff employees, their current employment status,
how close they are to retirement, and why a buyout of $100,000 was deemed
Qualifications over Geography in Hiring. The March 7 report maintains the current priority
of nationality over qualifications in hiring, thereby raising doubts about how
much a buyout would improve U.N. staff. As long as this policy continues, the
U.N. will remain plagued by poorly performing staff selected because of
geographic or political considerations instead of their skills.
Oversight and Auditing Mechanisms. The U.N.’s oversight and auditing capabilities suffer from
insufficient resources and lack of independence. A key part of the problem is
the funding mechanism for the Office of Internal Oversight Services, which
subjects the OIOS to political pressure and undermines its independence. As
noted by the GAO, “UN funding arrangements constrain OIOS’s ability to operate
independently as mandated by the General Assembly and required by international
auditing standards to which OIOS subscribes.”
is conducting an independent external evaluation of the oversight and auditing
systems in the U.N. and the specialized agencies, including the Office of
Internal Oversight Services. The report is expected by June 2006 and, in
addition to considering such issues as operational independence for OIOS and
necessary resource levels, will make recommendations for the proposed
Independent Audit Advisory Committee.
Resources and Capacity for the OIOS. The General Assembly approved 39 additional posts for the
OIOS. The new posts are temporary pending an external review that will
determine the additional resources required by the OIOS, especially if it is
to extend its oversight services to other U.N. agencies. The General Assembly
will have to approve additional permanent positions or reallocate existing
positions to the OIOS.
an Independent Audit Advisory Committee (IAAC). The General Assembly approved, in
principle, creation of the IAAC in its 2006–2007 budget resolution. However,
the member states have not agreed to the details of the IAAC.
Tolerance Policy for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by U.N. Personnel. The report on implementation has
been delayed indefinitely.
Cooperation with Criminal Investigations. The Secretary-General has not released a document
detailing U.N. policy on cooperating with legitimate legal investigations into
crimes allegedly committed by U.N. officials or staff. While the organization
has lifted the immunity of staff implicated in various crimes, U.N. policy
toward employees or former employees charged with crimes is still conducted on
an ad hoc basis.
instance, former Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services Dileep
Nair was the subject of an investigation by a U.N.-appointed independent
investigator into allegations of favoritism in recruiting and promoting
employees and other improper conduct.
Although the report has yet to be made public, reports indicate that Nair has
refused to cooperate with the investigation and that this refusal has met with
no repercussions. The Secretary-General should establish a policy laying out
when immunity will be waived and what actions will be taken to compel
cooperation with investigations, such as suspending pensions for those who are
accused of crimes unless they cooperate with investigators.
important as these reforms are, they would leave many important issues
unaddressed, including issues of concern to Congress.
Toward Voluntary Funding. Moving portions of the U.N. regular budget from assessed funding toward
voluntary funding was a key part of the U.N. Reform Act of 2005, but it is
missing from both the Outcome Document and the Secretary-General’s follow-up
proposals. In a related matter, the regular budget continues to contribute to
funds and programs that should be funded entirely through voluntary
contributions. For instance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
has a biennial budget of $272 million, of which $12 million comes from the
regular budget. Similarly, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) receives 3 percent, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
(UNRWA) receives 2 percent. There is little justification for continuing to
assess members for activities that enjoy ample voluntary support.
Redundancy and Ineffectiveness. Even if the mandate review process successfully eliminates
obsolete, ineffective, and duplicative mandates within the Secretariat, that
will not resolve similar problems of duplication, ineffectiveness, and lack of
coordination among the numerous funds, programs, agencies, and other bodies
and organs of the U.N. As far back as 1946, Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg (R–MI)
noted in a letter to Secretary of State James Byrnes that U.N. specialized
agencies were being created too quickly and with responsibilities that were too
A 1948 Senate report remarked:
appears to be a tendency on the part of the agencies concerned to undertake far
more than they can hope to accomplish, and very often without proper regard for
the importance of the work undertaken…. The result is that funds are spread
very thin and very little is accomplished generally. Whenever a particular
project appears important at the moment, a new commission or committee is
appointed to look into the matter. This ultimately results in a proliferation
of bodies, attempting to accomplish a great deal of work, much of which
constitutes duplication of effort already being made and some of which overlaps
proliferation of U.N. funds, programs, conferences, agencies, offices, and
other organs and bodies has only increased over time.
In a related matter, the General Assembly has yet to review its committee
structure to resolve overlapping responsibilities, such as between the
Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the 2nd (economic and financial) and
3rd (social, humanitarian, and cultural) Committees.
Financial Contributions and Influence in the U.N. Budgetary Process. The one-country, one-vote structure
of the General Assembly, which ignores financial contributions, creates a
free-rider problem wherein countries that pay little drive financial decisions.
This divorce between obligations and decision-making is perhaps the greatest
cause of the U.N.’s decades-long intransigence on real reform. The United States
will pay 22 percent of the $3.8 billion 2006–2007 regular budget, or about
$418 million per year excluding the 27 percent of peacekeeping costs that it
also pays and its sizeable voluntary contributions to U.N. technical and
specialized agencies. Yet the 48 countries that have the lowest U.N.
assessment—a meager 0.001 percent of the regular budget—pay only about $19,000
each per year. As a prominent U.N. expert once said, “Surely it should not cost
a nation less to belong to the UN than an individual to go to college or to buy
states that foot a significant portion of the U.N. bill (e.g., the United States, Japan,
Germany, the United Kingdom, France,
Italy, Canada, and Spain, which together pay 72.5
percent of the regular budget) deserve greater influence over how the funds are
spent. If that is not possible, the financial burden should at least be spread
across U.N. membership more evenly.
Proposals by Japan and the U.S. to address this issue, such as requiring
permanent members of the Security Council to make minimum contributions or
using gross national product adjusted by purchasing power parity as the basis
for determining assessments, have been strongly opposed by many member
the Secretary-General on His Administrative Responsibilities. Recent years have seen a troubling
evolution of the office of the Secretary-General away from its primary responsibility
as chief administrative officer of the U.N. toward a role as self-appointed
political advocate. According to Secretary-General Annan:
Chief Administrative Officer of the Organization, I have managerial responsibilities
which have grown far more demanding with the extraordinary increase in the
number and complexity of field missions and other operational activities. Yet
at the same time the direct and active involvement of the United Nations in a
far wider range of issues than in the past has placed enormous calls on my time
and capacity in my role as a political instrument of the Security Council, the
General Assembly and other United Nations organs. In short, I am expected to be
the world’s chief diplomat and at the same time to run a large and complex
Organization, as it were, in my spare time.
ease this burden, Annan has proposed shifting the Secretary-General’s
administrative responsibilities—the only specific role assigned to the office
in the U.N. Charter—to the Deputy Secretary-General to permit the
Secretary-General to focus on his self-appointed role as the world’s “chief
diplomat.” The U.S.
should oppose this illegitimate role for the Secretary-General as
inappropriately infringing on the prerogatives of heads of state and their
representatives. As Ambassador Bolton has noted:
UN Charter describes the secretary-general as the UN’s “chief administrative
officer.” He is not the president of the world. He is not a diplomat for all
seasons.… He is the chief administrative officer. Nothing less than that, to be
sure, but, with even greater certainty, nothing more.
is critically important that the United States emphasize the
appropriate priority of responsibilities during the selection of the next
Secretary-General in the upcoming months.
a New Organ to Contract and Oversee Procurement for U.N. Peacekeeping. The ongoing peacekeeping
procurement scandal raises questions about the U.N. Secretariat’s ability to
handle both its own procurement needs and those of the rapidly expanding
peacekeeping operations around the world. According to the GAO:
the UN Department of Management is responsible for UN procurement, field
procurement staff are instead supervised by the UN Department of Peacekeeping
Operations, which currently lacks the expertise and capacities needed to manage
field procurement activities.
two procurement operations are substantially different and, in the case of
peacekeeping, involve unique purchases that are likely to arise with little
notice and for uncertain periods. It makes little sense to expand the
procurement offices in the Secretariat to meet what may be a transitory demand.
As noted by former Under-Secretary-General for Management Catherine Bertini:
the UN’s Peacekeeping operation, should have a formal governance structure
responsible for its oversight and direction.… DPKO is a huge operational
department. Its current budget is far larger than that of the Secretariat, yet
it operates institutionally like a staff department.
is time for the U.N. General Assembly to consider creating a new organ
specifically dedicated to procurement for U.N. peacekeeping operations that can
be staffed by personnel provided gratis by donor militaries or through
short-term contracts to adjust to the ebbs and flows of peacekeeping demands.
A new governance group, perhaps modeled after the new Peacebuilding Commission
and composed of a relatively small group of permanent Security Council
members, major contributors to the peacekeeping budget, and key contributors
of peacekeeping troops and personnel, should be established to oversee this
new U.N. organ, which should also be subject to OIOS and IAAC audits,
inspections, and oversight.
for Successful Reform
U.N. reforms face opposition from the G-77, which, with 132 members, commands a
two-thirds majority of the General Assembly. A draft General Assembly
resolution from the G-77 countries on April 18, 2006, to the 5th Committee
revealed that they would delay and block the reform effort by requesting a
series of reports from the Secretary-General on his reform proposals.
On April 28, the G-77 forced a vote on the South African resolution that passed
by a vote of 108 to 50 with three abstentions.
The General Assembly subsequently passed the resolution by a vote of 121 to 50
with two abstentions on May 8.
is a significant setback. Nevertheless, there are three reasons for optimism
concerning the current U.N. reform effort’s potential for success.
extremely public scandals have clearly illustrated the many problems that
continue to plague the U.N. As a fundamentally political organization, the United
Nations often makes decisions that are based more on political concerns than on
effectiveness. Seemingly benign changes in personnel and mandates are perceived
as turf wars, slights, or assaults on obscure fiefdoms. Historically, although
many elements of the U.N. bureaucracy oppose change, it has been easier to
pursue reforms if they are solely within the purview of the Secretary-General.
resistance by member states, not bureaucratic inertia, has been the biggest
obstacle to reform. The many scandals have placed obstructionist elements
among the U.N. membership on weaker ground and have enhanced interest in reform
among major contributors. Partly in reaction to these scandals, the General
Assembly has already acceded to key reform principles, including eliminating
outdated and duplicative mandates, adopting stronger and more independent oversight,
increasing transparency, and granting the Secretary-General greater autonomy
over his staff. While resistance will be stiff, member states interested in
reform can point to the agreed 2005 World Summit Outcome document and ongoing
revelations of mismanagement as justification for moving forward.
Reform Actions. If
implemented, the current reform effort is far more likely to improve the U.N.’s
daily operations than was the case with previous efforts because it requires
review and change for those policies and mandates that impede the organization.
Past reforms have focused on broad issues, such as adjusting the scale of
assessments and expansion of the Security Council or ECOSOC, or on relatively
mild adjustments in administration or structure that largely fall within the
purview of the Secretary-General. These changes have had little influence over
the daily operations of the U.N., while more fundamental reforms were hampered
by existing constraints that could be changed only by the General Assembly.
current reform effort places significant focus on General Assembly action. It
encompasses reform of what the U.N. does both in terms of mandates,
prioritization, and operational activities and in terms of the supporting
processes of budget, personnel, accountability, and oversight.
Budget Cap. The
imposition of a $950 million budget cap is unprecedented. Unilateral financial
leverage can be effective, but multilateral financial pressure is better. The
expressed determination of the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada, New
Zealand, the United Kingdom, and a few other member countries to oppose the
biennial budget unless certain reforms are adopted—a form of multilateral
financial withholding—will be instrumental in achieving fundamental reform.
these major contributors remain committed to reform and do not prematurely
approve another budget, the $950 million cap will ensure that reform issues
remain on the front burner and apply pressure on the G-77 to support key
reforms. Even if the General Assembly moves forward on some key reforms, the U.S. and other
reform-minded member states should oppose approving the full U.N. budget and
instead seek incremental budget extensions to maintain pressure. Passage of the
G-77 resolution delaying reforms until the Secretary-General submits additional
reports has made this even more critical.
is the time to press for fundamental reform of the U.N. The U.S. should not
let G-77 intransigence block the current reform effort. Leading up to the vote
in the 5th Committee, the U.S.
and other nations warned the G-77 that passing the resolution would have
consequences. British Ambassador to the U.N. Emyr Jones-Parry reacted strongly
to this blocking strategy:
should realize we pay 82 percent of the budget and we’re not going to have this
sort of imposition on us by the draconian tactics by the G-77 at the moment. If
they want to play with fire, they’re going to get their fingers burnt, that’s
the reform effort is to succeed, reform-minded member states must follow
through on their threat to impose financial consequences on the G-77 based on
its action. When the General Assembly adopted its 2006–2007 budget, only $950
million of the $3.8 billion budget was authorized. The U.N. is expected to
exhaust this funding by the end of June.
U.S. and other like-minded states should oppose any funds beyond the $950
million until reforms recommended in the Outcome Document and the Secretary
General’s follow-up reports are implemented, except those delayed by the G-77
resolution. If these reforms are implemented, the U.S. should agree to allocate funds
only incrementally. Any extension of the budget should be tied to progress in
adopting reforms, specifically by extending the budget monthly as the
Secretary-General submits follow-up reports and the General Assembly acts to
pass reforms. Tying approval of the rest of the U.N. budget to reform can place
significant pressure on the other member states to adopt reform.
U.S. Congress can greatly increase chances of successful reform through
legislated benchmarks and financial withholding, such as those adopted in the
2005 United Nations Reform Act. There are also worrisome indications that the
G-77 is seeking to approve the U.N. budget beyond the $950 million cap.
Congress should pass legislation similar to the Kassebaum-Solomon amendment to
withhold UN funds if the budget is passed over the objection of the U.S. or until
weighted voting is adopted. Financial sticks and carrots can be very effective
in countering the strong inertia within the U.N. against reform. The preferable
route is to win through negotiation, but if reform stalls, there may be no
other choice. Without this type of external measurement of progress tied to
financial incentives, the sound and fury of the current U.N. reform effort, as
with past efforts, could easily signify nothing.
America’s relationship with the United
Nations is complex. The U.N. and its affiliated organizations have a utility
that can assist the U.S.
in accomplishing policy outcomes. It is clearly in the interest of the United States
to engage the United Nations and use the organization to advance its priorities,
indirectly address secondary or tertiary problems, and facilitate cooperation
with other nations in addressing common problems. However, America must
not let the occasional utility of the U.N. restrict its ability to protect its
is in the interests of the U.S to have an effective United Nations. To be
useful, the U.N. must carry out its responsibilities competently. The current
organization falls short. The United
States should not hesitate to encourage
controversial reforms intended to improve the organization. The cost of failing
to reform the U.N. is high, not just for the U.N., which risks being sidelined
if it cannot be relied upon to address key issues, but also for America, which
would be forced to expend greater treasure and effort to resolve problems that
could otherwise be assigned to the U.N.
Administration focused on advancing its policy priorities in the United
Nations can block many counterproductive initiatives put forth in the U.N.
Rallying support for positive change is much more difficult. Such efforts
require the assistance of other member states or the use of leverage to impose
reforms on an unwilling organization.
carrots and sticks are often the most effective levers. Congress and
reform-minded member states should use such tactics again to spur reform.
Without constant pressure, including financial pressure, change is unlikely to
occur, and the U.N. will revert to its usual cycle of crisis, expressions of
concern, cosmetic reform, and quiet inaction.
D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the
Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby
Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.