Recommendations to the Bush Administration on U.N. Reform

Report Global Politics

Recommendations to the Bush Administration on U.N. Reform

October 20, 2003 4 min read

Authors: Nile Gardiner and Baker Spring

On October 21, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, Kim R. Holmes, will deliver a major address on the challenges facing the United Nations. His speech comes at a time of widespread disenchantment with the U.N. across America.[1]


At the dawn of the 21st century, the United Nations looks more like a glorified debating society than a serious global body designed to confront the world's growing threats and problems. The inability of the U.N. to deal with the Iraqi dictatorship was symbolic of its broader failure to address the rising global threat posed by international terrorism and rogue states.


As the Bush Administration begins its efforts to make the United Nations a more effective organization, it should call for the U.N. to undergo radical restructuring, including revision of its charter, reform of its major commissions, and the streamlining of its bloated bureaucracy.


Key Recommendations for the Bush Administration


National Sovereignty

  • The United Nations should not have a veto right over U.S. foreign policy.
  • While the United States should remain an active participant in the United Nations, Washington must not allow the U.N. to limit the freedom of the U.S. and other democratic nation-states to act in their own national interest on the international stage.

Charter Reform

  • The Bush Administration should call for fundamental revision of the United Nations Charter to bring it in line with the modern world.
  • The U.N. Charter should be amended to broaden nation-states' right of self-defense in the face of mounting threats from rogue regimes and international terrorist networks.

Security Council

  • The U.S. should oppose any expansion of the Security Council. An increase in the number of permanent Security Council members will not improve the effectiveness of the United Nations. Indeed, it might well have the opposite effect.
  • The Security Council as an institution has become increasingly obsolete and frequently acts as a barrier to the advancement of U.S. foreign policy.
  • The Bush Administration should encourage the U.N. to explore new structures for addressing security concerns.


U.S. Funding for the U.N.

  • No other nation in the world contributes more to the work of the United Nations than the United States. The Bush Administration should call upon other leading member states, such as Russia and China, to make a greater contribution to the U.N. budget, with a larger share of the financial burden.
  • Future levels of U.S. funding for the U.N. should be directly linked to the pace of U.N. reform.
  • The U.S. should make funding of U.N. commissions, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), conditional on reform. It should further be demonstrated that long-term U.S. membership is in the national interest.

Human Rights

  • The Bush Administration should call for major reform of the UNCHR and should support the removal of tyrannical regimes from its membership.
  • Washington should press for the U.N. to apply a "zero tolerance" policy toward repressive regimes.

Secretary General

  • Strict term limits should be imposed on U.N. Secretaries General.
  • The Secretary General should serve no longer than one five-year term in office.

U.N. Bureaucracy

  • The U.N. must not become a growing burden on the U.S. taxpayer and must provide value for money.
  • The U.N. bureaucracy should be streamlined and made more cost-effective.

External Audit

  • The Bush Administration should call for a thorough external audit of the United Nations. At present, the U.N. does not even publish an annual report.
  • There needs to be a far greater level of accountability by U.N. bureaucrats to the taxpayers who fund their salaries.

Engage the U.N.

The United Nations continues its slow decline as a force on the world stage and will go the same way as the League of Nations unless it is radically reformed and restructured. Reform of the U.N. Charter will be fundamentally important for the future relevance of the world body.


It is in the interests of the United States to actively engage the U.N. and help shape its future, rather than sit back and watch the organization self-destruct. The U.N. can and should play an important role in mediating disputes between nations, advancing human rights, and countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, it is imperative that the U.N. does not act as a barrier preventing democratic nation-states from taking pre-emptive action in self-defense.


Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Center for International Trade and Economics, and Baker Spring is F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.


[1]In a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of U.S. attitudes toward the United Nations, conducted on August 25-26, 2003, only 37 percent of respondents believed the U.N. was doing a "good job," and 60 percent of those surveyed believed the U.N. was doing a "poor job."



Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow

Baker Spring
Baker Spring

Former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy