The U.N. Summit Document: At What Cost?


The U.N. Summit Document: At What Cost?

September 21, 2005 10 min read
Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs
Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at Heritage's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in 2003 that the United Nations had reached "a fork in the road": member states would have to reform the U.N.'s institutions and processes to strengthen the organization and ensure its ability to meet future challenges or it would fade into irrelevancy.[1] Many hoped that the World Summit marking the 60th anniversary of the U.N. would lead member states to choose the path to a revitalized U.N. Instead, they chose to continue on the path towards irrelevance, refusing to confront the organization's inefficiency, waste, and unaccountability.


The final Summit document proposes an array of costly new mandates but punts on any serious reforms. This combination could cost U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars-how much, exactly, nobody's saying. Regardless of the merit of these new mandates, they should not be fulfilled with new funding on top of the existing U.N. budget. Reports published in the past year consistently reach the conclusion that U.N. resources are often squandered on low-priority or outdated mandates and that many employees are deadwood, contributing little to the organization. The U.S. should insist that existing resources be put to better use and refuse to commit more taxpayer dollars to an organization rife with waste and lacking in accountability.


Avoiding Reform

Over the past year, successive revelations of waste, ineffectiveness, and criminal activity at the U.N. have sharpened calls for fundamental reform, not only in the United States, but around the world and by the Secretary-General himself. The U.S. Congress launched numerous investigations into the U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal and held hearings about sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere. Congress also formed a task force to study the U.N.'s failures and recommend reforms.[2] Shortly after the task force issued its report, the House of Representatives passed a tough U.N. reform bill that would have the U.S. withhold 50 percent of its regular U.N. dues unless the organization adopted specific reforms.[3] Even the U.N. itself has released several reports prescribing necessary reforms.


Given this momentum, many harbored great expectations that the 2005 U.N. World Summit would yield a consensus document that would be the basis for such desperately needed reform. In the aftermath of the Summit, however, few people are applauding the results.[4] Before the much-discussed U.S. effort to amend it, the draft document did little to address key problems at the U.N., focusing instead on preserving the authority of the General Assembly. Despite U.S. efforts to improve recommendations for reform, little progress was made in the weeks leading up to the conference.[5]


Across the board, the Summit document disappoints. Where there were opportunities for the document to endorse specific reforms, resolve to implement them, or pledge to undertake action, the document merely welcomes efforts or requests the Secretary-General to submit details on his proposals. For instance, U.N. member states could have created an ethics office, authorized stronger financial disclosure requirements, and strengthened the independence of the U.N.'s several oversight mechanisms. Yet, despite evident ethical lapses in the organization, such as alleged money-laundering by the Chairman of the powerful advisory committee on the U.N. budget[6] and widespread sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers, the outcome document meekly welcomes the Secretary-General's effort to "ensure ethical conduct, more extensive financial disclosure for United Nations officials and enhanced protection for those who reveal wrongdoing within the Organization."[7] The U.S. Congress-which has demanded a tougher ethics code, more stringent financial disclosure requirements, and stronger whistleblower protections- surely will be unsatisfied with statements urging the Secretary-General to "scrupulously apply the existing standards of conduct" that failed to prevent past and current abuses.


Nearly every concrete proposal for reform to improve management, accountability, effectiveness, transparency, or resource allocation was ignored, watered down, or kicked down the road. The only marginally positive reforms in the document are the creation of a new "Human Rights Council" (though the document does not explicitly call for the elimination of the existing Commission on Human Rights or adopt standards for membership on the new Council), a request for an independent external evaluation of the U.N.'s auditing and oversight system, and a pledge to strengthen the Office of Independent Oversight Services. Measured against the reforms proposed by outside experts, this is thin gruel.


No Reform, More Mandates (and Costs)

In the end, the member states' agreement is short on substantive reform and long on wish-listed new U.N. mandates, including:

  • A new standing United Nations police capacity (paragraph 92);
  • A new "Peacebuilding Commission" and a peacekeeping support office in the Secretariat (paragraphs 97 and 104);
  • A voluntarily funded, standing "Peacebuilding Fund" for post-conflict peace building (paragraph 103) ;
  • A request for the Secretary-General to submit proposals for a "comprehensive approach to victims' assistance" (for "assistance," read "funding") for those sexually exploited or abused by U.N. personnel (paragraph 165);
  • Increased capacity for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (paragraph 115);
  • A doubling of the budget of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (paragraph 124);
  • Support for a rule-of-law assistance unit in the Secretariat and the provision of technical assistance and capacity building (paragraph 134e); and
  • New meetings to assess trends in development (paragraph 155 and bullets a-e).

If the United Nations remains true to form, these new mandates and activities will require new resources to hire additional U.N. staff members and pay their salaries, benefits, travel expenses, furniture, computers, and miscellaneous expenses. In keeping with past practice, expect that the General Assembly will consider these new mandates to fall outside of the U.N.'s existing $3.5 billion biennial budget. This raises two questions that no one in the United Nations, the U.S. Mission to the U.N., or the State Department seems to have considered seriously: Just how much are all these new mandates going to cost, and what does that mean to U.S. taxpayers?


Given the lack of specifics in the outcome document, it is difficult to assess how the U.N. will estimate these new costs. Even leaving aside the enormous costs of the pledges to increase assistance to developing countries,[8] facilitate the transfer of technology to developing countries, and implement the many programs, funds, conventions, agreements, and other declarations endorsed in the World Summit outcome document, the new activities outlined for the Secretariat alone will require dozens if not hundreds of new staff and cost in the tens of millions of dollars.


With the General Assembly's historical lack of interest in curtailing budgets, cutting the deadwood from staff, and refusing to end outdated or superfluous mandates, the predictable outcome will not be a transformed U.N. but an expansion of U.N. mandates, along with an increased budget and staff. In support of this conclusion, a preliminary U.N. estimate indicates that the outcome document will require $80 million in new resources and staff[9]-no attention is given to the possibility of shifting existing resources to higher priority uses.


The United States must not allow the other member states of the General Assembly to railroad it into providing additional financial resources to support these initiatives. While some of the new mandates deserve U.S. support-particularly the U.N. Democracy Fund, which is seeking, wisely, voluntary contributions-the U.S. should demand that they be funded within the current budget or through voluntary contributions. The Secretary-General must be held to his repeated pledges for "transparency and accountability" and forced to come forward at the earliest opportunity with a comprehensive estimate of the costs of implementing the outcome document-including suggestions for reallocation of current resources and personnel slots.



Unsurprisingly, one of the few clear, unequivocal commitments in the World Summit outcome document is a pledge to provide the U.N. with "adequate resources, on a timely basis, to enable the Organization to implement its mandates."[10] This focus on assuring more resources rather than ensuring that existing resources are better used is typical and should be a clear signal to Congress that the U.N. will not reform on its own. Instead, the U.S. must push reform through financial withholding, such as with the United Nations Reform Act of 2005.


More immediately, the U.S. should clearly state that it will appropriate no additional resources to the United Nations based on the World Summit outcome document. If new mandates require additional resources or personnel, they should be found within the current budget and staff. With spiraling budget deficits and the enormous projected cost of Katrina relief, Congress and the Administration should not provide more of U.S. taxpayers' dollars to an organization that does so little with so much already and refuses to adopt reforms to prevent misuse.


Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Center for International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation.

[1]Kofi Annan, "Secretary-General's address to the General Assembly," September 23, 2003, at

[2]United States Institute for Peace, American Interests and U.N. Reform: Report of the Task Force on the United Nations (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 2005), at  

[3]Brett D. Schaefer, "The United Nations Reform Act of 2005: A Powerful Lever to Advance U.N. Reform," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 759, June 10, 2005, at

[4] "2005 World Summit Outcome," Follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit Draft resolution referred to the High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly by the General Assembly at its fifty-ninth session,

General Assembly document A/60/L.1, September 15, 2005, at

[5] John Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., open letter on the draft outcome document, August 30, 2005, at /static/reportimages/2AA1E122B2ABD70E5E8828804D92C0E5.pdf.

[6]"Russian Envoy Pleads Not Guilty to Charges," New York Times, September 3, 2005.

[7] "2005 World Summit Outcome," paragraph 161d, at

[8] Left out of this estimate is the cost of fulfilling the Millennium Development Goal of providing 0.7 percent of GNP in development assistance. For the United States, this would mean increasing development assistance to $82.5 billion from the $19 billion it provided in 2004. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, "Official Development Assistance increases further-but 2006 targets still a challenge," April 11, 2005, at
; Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, "Net Official Development Assistance in 2004," p. 1, at

[9]A U.N. budget implication estimate indicated that the costs resulting from the outcome document would be $80 million. However, this estimate is cursory and does not provide substantial details. See "Programme budget implications of draft resolution A/60/L.1," at

[10] "2005 World Summit Outcome," paragraph 161e, at


Brett Schaefer

Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs