June 14, 2005
By Peter Brookes
It's an important, but unwritten, rule of
American politics: When Congress feels the need to get involved in
your business, you're in big trouble. We'll soon see how this
applies to world politics - as Congress beads in on the United
This week, the House of Representatives will debate and vote on
the United Nations Reform Act of 2005, a bill requiring Turtle Bay
to fix itself pronto - or lose a big chunk of the U.S. dollars that
fund its operations.
Such threats should come as no surprise to anyone who has been
following the United Nations recently. The world's premier
international institution has been wracked by widespread scandal
The exposure of the corrupt Iraqi Oil-for-Food program and
shocking accounts of sexual abuse/exploitation by U.N peacekeepers
in far too many places would be enough to close down most
organizations - but not the United Nations.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan admits there are serious problems -
and has promised change. But with the United States contributing
the lion's share of the U.N.'s bloated budget - $2 billion a year -
promises of change aren't good enough.
Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), Chairman of the House International
Relations Committee, says the bill's purpose is to "address the
U.N.'s legendary bureaucratization, billions of dollars spent on
multitudes of programs with meager results, and outright
misappropriation and mismanagement of funds."
And there's a stick: If the United Nations doesn't implement - and
certify - the changes stipulated - including budget, peacekeeping
and Human Rights Commission reforms - the U.S. government would
withhold its U.N. dues payment.
Hyde believes that without applying appropriate "leverage," such as
withholding up to half of America's assessed dues or mandating cuts
in specific U.N. programs, that reforms "will fail or be incomplete
He's absolutely right. Considering the U.S. pays 22 percent of the
U.N. budget, a cut of that magnitude would be a painful dose of
Some will argue that this bill is meant to destroy the United
Nations - but Hyde says he's out to improve its effectiveness and
Hyde's bill recognizes that U.N. reforms need to be kick-started.
With Annan leaving his post at the end of his term in 18 months,
many see him as a lame duck, and woefully incapable of implementing
any meaningful reform agenda.
As it stands now, without serious congressional pressure, reforms
are likely to languish until the new secretary-general is in place
- at best. At worst, reform will be frustrated ad infinitum by the
U.N.'s entrenched bureaucracy.
The bill also demands some long-overdue U.N. adjustments. For
instance: It gives the largest U.N. donors a stronger voice on how
resources are allocated, using "weighted voting."
The three largest contributors - America, Japan and Germany -
cover 50 percent of the U.N. budget, while the lowest 128
contributors (of 191 U.N. nations) together give less than 1
The act also slashes the outrageous spending on U.N. conferences.
The world body spent a staggering $565 million over the last two
years on meetings - the single largest portion of its budget.
And what of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights - whose members
have included highly repressive states such as Libya, Zimbabwe,
Sudan, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and China? Hyde's bill recommends
replacing the commission with a council that would contain no
human-rights abusers. (The bill could be improved on the House
floor with an amendment requiring council to be democracies,
The Hyde bill intentionally shies away from the growing
controversy over U.N. Security Council expansion from 15 to 24
members, likely supporting the idea that increasing membership will
diminish its effectiveness.
The Bush administration hasn't commented formally on the bill,
most likely preferring to get an up-or-down vote in the Senate on
U.N. ambassador-designate John Bolton instead.
And even if the bill passes the House this week, it may never see
the light of day in the Senate. But the threat of legislation is
often as effective in advancing a cause as passing the law
Despite its often-gaping shortcomings, the United Nations provides
an important forum for international diplomacy and dispute
mediation. It has advanced international humanitarian, disaster
relief, electioneering and peacekeeping efforts.
But unless the United States takes an aggressive lead in shaping
the U.N. reform agenda, including insisting on secretariat
accountability, any changes at Turtle Bay are likely to be nothing
more than window dressing.
Since the United Nations can't-or won't - reform, Congress will
have to step in and save the world body from itself.
Peter Brookes is
a Heritage Foundation senior fellow.
First appeared in the New York Post
It's an important, but unwritten, rule of American politics: When Congress feels the need to get involved in your business, you're in big trouble.
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
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