March 18, 2013
By Brett D. Schaefer
This year, United Nations officials have spent a lot of time in Washington meeting with administration officials and Congress, trying to defend their funding from sequestration and the threat of other cuts. Small wonder they are concerned: The U.N. has had a rough 2013.
On international peace and security, human rights, and issues of management and accountability, the organization has reminded the world just how ineffective, inept, and embarrassing it is. Let’s go through a few of the year’s major stories.
Considering this record of embarrassment, ineffectiveness, and mismanagement, is anyone surprised about recent revelations that U.N. officials and delegates sometimes drink heavily during meetings?
The examples above arose in just the past few months. Far worse examples have been exposed with depressing regularity over the years (think the Iraqi Oil-for-Food scandal). This list also leaves aside long-standing issues such as bias against Israel in the U.N. Human Rights Council, misconduct by U.N. peacekeepers, and reports that the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) supports terrorism.
Western nations have long been frustrated over duplication, fragmentation, and low return on investment among U.N. funds, programs, and agencies (a May 2012 study by economists William Easterly and Claudia Williamson assessing best and worst practices among aid agencies ranked U.N. agencies among the worst), but few countries have persistently sought to address these problems. That may finally be changing, thanks to budget constraints in donor countries. In recent months, 17 donor nations, including the U.S., have met to coordinate efforts to reshape the U.N. system to address corruption and make it less fragmented and more transparent and cost-effective.
Individual nations have also begun to take action. Perhaps the best example is the Multilateral Aid Review of 43 organizations, conducted by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development. The review found that nine multilateral aid agencies offered “poor value for money,” including U.N. organizations such as UNESCO. DFID decided to stop providing core funding to four organizations and put four others on notice that funding may be stopped unless reforms are implemented.
Alarmed by these efforts, senior officials of over 20 U.N. bodies met in January. They acknowledged that the “U.N. Common System has been called into question, and its governance and mechanisms challenged.”
Unfortunately, the meeting was short on specific reforms. By far, the most detailed discussion centered on tweaking procedures for future meetings and developing “strong communication campaigns providing government representatives and lawmakers in our Member States with tools to justify to their constituents support of United Nations organizations.” Specifically mentioned is using the U.N. Foundation to assist their efforts, which may explain their recent campaigns to protect U.N. funding in the U.S.
PR campaigns are not going to resolve the deep-seated problems within the U.N. and its affiliated organizations. The member states, particularly the U.S. which is the largest contributor to the U.N. system, need to conduct a rigorous examination and evaluation of individual U.N. agencies, funds, and programs to determine what aspects of the U.N. are effective and deserve continued funding and, even more importantly, which ones do not. The U.N.’s year so far doesn’t bode well for how such a process might go.
— Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in National Review Online.
American Leadership Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
Brett D. Schaefer
Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs
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