The Clinton Administration and many other governments worldwide
have been turning up the rhetoric for the United Nations' 50th
anniversary. The celebration is set to culminate early next week
when most heads of state, including President Bill Clinton, address
the U.N. General Assembly. Amid all the standard accolades for the
U.N., the President is bound to raise the issue of reform. Even
Ambassador Madeleine Albright, who is second to none in her
enthusiasm for the U.N., says the world body is an "elephantine"
organization in need of reform. But to reform the U.N., the Clinton
Administration will have to do more than talk. Among other steps,
it will have to:
- Cut funding for U.N. peacekeeping,
- Eliminate funding for big U.N. conferences, and
- Eliminate funding for the United Nations Development Program
Working Around the Edges
In large part because the 104th Congress is increasingly
skeptical about the value of the U.N., the Clinton Administration
has given U.N. reform a sense of urgency. Secretary of State Warren
Christopher, in a September 25 address to the General Assembly,
declared that "The U.N. bureaucracy should be smaller, with a clear
organizational structure and sharp lines of responsibility."
Christopher then went on to propose a "concrete agenda" of reform
which includes ending programs that have achieved their purpose,
consolidating overlapping programs, downsizing regional economic
commissions, adopting a moratorium on big conferences, streamlining
the Secretariat, extending the scope of the Inspector General to
the entire U.N. system, and expanding Security Council membership.
Several other proposals would affect peacekeeping, including
subjecting proposed missions to more rigorous scrutiny.
These measures, while welcome, would change the way the U.N.
operates only marginally. Expanding the scope of the Inspector
General will matter little as long as the office remains what
Senator Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS) and Representative Lee Hamilton
(D-IN) call a "disappointment." Former Under-Secretary General for
Administration and Management Dick Thornburgh wrote in 1993 that
"The United Nations... is almost totally lacking in effective means
to deal with fraud, waste and abuse by staff members." It appears
that the Inspector General, recently established and lacking
essential powers, has not been the remedy.
The sincerity of the Clinton Administration's commitment to some
of these reforms is doubtful. The moratorium on big conferences,
for example, is odd given that the Administration has boasted
frequently of its participation in these events. Vice President Al
Gore went to the Cairo Conference on Population and Development in
1994; the Vice President accompanied Hillary Clinton to the
Copenhagen Social Summit last March; and Mrs. Clinton and Health
and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala attended the recent
Fourth Women's Conference in Beijing. The Clinton Administration's
opposition to these wasteful talkfests rings hollow.
Toward Real Reform
Instead of waiting for the U.N. bureaucracy to act, the U.S.
should take the lead in pressing for needed reforms. Specifically,
the U.S. should:
- Cut funding for U.N. peacekeeping
U.N. peacekeeping has grown considerably in size and scope
over the last several years. There now are 16 peacekeeping
operations worldwide, and the U.S. peacekeeping bill is some $1.1
billion a year, up from only $64 million in 1988. Many U.N.
peacekeeping missions have floundered, most notably in Somalia and
Bosnia. Generally, these are "second generation" peacekeeping
missions in which U.N. forces enter hostile environments in the
hope of forging peace and providing humanitarian aid. These
misguided efforts have brought the U.N. close to financial ruin.
The U.N. peacekeeping account is now nearly $1 billion in the red.
Despite opposition from the Clinton Administration, Congress has
moved to reduce America's contribution to U.N. peacekeeping. The
House in June cut one peacekeeping account to around $425 million,
which is some $100 million less than last year. (The U.S. funds
peacekeeping through several accounts.) A Senate bill -- the
Foreign Relations Revitalization Act of 1995 (S. 908) -- gradually
reduces the annual U.S. contribution to peacekeeping to some $200
million by 1999. If implemented, these reductions would ensure that
the U.N. sticks to traditional peacekeeping operations, such as in
Cyprus, and would put a stop to the risky and senseless expansion
of U.N. peacekeeping operations to include "peace-enforcement."
- Eliminate funding for big U.N. conferences
These conferences cost millions of dollars and typically are
long on rhetoric and short on achievement. The Social Summit, for
example, focused on "Creating Jobs" and "Building Solidarity," two
objectives well beyond the capabilities of a one-time gathering of
national and international bureaucrats. The 1996 City Summit to be
held in Istanbul will develop a "global plan of action" to address
every conceivable urban problem, including crime and transportation
inadequacies. If the U.S is truly interested in ending support for
blatantly counterproductive programs, it should withdraw its
funding for the City Summit now.
- Eliminate funding for the United Nations Development Program
The UNDP is one of a bewildering array of specialized agencies
in the U.N. system. It is charged with, among other objectives,
"contribut[ing] to a sustainable expansion of the world economy."
Essentially, the UNDP is a foreign aid program. These activities
are beyond what should be the scope of the United Nations: acting
primarily as a forum for discussion of international security
matters while undertaking such other focused activities as
humanitarian relief efforts. Moreover, the notion that foreign aid
can promote economic development has been proven fallacious. The
countries which have lifted themselves out of poverty, such as
Chile and Hong Kong, have done so largely because they were
deprived of foreign aid, not because they received any money from
The Clinton Administration recognizes that the U.N. badly needs
reform. Even the President, who once embraced "assertive
multilateralism," has come to recognize that the U.N. wastes U.S.
taxpayer dollars. The Administration is misguided, however, in
thinking that its reforms go far enough. Much more needs to be
done. The Congress has the opportunity to promote the establishment
of a realistic U.S.-U.N. relationship, one in line with the U.N.'s
limited accomplishments and potential. With its American funding
reduced, the U.N. will be forced to adopt discipline in taking on
peacekeeping missions and reduce the number of its wasteful
undertakings. Otherwise, the current U.S. reform campaign will be
yet another wasted opportunity on the long road to reforming the