President George W. Bush's major address
to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 23
was a powerful wake-up call for an organization that is in danger
of becoming an outdated irrelevance on the world stage. 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.
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. The credibility
of the United Nations was largely shattered by the Security
Council's failure to address the Iraqi threat. Instead of acting as an effective
mechanism for advancing global security, the Security Council
became a barrier to progress and was used as a tool by European
nations such as France and Russia to try to limit the ability of
the United States to act on the world stage.
President Bush and British Prime Minister
Tony Blair displayed outstanding world leadership at a time when
the United Nations demonstrated a lack of moral fortitude and a
blatant unwillingness to enforce no fewer than 17 resolutions
calling for Iraqi disarmament. Indeed, the appeasement of Saddam
Hussein by members of the U.N. Security Council will go down in
history as one of the most shameful episodes of the early 21st
Unsurprisingly, the latest polls show that
60 percent of Americans believe the United Nations is doing a "poor
job." It is an
organization on life support. If it is to avoid going the way of
its predecessor, the League of Nations, it must undergo radical
restructuring that includes revision of its Charter, reform of its
major commissions, and the streamlining of its bloated
Wide-ranging reform will be critical to
the U.N.'s future success, a point made forcefully by Assistant
Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Kim R.
Holmes: "Fear of reform, not its prospect, holds the greater risk
for the United Nations."
Key Goals for U.N. Reform
There should be six main goals for the
United States in reforming the U.N.
Security. The U.N. should be an effective multilateral
body for addressing threats to international security, including
the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
- U.S. National
Sovereignty . The U.N. should not limit the ability of the
United States to ensure its own security and that of other
democratic nation-states. The U.N. Charter should be revised to
allow for the use of pre-emptive action against rogue regimes and
state sponsors of terrorism.
- U.S. Funding for
the U.N. Funding should be more equitably distributed
among U.N. member states. The current system, whereby the U.S.
contributes far more than any other permanent member of the
Security Council, is unfair. Non-permanent members of the Security
Council should also contribute more. A greater level of funding by
smaller member nations would give these countries a greater stake
in the future of the organization.
Bureaucracy. The U.N. must not become a growing burden on
the U.S. taxpayer, and it must provide value for money. The U.N.
bureaucracy should be streamlined and made more
Rights . The U.N. should become a more effective force on
the world stage in advancing human rights. The U.N. Commission on
Human Rights (UNCHR), currently chaired by Libya, has made a
mockery of the U.N.'s supposed commitment to human rights.
Agenda. The U.N. should not be used as a vehicle by
governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for advancing
radical left-wing social agendas. Although the U.S. has rejoined
UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization), it should make future funding conditional on
The U.N. Security Council and Great Power
his address to the United Nations, President Bush warned of "the
deadly combination of outlaw regimes, terror networks, and weapons
of mass murder" and called on the nations of the world to "have the
wisdom and the will to stop grave threats before they arrive." The relevance of the
U.N. in the coming years will be sorely tested by its willingness
to deal with the growing crises over nuclear weapons production by
Pyongyang and Tehran.
However, the U.N.'s past record does not
bode well for the future. Since the Second World War, the United
Nations generally, and the U.N. Security Council in particular, has
sought to manage great power relations. As an organization, the
United Nations is not suited to undertaking this responsibility.
During the Cold War, the Security Council remained in stalemate as
a result of the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet
Union. Subsequently, most key diplomacy involving U.S.-Soviet
relations, including arms control agreements and disputes over
security matters, was handled on a bilateral basis and not through
the Security Council. More recently, the Security Council has been
fractured because of disagreements over a variety of issues, the
effects of which have been seen, for example, in the Security
Council's failure to uphold its own resolutions regarding Iraq.
institutional structure of the United Nations needs to reflect a
less ambitious set of institutional responsibilities. These
responsibilities should focus on providing services for mediating
and arbitrating disputes between member states and facilitating
member states' participation in addressing humanitarian and social
needs on a global basis.
Revised institutional structures at the
United Nations need to account for the fact that every member state
in good standing is sovereign. Further, these structures need to be
organized to harness the sovereign authority exercised by each
state for the purposes of maintaining peace and meeting
humanitarian goals. Currently, they are designed to compete against
sovereign authorities and usurp their powers. As a result, the
existing Security Council structure is not appropriate to promoting
cooperation in the exercise of sovereign authority by U.N. member
U.S. National Sovereignty: Rewriting the
right of member states to use force is too narrowly drawn. Article
51 of the United Nations Charter states: "Nothing in the present
Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective
self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the
United Nations...." This right of self-defense is too narrowly
conceived in two ways.
First, the existence of powerful weapons
precludes states from waiting to be attacked first in all instances
before defending themselves. The Bush Administration's National
Security Strategy quite properly allows for the United States to
take pre-emptive action in order to secure its people and
institutions against attack. This policy is entirely appropriate,
but the language of Article 51, at a minimum, raises questions
about its legitimacy in the eyes of other states.
Second , nation-states have legitimate
reasons for resorting to the use of force in cases other than
countering armed attacks across their borders or the borders of
their allies. The language of Article 51 does not recognize this
criteria for exercising the legitimate use of force need to be
broadened. The Charter should allow for pre-emptive action and
recognize that nation-states have a right to use force when their
vital interests are threatened.
U.S. Funding for the U.N.
since the U.N. was created in 1945, the United States has been its
biggest contributor. The United States currently contributes 22
percent of the U.N.'s regular budget. In contrast, France
contributes 6.4 percent, Britain 5.54 percent, China 1.53 percent,
and Russia 1.2 percent. Three nations--the United States, Japan,
and Germany--contribute a disproportionately large amount of money
to the U.N. regular budget: 51.3 percent of the total.
Moreover, despite its high level of
funding for the U.N., the United States is underrepresented in
terms of U.N. personnel. American citizens make up just 7.2 percent
of the total.
contributions to the U.N. system in 2001 totaled $3.5 billion,
including $612 million in assessed contributions to the U.N.
regular budget, $712 million toward U.N. peacekeeping, and $2.2
billion in voluntary contributions.
the past decade, the U.S. has spent substantial sums of money
supporting United Nations peacekeeping operations worldwide.
According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, the Department of
State and Department of Defense gave the U.N. $3.45 billion in
direct contributions to conduct peacekeeping operations between
1996 and 2001. This
figure is dwarfed by the estimated $24.2 billion in indirect
by the U.S. government to help support 33 U.N. peacekeeping
operations in 28 countries during that five-year period.
United States should reconsider its levels of funding for the
United Nations and link them directly to the pace of U.N. reform.
Washington should call for a more equitable distribution of funding
for the U.N. among members of the Security Council. Major
non-permanent U.N. Security Council members with aspirations for a
bigger international role, such as India, Pakistan, South Korea,
Brazil, and South Africa, should also be encouraged to increase
their levels of funding.
Smaller nations (all of which have a vote
in the General Assembly) should contribute more too. This would
give these countries a greater stake in the administration of the
U.N. At the same time, the U.S. should push for greater
representation of U.S. nationals in all U.N. agencies.
Streamlining the U.N. Bureaucracy
reputation of the United Nations for tolerating excessive
bureaucracy is legendary. The U.N. currently employs over 56,000
staff. The vast
majority of its bureaucrats are housed in the Secretariat, the
U.N.'s specialized agencies, and its committees.
years, those advocating reform at the United Nations to reduce the
bureaucracy have pinned their hopes on finding a strong Secretary
General to lead the reform effort. This approach has not worked.
The temptation is to blame individual Secretaries General, and in
some cases, the blame is richly deserved.
reality, however, the very structure of the Secretariat is at the
heart of the problem. Secretaries General enhance their power by
building the bureaucracy as a means to counter the authority of
member states in managing United Nations programs and operations.
The member states need to exercise their rightful authority in
managing these programs and operations and not allow the
continuation of a bureaucratic structure under the Office of the
Secretary General that seeks to undermine that authority.
There has been almost no significant
reform in the U.N. during the past decade, yet U.N. reform remains
high on the agenda of the Secretary General. Kofi Annan recently
announced the establishment of a 12-member U.N. Panel of "Eminent
Persons" "to review past and current practices and recommend
improvements for the future in order to make the interaction
between civil society and the United Nations more meaningful."
latest announcement does not, however, hold out much hope of real
reform. What is required is not yet another expensive exercise in
window-dressing, but a thorough external audit of the running of
the United Nations. The U.N. must provide accountability,
transparency, and value for money.
Reforming the U.N. Commission on Human
U.N.'s credibility has been gravely damaged by the fall from grace
of the organization's Commission on Human Rights, which notably
failed to voice any concern over the plight of the Iraqi people
under Saddam Hussein. Libya's chairmanship of the commission and
its appeasement of brutal dictatorships in Africa, Asia, and the
Middle East has irreparably harmed the U.N.'s reputation.
Under Libya's leadership, the U.N.
Commission on Human Rights has become an absurdity on the world
stage. Libya remains one of the world's most repressive regimes,
along with North Korea and Iran. Since coming to power in 1969,
Colonel Muammar Qadhafi has built up a reputation as one of
Africa's most brutal and thuggish dictators. As the State
Department's annual report on human rights practices points out,
the Libyan regime suppresses domestic opposition, tortures
prisoners, arbitrarily arrests and detains its citizens, and
refuses detainees a fair public trial. It also seriously restricts
freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion and is even
accused of trafficking in human slavery.
Current members of the UNCHR include many
of the world's worst human rights abusers, such as Sudan, Syria,
Cuba, and Zimbabwe. (Other members of the 53-nation commission with
appalling track records in human rights include China, Saudi
Arabia, Russia, and Algeria.) Zimbabwe and Sudan remain the most
oppressive nations in Africa. In Zimbabwe, 7 million people face
starvation by man-made famine. In Sudan, the modern-day slave trade
is thriving with the complicity of the Sudanese government, with
thousands abducted in recent years. Yet the U.N. has not condemned
the brutal regimes in Harare and Khartoum.
Libya, Cuba, Syria, and Sudan are all on
the State Department's list of state sponsors of international
terrorism. By permitting these states to be members of the
Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations is sending a clear
message that it not only condones human rights abusers, but also
grants legitimacy to rogue regimes that help facilitate global
terrorist networks and are producing weapons of mass destruction
(WMD). The UNCHR has, in effect, become a platform for many of the
world's most odious and dangerous regimes.
Unless there is fundamental reform of the
UNCHR, the United States should threaten to withdraw from the
commission and at the same time refuse to provide long-term funding
for it until it can demonstrate that it stands for the advancement
of human rights.
Strict criteria for membership on the commission should be
introduced. Nations that clearly do not adhere to the U.N.'s
Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be excluded from
membership, as should nations that support international terrorism
and/or engage in the development of WMD. Democracies within the
UNCHR should band together to form a caucus of democratic states to
act as a bulwark against dictatorships exercising influence at the
United Nations must live up to the original vision of its Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. Today, it turns a blind eye to
slavery, human trafficking, forced famine, torture, censorship, and
political oppression in its own member states, many of which sit on
the UNCHR. If it is to be a body with any semblance of moral
authority on the world stage, the U.N. must advance--and abide
by--the principles of human dignity, individual liberty, and
political and religious freedom.
Combating Anti-Americanism at the
United Nations has frequently provided a forum for virulent
anti-Americanism. The overt anti-U.S. bias in the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization prompted the U.S.
to withdraw its membership for almost two decades. The Bush
Administration decided to rejoin UNESCO in 2002 at a time when the
U.S. needed to build up diplomatic support for military action
against Iraq. However, the jury is still out as to whether UNESCO
has fully rid itself of its wealth of problems: rampant budgetary
mismanagement, an overwhelming anti-Western bias, and a radical
social agenda, to name but a few.
Senate Appropriations Committee has recommended that U.S. funding
for UNESCO ($71.4 million) be withheld until it can be demonstrated
that the organization has been reformed and that U.S. membership is
in the national interest. The Bush Administration should place
UNESCO on probation and guarantee long-term funding only when it is
fully satisfied that U.S. taxpayers' money will not be misused.
addition, the Administration should work to reduce the influence of
radical left-wing NGOs, which wield increasing influence in the
U.N. structure. The
U.S. should continue to boycott U.N. conferences that have been
hijacked by the extreme left.
Key Recommendations for the Bush
Sovereignty. The United Nations should not have a veto
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 interests on the
Reform . The Bush Administration should call for
fundamental revision of the U.N. Charter to bring it in line with
the modern world. The Charter should be amended to broaden the
right of nation-states to self-defense in the face of mounting
threats from rogue regimes and international terrorist
Counci l. 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 could 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 organization needs to explore new structures for
addressing pressing security concerns.
- U.S. Funding for
the U.N . No 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 greater contributions to the U.N.
budget and bear a larger share of the financial burden. Future
levels of U.S. funding for the U.N. general fund should be linked
specifically to the pace of U.N. reform. The U.S. should also make
future funding of U.N. commissions, such as UNESCO and the UNCHR,
conditional on reform and demonstration that long-term membership
on these commissions is in the national interest.
Rights . The Bush Administration should call for the major
reform of the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The U.S. should support
the removal of tyrannical regimes from the UNCHR and support
efforts to build a caucus of democratic states within the
commission. Washington should press for the U.N. to apply a "zero
tolerance" policy toward repressive regimes.
General. A strict term limit should be imposed on the U.N.
Secretary General, with each Secretary General allowed to serve no
more than one five-year term in office.
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. U.N. bureaucrats need to be held to
a far greater level of accountability to the taxpayers who fund
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. The U.N. failed spectacularly to deal with Saddam
Hussein, and its influence is likely to diminish further in the
coming years unless it demonstrates a greater willingness to
address the threat posed by international terrorism, state sponsors
of terror, and rogue regimes developing weapons of mass
is in the interests of the United States to 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 that prevents nation-states from taking
pre-emptive action in self-defense.
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