May 3, 2006 | WebMemo on International Organizations
In April, nations resistant to U.N. reform revealed that they would stand in the way of reform efforts. The U.S. and other like-minded member states should not capitulate and make it clear blocking reform will have consequences. The U.S. and other nations that support reform should pressure member states to adopt reform by threatening to withhold any funding of the U.N. budget beyond what has already been authorized. Failure to tie reform efforts to financial incentives could easily doom meaningful U.N. reform.
Sixty years ago, the United Nations was founded in order to maintain international peace and security, promote self-determination and basic human rights, and protect fundamental freedoms. Sadly, weaknesses in the organization have prevented it from fully realizing these high aspirations. The past six decades have seen dozens of initiatives from governments, think tanks, foundations, and panels of experts aimed at reforming the U.N. to make it more effective in meeting its responsibilities. Although these reform efforts have seen occasional success, they have failed to address the core problems that cripple the organization.
An accretion of mandates, insufficient transparency and accountability, and resistance of member states to reform have resulted in a U.N. system that is bureaucratic, costly, cumbersome, lacking in oversight and often incapable of fulfilling the responsibilities placed upon the organization by its member states. The U.S. and other reform-minded member states have capitalized on the many high-profile U.N. scandals in recent years to push a reform agenda to address many of these problems.
Last fall the General Assembly approved the 2005 World Summit Outcome document which sought to "strengthen and update the programme of work of the United Nations so that it responds to the contemporary requirements of Member States." The U.N. Secretariat and the General Assembly have implemented some initial reforms. Progress has included creating an Ethics Office, mandating financial disclosure by key U.N. officials, and adopting a whistleblower policy protecting those reporting on waste, corruption, and abuse in the U.N.
Many member states continue to resist strongly U.N. reform, however, and critical parts of the reform agenda remain incomplete, including strengthening U.N. oversight, transparency, and accountability; enhancing the Secretary General's ability to shift personnel and resources to meet priorities; buying out unmotivated or unsuitable staff; and reviewing U.N. mandates to eliminate duplicate or ineffective activities. The Secretary General was instructed to submit proposals to address these issues and compile a list of mandates so that the member states could review them for relevance, effectiveness, and duplication.
Even the seemingly apolitical aspects of reform, such as proposals to speed personnel recruitment and grant the Secretary General the ability to shift staff resources to meet urgent priorities, have met resistance from the G-77, a group of 132 developing countries, which sees the reform agenda as an assault on its authority in the United Nations. In a draft General Assembly resolution introduced by South Africa on April 18, 2006 to the 5th Committee of the General Assembly on behalf of the G-77 and China, the member states resistant to reform revealed that they would delay and block the reform effort by requesting a series of reports from the Secretary General on his reform proposals. On April 28, the G-77 forced a vote on the South African resolution, which passed 108 to 50 with 3 abstentions, breaking a two decade long tradition of adopting resolutions by consensus. The resolution will take effect when it is adopted by the General Assembly plenary, which contains the same membership as the 5th Committee.
The passage of the resolution is a significant setback in the effort to reform the United Nations. Before the vote, the U.S. and other nations warned the G-77 that passing the resolution would have consequences. The British Ambassador to the U.N. Emyr Jones-Parry reacted strongly to the G-77's blocking strategy and said, "They should realize we pay 82 percent of the budget and we're not going to have this sort of imposition on us by the draconian tactics by the G-77 at the moment. If they want to play with fire, they're going to get their fingers burnt, that's clear."
If the reform effort is to succeed, the reform-minded member states must follow through on their threat of financial consequences to this action by the G-77. When the General Assembly adopted its 2006/2007 biennial budget, only $950 million of the $3.8 billion dollar budget was authorized. The U.N. is expected to exhaust this funding by the end of June. The U.S. and other like-minded states should unequivocally announce that they will oppose any funds beyond the $950 million if the South African resolution passes the General Assembly plenary. By tying approval of the rest of the U.N. budget to reform, the reform-minded states would place significant pressure on the other member states to adopt reform and force the G-77 to face the consequences of their opposition to reform.
The U.S. Congress should also weigh in and announce that failure to act on reform will lead to consideration of financial withholding. Pressure from Congress, such as legislated reform benchmarks similar to those adopted in the 2005 U.N. Reform Act, has been effective in the past and will enhance leverage for reform. Outside pressure is less susceptible to the internal politicking of the U.N. that has watered down past reform efforts.
Without tying reform to financial incentives, the sound and fury of the current U.N. reform effort, as with past efforts, could easily signify nothing.
Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
 Three major scandals have hit the United Nations in the past few years: the corruption of the Iraqi Oil for Food program, sexual abuse committed by UN Peacekeepers, and corruption and mismanagement in UN procurement. For information on these issues, see the documents of the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) chaired by Paul Volcker at http://www.iic-offp.org/documents.htm; "United Nations: Lessons Learned from Oil for Food Program Indicate the Need to Strengthen UN Internal Controls and Oversight Activities," U.S. Government Accountability Office, April 25, 2006, at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06330.pdf; "United Nations: Procurement Internal Controls Are Weak," U.S. Government Accountability Office, April 27, 2006, at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06577.pdf; and "United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo: A Case for Peacekeeping Reform," House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, Committee on International Relations, March 1, 2005
Draft resolution submitted by South Africa, "Investing in the
United Nations: for a stronger Organization worldwide," General
Assembly Resolution A/C.5/60/L.37, at
 "Budget Committee Approves Management Reform Text By Vote of 108 in Favour to 50 Against, With 3 Abstaining," Department of Public Information, General Assembly Document GA/AB/3732, April 28, 2006, at http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2006/gaab3732.doc.htm.
 Nick Wadhams, "Top U.N. financial contributors, developing nations clash over reform," Associated Press, April 25, 2006, at http://english.ohmynews.com/ArticleView/article_view.asp?no=287930&rel_no=1.