In a June 6 speech before
the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation, United
Nations Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown gave voice to
the displeasure of many at the United Nations over the U.S.
insistence that the world organization be dramatically reformed. In
unprecedented criticism of the government of a member nation,
Malloch Brown chastised the Bush Administration and previous U.S.
administrations over their approach to the UN.
As noted by U.S.
Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, Malloch Brown's New
York speech "was a criticism of the American people" that implied
that they lack judgment and are unwittingly subject to manipulation
by UN "detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News." Malloch
Brown chastised the Bush Administration because it has not
sufficiently "highlighted" where the U.S. and the UN are
"constructively engaged" and instead "abandoned" the topic to
conservative sections of the U.S. media that promulgate "unchecked
UN-bashing and stereotyping." What is needed in response, he
declared, is for America's leaders to support the UN "not just in a
whisper but in a coast to coast shout, that pushes back the critics
domestically, and wins over the skeptics internationally."
Ambassador Bolton rightly denounced the speech as "condescending
and patronizing" and "a very serious affront" to the American
people. Bolton called on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to
repudiate his deputy's comments, which he called "the worst
mistake" by a UN official in a quarter century.
Malloch Brown's comments
reinforce the need for the Bush Administration and Congress to
press for broader U.N. reform. Indeed, it is the insistence of the
Bush Administration and many in Congress that the U.N. undertake
reform that is behind the bitterness evident in Malloch Brown's
speech. He and others are not upset so much that the U.S. engages
"fitfully" with the UN, but with the manner of its engagement.
There is deep resentment over the willingness of American
politicians to point out the evident flaws of the UN and demand
that they be resolved.
It is wrong to define U.S.
"leadership" in the UN as merely following others who have less of
a commitment to reform. Instead of acquiescing to Malloch Brown's
desire to see America's engagement limited to paying what the UN
demands and supporting its edicts, the United States and its allies
must increase their efforts to make the United Nations more
accountable, effective, and transparent. On the horizon is a
showdown with developing countries that have blocked reform and are
threatening to approve the U.N. budget over the objections of the
U.S. and the other major donors that capped the budget as an
incentive for reform. The Bush Administration and Congress should
oppose authorizing the remaining UN budget until the General
Assembly approves the Secretary-General's reform measures; if an
increased UN regular budget is approved over the objection of the
U.S., the U.S. should withhold funding for the United Nations.
Intervention in U.S. Politics
In his speech, Malloch
Brown warned of the "serious consequences of a decades-long
tendency by U.S. Administrations of both parties to engage only
fitfully with the UN" and condemned "the prevailing practice of
seeking to use the UN almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while
failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics."
He singled out for particular criticism Washington's decision to
opt out of joining the new UN Human Rights Council, despite that it
is not a significant improvement over the hugely discredited Human
The speech was also an
extraordinary intervention in domestic American politics. In what
can only be described as the first political stump speech made by
an international civil servant on U.S. soil in a critical U.S.
election year, Malloch Brown rallied his largely Democratic
with these stirring words:
Back in Franklin and
Eleanor Roosevelt's day building a strong, effective UN that could
play this kind of role was a bipartisan enterprise, with the likes
of Arthur Vandenberg and John Foster Dulles joining Democrats to
support the new body. Who are their successors in American
politics? Who will campaign in 2008 for a new multilateral national
controversial speech is part of a growing trend towards
intervention in U.S. political affairs by UN officials. Kofi Annan
sparked a major controversy in September 2004, just weeks ahead of
the U.S. presidential election, when he described the war with Iraq
as an "illegal" violation of the UN Charter in an interview with
Annan followed these remarks with a further intervention on the
Iraq issue in November 2004, when he wrote a letter to U.S.,
British, and Iraqi leaders appealing for Coalition forces to hold
back from retaking the insurgent-held city of Fallujah.
More recently, the
Secretary-General tried to influence the American political debate
on immigration in a June 5 editorial for The Wall Street
Although it eschewed specific mention of the United States, Annan's
article, as well as the release of new UN research on migration,
was timed for maximum impact on the immigration issue and arrived
just as the House and Senate were working to reconcile major
immigration legislation. Such interventions are inappropriate for
UN officials and should be rebuffed by both political parties as
improper intervention in U.S. domestic politics.
The central theme of
Malloch Brown's speech, however, deserves closer scrutiny because
it gets to the central dispute between those who wish the UN to be
fundamentally reformed in the near future and those who prefer the
status quo or eschew forceful reform efforts. A key element in Mark
Malloch Brown's speech was his insistence that the rest of the
world sees the U.S. as hostile to the UN, and "the big stick of
financial withholding [has] come to define an unhappy marriage"
between the organization and the U.S.
The statement is not a coincidence. Looming on the horizon is a
major confrontation between the United States, Japan, Britain, and
other key UN contributors and the G-77 group of 132 developing
nations over whether to approve the remaining UN budget despite
lack of progress on reforms-many of which were called for by the
In the wake of numerous UN
scandals, the U.S. and other major donors have worked to reform the
UN Secretariat. Last fall the General Assembly approved a broad
reform agenda and asked the Secretary-General to submit detailed
reform proposals. To put teeth behind the reform effort, the U.S.
led a campaign to cap the UN assessed regular budget at $950
million, with the remaining budget to be authorized if the reforms
are adopted. Annan's reform proposals were, however, blocked in the
General Assembly in May by an overwhelming majority (121 to 50),
thanks to opposition from the G-77.
The United Nations is
expected to exhaust this $950 million by the end of June,
potentially prompting a shutdown of the world body. The United
States and Japan, which together provide nearly 42 percent of the
UN budget, are refusing to approve the rest of the UN budget unless
the General Assembly passes the reform proposals. Ambassador Bolton
has indicated that the U.S. might support a limited budget
compromise offer, Malloch Brown's speech placed blame for the
budget impasse squarely on the United States:
It is not because
most developing countries don't want reform… the vast
majority is fully supportive of the principle of a better-run, more
effective UN… unfortunately there is currently a perception
among many otherwise quite moderate countries that anything the US
supports must have a secret agenda aimed at either subordinating
multilateral processes to Washington's ends or weakening the
institutions, and therefore, put crudely, should be opposed without
any real discussion of whether they make sense or not.
In an interview with
USA Today, Malloch Brown also criticized the style of
Ambassador John Bolton, whose approach "has led to a naked power
struggle where reforms are seen either as weakening or
strengthening US control over the organization." Bolton, according
to the UN official, is "a real force here, but in a way that
provokes a lot of reaction and opposition from others… what
you needed was an ambassador who would heal, not deepen rifts."
Bolton, by this view, has hindered reform efforts.
In truth, blame for the
budget impasse lies at the feet of the opponents of UN reform, who
collectively provide less UN funding than the U.S. does on its own.
Approval of the budget past the $950 million cap was tied to
progress on UN reform. By blocking reform, the G-77 instigated this
Congress Must Increase the Pressure
Brown's cure to the budget
problem is as flawed as his diagnosis. He recommends "inside the
tent diplomacy at the UN. No more take it or leave it, red-line
demands thrown in without debate and engagement."
This strategy is a recipe for inaction. Most UN member states do
not want reform and discussion is unlikely to change their
position. History shows that substantial reform is best achieved
through external pressure, such as financial withholding, or a
shocking scandal, such as the Oil-for-Food debacle that helped spur
the recent reform agenda.
Outside pressure from the U.S. Congress has been effective in
spurring UN reform in the past and should be pursued, including
updating the United Nations Reform Act of 2005 (H.R. 2745). Without
outside pressure and financial incentives, the current reform
effort- like past efforts-will fall short of the fundamental
reforms needed to improve the UN's effectiveness.
Congress and the
Administration should also act immediately to address the looming
confrontation over the UN budget. For the past 20 years, the UN has
operated under a tradition of adopting budgetary decisions only by
consensus. This process was adopted under threat of U.S. financial
withholding under the Kassebaum-Solomon Amendment.
A recent vote to approve a G-77 resolution to block and delay the
reform proposals of the Secretary-General was the first major break
with this consensus tradition in two decades. The G-77 is
threatening to break the consensus tradition again in order to push
the UN budget beyond the $950 million budget cap adopted last
December. Abandoning the consensus process on budgetary matters
would greatly weaken the influence of the major UN donors that pay
the lion's share of the UN budget but constitute a small minority
of the membership. To help prevent this from happening, Congress
should pass an updated version of the Kassebaum-Solomon Amendment
that would withhold 20 percent of the U.S. contribution to the UN
regular budget if the membership adopts a budget over the objection
of the United States.
Mark Malloch Brown's New
York speech was an unwelcome intervention in American politics
unworthy of a United Nations official. His remarks will reinforce
negative perceptions- already strong following the Oil-for-Food and
Congo peacekeeping sexual abuse scandals- of the UN among the
American public , and make it harder for the United States to have
a constructive working relationship with the UN's political
bureaucracy in Turtle Bay.
Malloch Brown's speech
underscores the need for Congress to maintain political pressure on
the United Nations to undergo serious, far-reaching, and
fundamental reform. As House International Relations Committee
Chairman Henry Hyde noted, "linking US contributions to the UN with
essential UN reforms is not 'unchecked UN-bashing and
stereotyping,' but an effort to induce reforms that will allow the
United Nations to serve its invaluable function."
Long-term efforts to
reform the UN should be complemented by immediate action to address
the short-term budgetary crisis. Congress and the Administration
should send a clear signal that they will not abide a return to
unconstrained growth in UN budgets led by those bearing little
financial responsibility. Any attempt to approve the UN budget over
the objection of the U.S. should be met with immediate and
significant withholding of funds.
Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham
Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in, and Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Director
of, the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom in the Kathryn and
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies.