On January 20, 2009, the incoming Administration will confront a
multitude of international issues. The primary challenge facing the
new representative of the United States of America to the United
Nations is a U.N. suffering from confused purposes and competing
interests among member states. Consequently, the organization has
become an unreliable means to address threats to international
peace and security, an ineffective advocate for development and
economic growth, and an uneven and unfair arbiter of human rights.
The U.N. has, with distressing frequency, also proven to be
susceptible to corruption, mismanagement, and abuse. Yet the
organization, due to intransigence on the part of a number of
member states benefiting from the status quo, remains resistant to
It is time to rethink and reshape our engagement with the United
Nations so that it better serves U.S. interests and protects U.S.
sovereignty while also increasing the U.N.'s ability to meet the
organization's own stated purposes. The United States must continue
to lead the international community in working through the U.N.
when it can be effective, but it must also lead in establishing
alternative mechanisms, coalitions, partnerships, alliances, and
organizations to act when the U.N. proves unable or unwilling.
In order to determine where the next U.S. ambassador to the
United Nations stands on these crucial issues, the following
questions should be put to the nominee during her confirmation
hearing on January 15:
Question #1: American Sovereignty and
What is your view regarding the
status within the international system of the independent,
sovereign state in general, and the importance of preserving and
protecting American sovereignty in particular? Do you ascribe to
traditional views of national sovereignty or to the theory of
Answer: There are two competing viewpoints regarding
national sovereignty: The traditional view is that the sovereign
state has been and should remain the basic operating entity within
the international system and that, while states participate in
international coalitions or organizations (such as the United
Nations) in pursuit of goals that transcend their borders, those
organizations are restricted to serving the goals of states, and
not governing them. The competing view advocates "global
governance," a system in which sovereignty is a passé notion
in an increasingly interconnected world and, where international
organizations have the same, if not greater, authority to determine
the policies of sovereign states. In fact, former Deputy Secretary
of State Strobe Talbott once predicted that some day "nationhood as
we know it will be obsolete; all states will recognize a single
The United States should continue to act in concert with its
allies to pursue ends of an international nature such as
multilateral efforts to combat piracy on the high seas, stabilizing
Afghanistan with our partners in NATO, maintaining open global
markets, and interdicting banned weapons and technology through the
Proliferation Security Initiative. The U.S. should not, however,
cede to any nation, group of nations, or international organization
the authority to bind the U.S. on matters relating to its national
interests, including, but not limited to, nuclear arms,
humanitarian intervention, "climate change," interpretation of the
U.S. Constitution, or in any other matter that would erode American
Question #2: Durban II and the U.N.
Human Rights Council
Would you recommend that the
President change existing U.S. policy and attend the Durban Review
Conference (Durban II) and fully participate in the United Nations
Human Rights Council by seeking a seat in the upcoming May
Answer: The U.N. Human Rights Council, which replaced the
discredited Commission on Human Rights in 2006, has been a grave
disappointment. While a strong proponent of replacing the
commission, the U.S. voted against the resolution creating the
council, fearing that the council lacked the safeguards necessary
to improve it over the commission. In its short history, the
council has proven worse than the old commission. It has been
captured by states well known for human rights
violations--including Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, China,
Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.
These states have used their influence to disproportionately focus
the council's criticism on Israel while ignoring rampant human
rights abuses in nations like China and Zimbabwe. They have also
supported resolutions calling for constraints on freedom of speech
and expression to avoid "defamation of religion."
There remains a slim hope that the council could right itself
through a mandatory General Assembly review by 2011. The U.S.
should seek to address the council's flaws in that review but
eschew any formal association such as seeking a seat on the council
until that organization's flaws are addressed. Joining it prior to
the implementation of these reforms will only give the council the
underserved legitimacy of U.S. membership.
The U.S. should also continue its policy of not supporting
Durban II. That first conference, known formally as the U.N. World
Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and
Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, devolved
into a platform for anti-Israel and anti-America rhetoric. The
discussions and meetings proved so politically divisive and
counterproductive that former Secretary of State Colin Powell
ordered the U.S. delegation to leave. The Bush Administration has
steadfastly refused to attend preparatory meetings on Durban II and
has voted against U.N. resolutions supporting and funding the
conference. Both Canada and Israel have announced that
they will not attend Durban II since all available information
indicates the event will likely be a repeat of the 2001 disaster.
The Obama Administration should follow that example and boycott
Question #3: Increasing Transparency,
Accountability, and Effectiveness at the U.N.
The U.N. is charged with many serious responsibilities and
tasks. Yet, as evidenced by the well-publicized scandals involving
the Iraq Oil-for-Food program and recent revelations of corruption
in U.N. procurement, the U.N. has all too often proven vulnerable
to corruption and fraud, unaccountable in its activities, lacking
in transparency and oversight, and duplicative and inefficient in
its allocation of resources. What specifically would you do to
address these problems?
Answer: The U.S. must continue its efforts to implement
these reforms and to work with nations that are committed to
improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the U.N. through
reformed management, human resources, budgetary, and oversight
practices. The U.N. General Assembly agreed in the
2005 Outcome Document to adopt a number of reforms to improve
oversight, accountability, transparency, efficiency, and
effectiveness. While the reforms outlined in the Outcome
Document are hardly sufficient, they represent a starting
Unfortunately--and regardless of the fact that they voted in
favor of the Outcome Document containing these reforms--most member
states are not interested in addressing the U.N.'s waste,
inefficiency, mismanagement, lack of accountability, or opacity.
Despite support by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan and current
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the General Assembly has failed to
fully implement or enforce such measures as a review of U.N.
mandates, enhanced oversight, and outsourcing to reduce costs.
For instance, a critical part of the U.N. reform process is the
mandate review effort designed to examine all activities of the
organization for relevance, effectiveness, and duplication. Review
of U.N. mandates (over 9,000 in total with some dating to the
1940s) is necessary for ensuring that the organization's financial
resources are allocated in the most effective and efficient manner.
Unfortunately, opposition by a number of member states has stalled
the mandate review, and over three years after the Outcome Document
was passed, minimal progress has been made.
Worse, the member states and other parts of the U.N. are
undermining existing means for holding the organization to account.
In budget discussions this past fall, a number of member states
refused to continue to maintain the Procurement Task Force as an
independent investigatory entity, despite its success in uncovering
hundreds of millions of dollars in fraud, waste, and mismanagement
in U.N. procurement and other activities. Russia even sought to prevent
PTF staff from being transferred to the U.N.'s own investigatory
unit (the Office of Internal Oversight Services). Meanwhile, UNDP
rejected the authority of the U.N. Ethics Office to cover its
employees undermining system wide standards for protecting
With only one vote out of 192 at the U.N., the U.S. needs to use
its financial leverage if it wishes to advance U.N. reform. Past
reforms have been aided by such incentives. Without the
threat of withholding, other nations feel little need to heed U.S.
concerns on budgetary matters as was demonstrated last year when,
over objections by the United States, the U.N. passed the largest
budget increase in its history while simultaneously failing to
adopt key reforms. The decision to overrule the U.S.--which is by
far the largest contributor to the U.N. regular budget--was met
with a standing ovation by the other member states and broke a
20-year tradition of consensus-based budget decisions.
Question #4: The United Nations
Information provided by UNDP whistleblowers to the U.S. Mission
to the United Nations in 2006 led the U.S. to investigate the
practices and activities of UNDP in North Korea. U.N. and
independent audits concluded that these activities directly
violated U.N. and UNDP standard operating procedures and basic
"best practices." UNDP has also resisted U.S. efforts to
investigate their activities. Current law requires the U.S. to
withhold 20 percent of U.S. contributions to the UNDP unless the
secretary of state certifies the following measures have been
taken: UNDP has given the U.S. adequate access to information on
its programs and activities, is conducting appropriate oversight of
UNDP programs and activities globally, and is implementing a
whistleblower protection policy equivalent to that of the U.N.
Ethics Office. Would you agree that such a certification is not
merited at this time?
Answer: Despite the fact that the U.S. sits on UNDP's
Executive Board and provides millions of dollars to the
organization annually, the UNDP has systematically refused to grant
the U.S. and other member states full and complete access to
audits, reports, and other information on its activities, projects,
and financial transactions. Such access is critical to proper
oversight and good governance as demonstrated by a number of
problematic UNDP practices revealed in recent years.
- Pressure to conduct development activities in impoverished
North Korea led UNDP to accede to that government's demands to
staff the UNDP office with North Korean nationals chosen by the
North Korean regime, permitting the government to skim salary
payments to those office workers and obtain convertible currencies
such as the dollar and the euro.
- In Burma, UNDP was accused by local NGOs of allowing the regime
to use its funds to further its political agenda and undermine the
rights of its citizens.
- More recently, UNDP allowed the Burmese regime to reap millions
in profits from aid intended to benefit victims of Cyclone Nargis
by forcing UNDP to pay an overvalued exchange rate.
In these cases, and a number of others, UNDP has resisted U.S.
efforts to investigate UNDP activities and practices. Worse, UNDP
has led an effort to reopen its offices in North Korea. The
organization has also rejected standard U.N. rules and protections
for whistleblowers and has retaliated against staff who sought to
inform member states about activities of the organization that were
not in the best interest of UNDP, the donors, or the people in
recipient nations. Based on these actions, the waiver is not
merited. Indeed, all U.S. contributions to the UNDP should be
suspended until it adopts international accounting standards and
legitimate transparency and ethics reforms.
Question #5: United Nations
Please explain the steps that have
been taken by the U.N. to address its many problems with misconduct
by U.N. peacekeepers and fraud and mismanagement of U.N.
peacekeeping procurement, why the U.N. has failed to address the
situation, and what specific policies and reforms you would pursue
to address these ongoing problems.
Answer: U.N. peacekeeping is now being conducted with
unprecedented pace, scope, and ambition, and increasing demands
have revealed ongoing, serious flaws. Recent audits and
investigations have uncovered substantial examples of
mismanagement, fraud, and corruption in procurement for U.N.
peacekeeping, and incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse by
U.N. peacekeepers have been shockingly widespread.Specifically:
- According to a 2007 Office of Internal Oversight Services
report, an examination of $1.4 billion worth of peacekeeping
contracts revealed "significant" corruption schemes involving more
than $619 million--44 percent of the total value of the
contracts. A report on the audit of the U.N. mission
in Sudan revealed tens of millions of dollars lost to mismanagement
and waste and substantial indications of fraud and corruption.
- In recent years, there have been harrowing reports of crimes
committed by U.N. personnel, from rape to the forced prostitution
of women and young girls. The most notorious of these reports have
involved the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Democratic
Republic of Congo. Indeed, allegations and confirmed incidents of
sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. personnel have become
depressingly routine, having occurred in Bosnia, Burundi, Cambodia,
Congo, Guinea, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Liberia, Sierra Leone,
and Sudan. A U.N. code of conduct, conduct manuals,
and an increased willingness to send abusers home does not seem to
have adequately addressed the problem.
There are several actions that the U.S., the U.N., and the
Security Council can and should take to address these weaknesses.
First, the U.N. should immediately adopt modern management,
logistical, and oversight practices for procurement, particularly
for peacekeeping, which has comprised an increasing share of U.N.
procurement as the number of missions has increased. Moreover, U.N.
peacekeeping should be subjected to strengthened oversight and
accountability by a new, independent inspector general dedicated to
auditing, overseeing, and investigating misconduct, procurement,
and procedures in U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Second, if the U.N. is serious about ending sexual exploitation,
abuse, and other misconduct by peacekeepers, it must do more than
adopt a U.N. code of conduct, issue manuals, and send abusers home.
The remedy should not involve yielding jurisdiction over personnel
to the U.N. or to non-national judicial authority, but it should
entail commitments by member states to investigate, try, and punish
their personnel in cases of misconduct. Investigators should be
granted full cooperation and access to witnesses, records, and
sites where crimes allegedly occurred so that trials can proceed.
Equally important, the U.N. must be stricter in holding member
countries to these standards. States that fail to fulfill their
commitments to discipline their troops should be barred from
providing troops for peace operations.
Finally, U.N. peacekeeping is being strained beyond its capacity
to address and oversee all missions effectively by the
unprecedented number and size of its current and pending
operations. There is also political pressure to approve new U.N.
peacekeeping operations where "there is no peace to
keep"--violating a dearly learned lesson that U.N. peacekeepers are
not war fighters. The Security Council must be judicious when
approving U.N. operations and not let the pressure to "do
something" trump sensible consideration of whether a U.N. presence
will improve or destabilize the situation. This requires
establishing clear objectives for the operations, ensuring that
they are achievable, carefully planning the requirements for
achieving them, securing pledges for providing what is needed to
achieve them before authorizing the operation, and demanding an
exit strategy to missions from continuing indefinitely without
metrics for success, progress or failure.
The Need to Press for Critical Reforms
Noble intentions do not excuse the many failings of the United
Nations. The unintended consequences of failing to reform the U.N.
undermine U.S. interests and the very lives of those depending on
the U.N. for protection and assistance. It is time to rethink and
reshape the United States' engagement with the United Nations,
including using financial leverage to press for critical reforms,
so that it better serves both U.S. interests and the organization's
own stated purposes.
Brett D. Schaefer is Jay
Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs, and Steven
Groves is Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow, in the Margaret
Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby
Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage
For More Information:
By Brett D. Schaefer, "United Nations Peacekeeping: The U.S.
Must Press for Reform," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No.
2182, September 18, 2008, at
Brett D. Schaefer and Anthony B. Kim, "How Do U.S. Foreign Aid
Recipients Vote at the U.N.? Against the U.S.," Heritage Foundation
Backgrounder No. 2171, August 18, 2008, at
Baker Spring, Steven Groves, and Brett D. Schaefer, "The Top
Five Reasons Why Conservatives Should Oppose the U.N. Convention on
the Law of the Sea," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 1638,
September 25, 2007, at
Baker Spring, "Ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: A
Bad Idea in 1999, a Worse Idea Today," Heritage Foundation
WebMemo No.1533, June 29, 2007, at http://www.heritage.org
Steven Groves, "The U.S. Should Reject the U.N. 'Responsibility
to Protect' Doctrine," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No.
2130, May 1, 2008, at
Sally McNamara and Ben Lieberman, "The EU's Climate Change
Package: Not a Model to Be Copied," Heritage Foundation
WebMemo No. 1800, February 6, 2008, at
Sally McNamara and Ben Lieberman, "The G-8 Summit: President
Bush Must Stand Firm on Global Warming," Heritage Foundation
WebMemo No. 1481, June 1, 2007, at
Brett D. Schaefer, "U.N. Secretary-General's Lack of Leadership
Undermines Accountability," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No.
1611, September 12, 2007, at www.heritage.org/Research/AsiaandthePacific/wm1611.cfm.