Saturday, June 25, 2005

Kofi Annan's opposition to the Hyde UN reform-US dues bill

(Update, Friday, July 1, 2005: The Washington Post editorializes in support of Condoleeza Rice's call that UN reform not get hung up on what ultimately is likely to prove the least useful and most devisive and least achievable reform of all - enlarging the permanent members of the Security Council. Read it here. Thursday, June 30, 2005, A22.)

Kofi Annan has a long opinion piece in the Friday, June 24, 2005 Wall Street Journal, "United We Stand." (Here, sub. req'd.)

The fundamental point of the piece is to argue against the Hyde UN reform bill, which cleared the House this week (although it lacks corresponding Senate legislation at this point). That bill would condition half of US basic dues to the UN, representing 22% of the basic budget, on fulfilment of various UN reform measures. Most of those measures are part of either the Secretary General or the US Congressional Task Force (the Gingrich-Mitchell Task Force) already, although not all. What the Secretary General opposes - and in this was strongly joined by the Bush administration - is an automatic legislative club to chop off dues if the reforms are not achieved by a certain date. Rep. Hyde has responded by saying, in effect, that the UN only reforms itself under threat of something serious, and money is the only serious tool available; he also criticized high level State Department mandarins who "worship at the altar of the UN" (see my earlier post with quotes from his remarks in the Washington Times).

Annan is correct to say that:

"In Washington, the debate now centers on two documents which appeared last week: the report of the bipartisan Task Force led by former Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senator George Mitchell, and the Henry J. Hyde United Nations Reform Act, adopted by the House of Representatives.

There is considerable overlap between the two prescriptions, as there is between both and the reforms that I myself have proposed -- or, where they are within my power, am already implementing. That is not surprising. The desire for change is widespread, not only in the U.S., but among many other U.N. member-states, and also many U.N. staff."

With regards to the differences between the approaches (and note that the Gingrich-Mitchell report does not actually say anything about withholding UN dues - it is highly improbable that the Task Force members [I was one of the experts working with the Task Force] could have agreed on language one way or the other), Annan says:

"Where there are differences -- not so much between the U.N. and the U.S., but between the Hyde Act and the other proposals on offer -- these relate essentially to two points: the method to be used to make reform happen, and the global context which makes U.N. reform so important.

For Mr. Hyde and his colleagues, reform can only be brought about by threatening a draconian and unilateral cut in the U.S. contribution to the U.N. budget.

I believe that approach is profoundly mistaken and would, if adopted by the U.S. government as a whole, prove disastrously counterproductive. It would break the reformist coalition between the U.S. and other member-states whose collective pressure could otherwise make these reforms happen.

The U.N. is an association of sovereign states, which agreed, when they ratified the Charter, to share the expenses of the Organization "as apportioned by the General Assembly." The scale of assessment, which determines the share borne by each member-state, is renegotiated every six years; and every year the General Assembly passes a resolution -- invariably supported by the U.S. -- enjoining all members to pay their contributions promptly, in full and without conditions.
The way to make changes or reforms, therefore, is to negotiate agreement with other member-states.

As the Gingrich-Mitchell task force put it, "to be successful, American diplomacy must build a strong coalition including key member-states from various regions and groups . . . many of whom share America's strong desire to reform the United Nations into an organization that works." Such a coalition will not be built by one nation threatening to cut its own contribution unilaterally. Other states will not accept such a "big stick" approach.

Fortunately, the Hyde withholding proposal is not backed by the administration, or indeed by the task force.

Even more important, however, is the global context. The U.N. does not exist in a vacuum, or for its own sake. It is a forum in which all the world's peoples can come together to find common solutions to their common problems -- and, when they so choose, also an instrument with which to pursue those solutions."


As I said, the Task Force does not actually take a position on the dues question.

More interesting, however, is how Annan frames the vision of what the UN is. In this particular article, in this context, he frames it as an association of sovereign states.

In other contexts, however, especially if one goes back to his speeches around 2000, to the Millenium Forum and other meetings, especially NGO meetings, it is a much more supranational vision in which the NGOs are the "public" constituency of the UN. The UN becomes the forum not for the sovereign nation states, but instead for the "peoples of the world," unmediated by their sovereign states, but dealing with the UN through "global civil society."

(This particular vision of what the UN was supposed to be hit its high water mark around 2000, when Annan saw the opportunity to present the UN system (in its broadest sense) as the alternative to both rapacious economic globalization and the crazy anti-globalization protests of Seattle 1999 and elsewhere. Then 9/11 took place and, as the very intelligent (even if often wrong) French political commentator Dominique Moisi put it in the Financial Times, suddenly security was back on the table and with it the sovereign state. That left Annan and the high UN mandarins struggling yet again to figure out their role - and, as noted in Annan's comments below, the favored role at the moment is to mediate between the security demands of the rich world and the development demands of the poor world - a crazy conflation, especially if put in the context of terrorism, but more on that later.)

A third vision of the what the UN should be is found looking at newspaper articles (some of which appear earlier on this blog) describing what senior officials such as Malloch Brown see as UN reform. This vision (sometimes described as the "modernist" vision of UN reform) aims to get away from the UN being an association of member states, serving the will of member states, to become independent of (if not immediately "above," in the supranational sense) of member states, directly responsive to something called global public opinion, the international civil society community, and other non-sovereign state actors - and this is what, in this modernizing view, will deal with the problems of incompetence and corruption, which on this view essentially trace back to the malign influence of being an association of sovereign states. Acknowledging the many problems of a sovereign state association and its inherent tendency to incompetence and corruption, it is still all too easy to see why senior UN mandarins and bureaucrats would favor a vision of the UN and UN reform that took the question of legitimacy and accountability out of the hands of nation states including - oh, let us think who - the United States and its extremely nasty Congress, threatening to cut off money.

There is, of course, another way of thinking about UN reform - not very agreeable to UN officials and bureaucrats, and that is to reduce the scope for incompetence and corruption by reducing the aims, missions, vision, scope, and political aspirations of the UN itself. The UN modernizers are right - the sovereign state association model is an invitation to incompetence and corruption. What they don't acknowledge is that replacing accountability to sovereign states with accountability to some loose idea of a global public, or global civil society, or the UN itself is just as much an invitation to incompetence and corruption.

The real issue is that incompetence and corruption on a massive scale are essentially excused by the UN's many apologists because they see those as minor diversions in the long march toward a liberal internationalist dream of the UN as the instrument of global governance. The real way to make the UN work is to scale down those dreams and reduce the UN to discrete tasks measured by technical competence alone. Some of those discrete tasks will be intensely political - peacekeeping and in some cases peace enforcement in failed states, for example. But the grandiose aims - world peace through management by the UN, global governance, grand pacts between the global north and south mediated by the UN - those visions go out the window.

(Keep in mind that these are notes, and not final formulations on the subject.)

Annan closes the article by going back to the theme of his own UN reform vision, the linking (in my view very dubious) of security and development, terrorism and poverty:

"Those are very serious threats to people in rich and poor countries alike. The failure of last month's review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to address them seems breathtakingly irresponsible. I hope the world's political leaders will now take up the issue, with much greater urgency.

To deal with such issues, we need, among other things, a stronger and more representative Security Council.

But the threats that seem most immediate to many people in poor countries are those of poverty, disease, environmental degradation, bad government, civil conflict, and in some cases -- Darfur inevitably springs to mind -- the use of rape, pillage and mass murder to drive whole populations from their homes.

We can only make progress if we address all these threats at once. No nation can reasonably expect cooperation on the things that matter to it most, unless it is prepared in return to help others with their priorities. And, as the U.N.'s own high-level reform panel pointed out, the different kinds of threats are closely interconnected. Neglect and misgovernment in Afghanistan allowed terrorists to find a haven. Chaos in Haiti caused attempted mass migration to Florida. And poor health systems in poor countries may make it easier for a disease like avian flu to spread spontaneously, or even to be spread deliberately, from one continent to another.
So development and security are connected -- and both in turn are linked to human rights and the rule of law. The main purpose of my "In Larger Freedom" report was to suggest things that can and should be done, by all nations working together, to achieve progress on all these fronts and to make the U.N. a more effective instrument for doing so.

Decisions can be taken this September, when political leaders from all over the world meet at U.N. Headquarters for the 2005 world summit. Over 170 have said they will come, and President Bush is expected to be among them.

The stakes for the U.S., and for the world, could hardly be higher. The opportunity to forge a common response to common threats may not soon recur. It is in that context, and for that reason, that a reformed and strengthened U.N. is so badly needed."

Annan is correct that the September summit is an important opportunity. It is not, however, a make or break event for the world - it is not even a make or break event for the UN, which will lurch along no matter what - and it is part and parcel of the too-high UN sense of itself which would represent what will just be, in the end, another meeting, perhaps productive, perhaps not, as a make or break thing for the whole planet. In its own minor way, such language is emblematic of what is wrong with the UN. (Compare the same sort of apocalyptic rhetoric in the language of EU senior mandarins before and, now, after the referenda.)

Which is yet another reason why the US needs a tough minded ambassador (representing US interests rather than fulfiling the Dana Milbank test of a good US diplomat, ie, one who serves the other side) - who, as it happens, is John Bolton.

What Annan does not acknowledge is that UN would be "strengthened" most not by expanding its already gassy and unsustainable vision of itself, but rather by reducing and tightening its scope, vision, aspirations, and expectations. That does not seem very likely to be the result, however, of the September summit.

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