Frederick Kempe, "The U.N.'s Bolton Moment," Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, November 29, 2005, here.
By FREDERICK KEMPE
The U.N.'s Bolton Moment
Wall Street Journal
November 29, 2005
What has confounded John Bolton's abundant detractors, both American and foreign, is how little he has lived up to their caricature of him as the fire-breathing, unilateralist, neo-conservative pit bull during his first four months as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
"He's an intelligent person," says Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, a Bolton opponent on any number of issues, most critically now over U.N. management reform. "He's articulate, and he's a tough negotiator. As far as I'm concerned, he's quite okay."
Mr. Akram then pays Mr. Bolton the greatest compliment possible from within the ranks of diplomats deeply suspicious of his motives for wanting the U.N, job in the first place. "I have no reason to believe he's here to destroy the institution," the Pakistani envoy says. "I can work with him."
U.S. envoy John Bolton
That said, Mr. Akram and others remain far from viewing Mr. Bolton as their salvation, though that well may be what he represents. His appointment to the U.N. was the rough equivalent of Richard Nixon's visit to China, as he is determined to provoke needed change and has the hard-line credentials to sell skeptical congressmen on any agreed-upon reforms.
Senior U.N. officials "expect me to be … the U.N. ambassador to the U.S. and that isn't going to happen," Mr. Bolton says, in an interview. Yet he recognizes that he is the man most trusted by congressmen who have drafted a bill aimed at withholding 50% of U.S. funding for the U.N. if it doesn't make itself more effective and transparent. "If we have a good story on reform, I'll tell it to the Hill. If we don't, I'm not going to spin it. What they know is that I am is a tough negotiator for U.S. positions."
Unfortunately, developing countries thus far view U.S.-backed reform efforts more as an attack on their influence than a way to strengthen an organization overburdened by demands and deeply stung by the oil-for-food corruption scandal. For that reason they are launching a counteroffensive against the management reforms that are central to Mr. Bolton's efforts. The U.S. has responded by refusing to sign off on the institution's two-year budget until it makes more progress toward reforms that a U.N. summit in September endorsed, including tighter financial and ethical oversight and increased authority for the secretary general to hire and fire and close down programs that have lost their utility.
A New Pragmatism
While many diplomats search for Mr. Bolton's hidden motives in pushing this agenda, they've missed the most obvious: the Bush administration has realized at great pain via Iraq that it can't achieve much in the world without more effective multilateralism. The challenges increasingly defy unilateral solutions: terrorism, international crime, pandemic threats, global warming, nuclear proliferation.
Those who know Mr. Bolton best consider him to be one of the hardest-working, if hottest-tempered, diplomats the U.N. has ever seen. That said, he has also surprised many with his talent for the diplomatic horse-trading that is that institution's hallmark. Friends of Mr. Bolton say a former boss who influenced him deeply was James Baker, a prototypically pragmatic secretary of state.
"The single most important piece of political advice Jim Baker gives anyone is 'Keep your eyes on the prize,'" Mr. Bolton says.
The coming days will show whether this kinder, gentler Mr. Bolton and the broader policy he represents of greater U.S. engagement with the U.N. can yield the wide-ranging management and ethical reforms necessary to rescue the body from its tendencies toward corruption and self-satisfied inefficiency.
Mr. Bolton himself has reason for doubt.
"We're two months beyond the September summit and we are not making the kind of progress we would like," says Mr. Bolton, choosing the careful language of international diplomacy.
Some call what the U.S. is trying to achieve -- with significant support from other countries, notably Japan -- the GE-ization of the U.N., that is, introducing the modern management mechanisms of global companies. Together the U.S. and Japan provide more than 40% of U.N. funds (the U.S. 22% and Japan 19%). Among the leading opponents are Pakistan, Egypt and India.
"We have a structural problem," says Mark Malloch Brown, the secretary general's chief of staff. "The Security Council and member states generally interfere in the management of this organization. They've not given the secretary general the authority or the resources or the means to run a modern organization that can be held properly accountable to its membership."
Counters Mr. Akram of Pakistan, co-chair of the U.N. reform body: "When people say let's transform this into a corporation, that's not possible" because as a political organization the U.N. must satisfy all its members.
The body that symbolizes the problem is also the source of much of the resistance to reform. Known as the Fifth Committee, it is the main council of the General Assembly responsible for administration and budgetary matters. It has 191 members and micromanages to a degree that it is nearly impossible for the secretary general to fire poor performers or shift resources between operations. Imagine a Western legislature having a committee that signs off not just on all expenditures but on each staff position in every mission. Management reform, if it is to work, would take much of that power and give it to a chief executive.
The most effective parts of the United Nations are funded voluntarily and aren't beholden to the Fifth Committee or the General Assembly. They include the United Nations Development program, the World Health Organization, the World Food program and UNICEF. Mr. Bolton has supported a shift of U.N. funding toward such voluntary activities, where competition for government funds with non-UN organizations has created more competitive, efficient organizations.
'If It Works, We'll Use It'
Much has been made of Mr. Bolton's recent comments that suggested that if management reform doesn't happen then Washington would move its business to other institutions. Mr. Bolton says he wasn't expressing ideology but explaining how Americans think.
"The U.S. public's basic question about the United Nations is how well does it work?" he says. "It's a question Americans ask every day about any number of governmental institutions. If it works, we'll use it." And he calls continued speculation that he has come to the U.N. merely to destroy it "conspiracy theories from the fever swamp."
Thus far, U.S. opponents at the U.N. view Mr. Bolton mostly as a rallying point for America-bashing. But Mr. Brown says that tendency is misguided. "Developing countries inaccurately have seen reform and modernization primarily as John Bolton's agenda, and for that reason they are against reforms that should be embraced by anyone who believes in the institution," he says.
Yet for developing countries to embrace U.S.-backed reforms would require them to put their national interests in a better-functioning U.N. ahead of their animosity toward Mr. Bolton and the Bush administration.
That may be the U.N. reform most difficult to come by.
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