Sunday, September 18, 2005

WSJ editorial on UN reform, Volker report, and Bolton edits

The WSJ editorial of September 16, 2005, A14, "Another U.N. Charade," on the conjunction of the UN reform summit of Septmeber 14-16, 2005, the latest installment of the Volker reports on the oil-for-food scandal, and the efforts by John Bolton to revise the final Outcome document. The editorial notes correctly that with the exception of that United States, pretty much everyone would like simply to forget about the oil-for-food scandal, for the simple reason that they mostly all, and particularly France and Russia, took enthusiastic part. Where the editorial goes slightly wrong is in thinking that this is "corruption" in any ordinary sense. France, for example, does not think of its participation in the scheme as corruption - it thinks of it as foreign policy and regards the United States as merely finding a highfalutin' tone by which to pursue its own interests. No one - and I mean no one, not the Canadians, the Swedes, the Swiss, the usual repositories of accountability - cares about managerial reform of the UN or accountability for its funds except for the United States - everyone else either comes from someplace where that is normal business practice or, if from someplace like Switzerland or Norway, as the price you pay for having a "representative" organization. The demand for fiscal rectitude is seen merely as US bullying. As for the UN itself, well, as someone (Mark Steyn? someone) has said, oil-for-food is the United Nations, not an exception - it is how the UN conducts its business, by covert deals, hidden promises, enrichment of countries as well as individuals, patronage, and so on.


Another U.N. Charade
Wall Street Journal
Editorial page, September 16, 2005; Page A14

The United Nations world summit that has clogged Manhattan traffic arteries for the past three days has a way of clogging minds as well. So let's think carefully about exactly what, other than a commuter's nightmare, this latest exercise in global diplomacy has achieved.

On the plus side, the summit seems to have done no real harm: It has not further extended the authority and reach of the U.N., it has not foisted another "protocol" or "convention" for the Senate to consider, and it has not established another significant seven-letter acronym -- er, agency -- for U.S. taxpayers to pronounce, and especially to fund.

That may be a negative accomplishment, but it is certainly a real one, especially as Secretary General Kofi Annan had envisioned the summit as an opportunity to expand membership in the Security Council, expand his own powers and require rich countries to pony up additional billions in foreign aid, among other brainstorms. It took new U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton seven weeks of dogged negotiation to make sure none of that happened, and for this he deserves credit.

On the other hand, the diplomatic price the U.S. paid for a no-harm-done outcome was a no-reform result. It has not been 10 days since Paul Volcker delivered the devastating conclusions of his 847-page Oil for Food inquiry and his call for the complete overhaul of U.N. management practices. Yet already his report is being treated as a historical artifact of no particular relevance. In the U.N.'s strange universe, it's as if Oil for Food never even happened.

For example, the so-called Outcome Document to which world leaders agreed at the summit specifically "[commended] the Secretary General's previous and ongoing efforts to enhance the effective management of the United Nations." Yet Mr. Volcker's report found, among other things, that Mr. Annan and his staff knew of Saddam Hussein's kickback schemes in Oil for Food but never reported the problem, much less took steps to address it. If this is what the international community thinks is commendable behavior, imagine what sorts of management standards it believes are merely tolerable.

Equally unhelpful have been some of the comments by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who recently gushed to the New York Times that "I've never had a better relationship with anyone than I've had with Kofi Annan."

Assuming (we hope) that Ms. Rice is being insincere, her calculation seems to be that American diplomatic capital should not be spent seeking Mr. Annan's departure, and that U.S. interests at the U.N. are best served by a politically wounded, and thus presumably beholden, Secretary General. She might want to rethink that assumption in light of some of Mr. Annan's recent comments, such as blaming "spoilers" and "governments that were not willing to make concessions" for the failure of the summit. Chief among the governments not willing to "make concessions" was the United States, an implication lost on nobody.

The biggest loser here is the U.N. itself. We have never accepted the view -- increasingly common in some liberal precincts -- that America should conduct no foreign policy in the absence of U.N. benediction, much less that U.N. agencies and offices ought to take the lead role in maintaining international security and promoting economic development. But as long as the U.N. exists, we'd like to think that it can, in limited circumstances, be a useful instrument of U.S. foreign policy, provided the organization is politically credible and relatively effective. This was the original hope for Oil for Food; instead, it became the emblem of the U.N.'s incompetence and corruptibility.

What the outcome of this summit makes clear is that the U.N. patient will not heal itself. On the management side, the Volcker report vividly describes the organization's implacable resistance to reform, for reasons that are both cultural and institutional. Politically, Mr. Annan's original reform proposals were both overambitious and wrongheaded, and while their demise is nothing to be regretted, the fact that the member states could not agree to anything better casts doubt on the possibility that changes will be achieved through international negotiation.

We have a modest proposal of our own. The Bush Administration should insist that the U.N. bureaucracy be placed under a five-year trusteeship to implement the management reforms suggested by the Volcker report. The trustees should be a handful of real international worthies -- Mr. Volcker and his fellow commissioners Richard Goldstone of South Africa and Mark Pieth of Switzerland would fit the bill -- whose probity and good judgment are beyond dispute. The U.S. cannot dictate such terms to the U.N., but Congress has the power to withhold American funding until such a trusteeship is established. We hope it does so.

This is tough love, we know. But the people who should like this idea the most are those who claim to be fervent believers in the U.N. and its multilateral purposes. They can't possibly be proud of the spectacle on display at Turtle Bay during the past two weeks.

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