Tuesday, December 06, 2005

WSJ editorializes in favor of John Bolton's UN reform efforts

The Wall Street Journal editorializes today, Tuesday, December 6, 2005, here, in favor of John Bolton's efforts to use the pressure of passing a budget to push UN reform. Excerpts:

Wall Street Journal

Reform, U.N.-Style

December 6, 2005;
Page A20

Front and center on the United Nations Web site is a link titled "Renewing the U.N." Click on it and you'll find a photo of Secretary General Kofi Annan next to a statement that reads, in part, "We must reshape the Organization in ways not previously imagined and with a boldness and speed not previously shown."

That quote dates from last March. Here's Mr. Annan last week: "The business of the U.N. is not reform. The business of the U.N. is carrying out the mandates that the General Assembly and the Security Council have given us, so that business must continue." And people say that U.S. Ambassador John Bolton is the obstacle to U.N. reform?

At immediate issue is the U.N. budget, which must be approved this month. Mr. Annan wants the General Assembly to pass a two-year budget plan, irrespective of how this affects the chances of achieving the reforms agreed by world leaders in September. Meanwhile, he is trumpeting a modest package of management reforms, which are described nearby by U.N. Undersecretary for Management Christopher Burnham. A word on those in a moment.
For his part, Mr. Bolton argues that a two-year budget would obliterate whatever leverage there is to get those proposals passed by the General Assembly. Instead, he has mooted the idea of funding the U.N. through short-term budgets -- just as the U.S. Congress funds the federal government using continuing resolutions -- until meaningful reform is enacted.

Among the reforms: Replacing the shambolic U.N. Human Rights Commission (current members include Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe) with a Human Rights Council whose member states would have to meet basic criteria for respecting the rights of their citizens. Mr. Bolton also wants to kill funding for such U.N. acronyms as the SCIIHRP (Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Human Rights Practices). And he wants to eliminate the duplication that takes place between and even within various U.N. agencies.

Why, for instance, does INSTRAW -- the U.N. International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women -- do outreach on AIDS issues, when that task is presumably covered by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS? Yet INSTRAW is subsidized at $1 million a year, money the poverty-pleading U.N. can ill afford to squander.

Mr. Bolton is right about these reforms, just as he's right about the budget. The U.S. is meeting sharp resistance from the so-called G-77 countries -- the old Non-Aligned Movement -- to even the most elementary efforts to bring administrative discipline to the U.N. (Pakistan and Egypt, both U.S. allies and beneficiaries of American largesse, are among the most recalcitrant.) Many of these countries have vested interests in the way the U.N. currently operates (INSTRAW is based in the Dominican Republic) and are unlikely to vote for change absent stern budget pressure. Ironically, too, failure by the U.N. to impose budget discipline will only increase the likelihood that the U.S. Congress will unilaterally withhold America's 20% share of the U.N. budget, as it did in the 1990s.

As for Mr. Annan's reforms, some are useful even if they are overdue. No doubt it's good that the Secretary General has decided his employees must now declare gifts exceeding $250. But why did that figure remain at $10,000 for the first eight years of this tenure? The same goes for the whistleblower protections now being proposed, or the adoption of International Public Sector Accounting Standards, or the creation of a new Ethics Office.

Less helpful is Mr. Annan's proposal to create an Independent Audit Advisory Committee. The U.N. already has multiple auditing bodies. None prevented the Oil for Food program from becoming a $100 billion field of graft. The U.N. needs to consolidate and outsource its auditing functions to a single, independent and effective body. Yet Mr. Annan's instincts run in the direction of bureaucratic replication.

We know that U.N. reform won't happen in one night, if at all. But if the history of past efforts shows anything, it's that nothing can be accomplished if there are no consequences for inaction or malfeasance. The Bush Administration missed an excellent opportunity to illustrate those consequences when it failed to push for Mr. Annan's resignation over Oil for Food. It would be an act of negligence -- or is it cynicism? -- if it now failed to put some stick into a U.N. budgetary process run amok.

URL for this article:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB113383884568714818.html

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