Global Policy Forum

US Puts UN Reform First, Official Says


Maggie Farley

Los Angeles Times
June 16, 2005

Annan hopes the question of expanding the Security Council is resolved by September, but the White House focuses on five changes.

The Bush administration wants the United Nations to take action on five key reforms before expanding the Security Council, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday, a position that might set back U.N. efforts to achieve broad agreement on expansion before a September summit. "The broader U.N. reform effort should not be lost within the narrow discussion of Security Council membership," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the policy has not yet been announced. "We'd like to move forward on our five key principles first." The new U.S. stance helps clarify what Washington wants to see from a revitalized United Nations. Although President Bush has made U.N. reform a theme of his foreign policy and the stated reason for nominating U.N. critic John R. Bolton as ambassador to the world body, the White House has not publicly articulated its agenda.

On Wednesday, the State Department began to sketch out the details. An official overseeing reform efforts, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns, said the administration embraces the majority of ideas put forth Wednesday by a bipartisan congressional task force on U.N. reform. The panel was led by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, and former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, a Democrat, and included staunch critics and supporters of the U.N. Among other proposals, the panel recommended running the U.N. more like a corporation, with independent oversight and personnel and management review systems. It also urged that nations be put on notice that sovereignty is no shield against genocide charges and proposed that all members make part of their armed forces available to rapidly react to international crises.

Officials say the administration wants to focus on five specific reforms:

  • Disband the Human Rights Commission, whose board members often include the very countries it is trying to condemn. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed creating a smaller human rights council with a revamped selection system that would keep more violator countries out.
  • Support a democracy fund and democracy initiatives.
  • Change budgetary, management and administrative processes to make the Secretariat, which runs the U.N. bureaucracy, more accountable and transparent. The White House is particularly interested in changing the budget system to allow the U.S., the top contributor, to have more influence over how the U.N.'s money is spent. The administration also supports more extensive independent oversight to stem corruption and mismanagement.
  • Create a peace-building commission. One of the most popular of Annan's proposals, such an agency would help post-conflict countries such as Iraq recover and build civil institutions.
  • Adopt a comprehensive convention on terrorism that defines such actions as harming innocent civilians. A global treaty on terrorism has been stalled by disagreement over whether the definition should include actions taken by states as well as violent struggles against occupation.
  • The White House also said Wednesday that it opposed a bill by Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) scheduled for a House vote today that would withhold half of the U.S. dues until the U.N. implements 39 specific changes. "We are the founder, host country and leading contributor to the U.N. We don't want to put ourselves in a position where we are withholding 50% of American contributions to the U.N. system," Burns said. "We believe that it's possible to make progress and reform the U.N. without withdrawing financial support."

    The White House stance appears likely to hinder Annan's goal for U.N. member states to decide how to reform the Security Council before a September summit that will help mark the world body's 60th anniversary. But linking the reforms to Security Council expansion could also help speed vital changes. U.N. and U.S. officials worry that squabbling over the high-stakes Security Council seats is distracting attention from other measures to make the U.N. more accountable and effective.

    Japan, the second-largest financial contributor to the U.N., has warned that if it isn't rewarded with a permanent seat, it will reduce its payments. If the new members' accession depends on reforms taking hold, the aspiring countries would probably work harder to push the measures through. Expanding the Security Council to make it more representative has been on the U.N.'s agenda for decades. The last serious attempt failed in 1997. Four countries who seek permanent seats — Japan, Germany, India and Brazil — have drafted a resolution calling for the addition of six permanent seats without veto power and four rotating seats. African countries that have yet to be determined would get the other two permanent seats under the plan.

    But the United States — a veto-holding member of the council along with Britain, France, Russia and China — believes that a bigger group would not necessarily be better. It supports Japan's bid and has given a quiet nod to India but is ambivalent about Brazil and opposes Germany. The United States and the other permanent members must ratify any change of the U.N. Charter approved by the 191-member General Assembly, so each could quietly kill Security Council reform by failing to act on it. The White House has been careful to say that it supports transforming the U.N. but wants it to be done right.

    More Information on UN Reform
    More General Articles on UN Reform


    FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.