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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

22 November 2005

United Nations Reform Process Lagging, U.S. Ambassador Says

Bolton warns that U.N. risks being sidelined in favor of other institutions

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- U.S. Ambassador John Bolton says that unless the General Assembly enacts a package of management and other changes by the end of the year, the United Nations risks being sidelined as a "global problem solver."

As the General Assembly approaches the end of its major three-month work session in December, it must pass a biennial budget that will reflect its priorities and work plan for the secretariat as well as assessment of annual dues for the organization's 191 member countries for 2006 and 2007.  Of concern to the United States is that the budget will be passed before final decisions are taken on a range of reforms called for in a 40-page document adopted by the U.N. 60th anniversary summit in September.

Changes mandated by the summit include management and administrative reforms, along with the creation of a Peacebuilding Commission and a new Human Rights Council to replace the Commission on Human Rights.

Speaking at U.N. headquarters November 22, Bolton said that with two months gone, the assembly is "not two-thirds of the way toward successful launching of those reform efforts" by the time delegates leave for holiday break December 20.

"We are not making adequate progress to abolish the existing Human Rights Commission and establish a reform body.  I'm quite concerned that we won't make it by the end of the year," he continued.

Bolton has suggested the assembly pass an interim budget by December 31 "as one possible mechanism to accommodate the desire to get the reforms fully implemented in the longer-term budget."  The biennial budget then could be adopted by the end of February 2006.

"It is important to keep the priority and emphasis on long-term reform," the ambassador said.  "This is a moment of crisis for the United Nations.  If we don't get serious reform, it's going to put us in a very difficult position."


Addressing the opening of the General Assembly in September Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that for the United Nations to become an "engine of change in the 21st Century, it must now change itself" and launch "a lasting revolution of reform."  (See related article.)

Bolton said that Rice's remarks were intended "to convey the strength of our feeling that substantial reform is needed."

"It is not a question of simply a new ethics office or new whistleblower protection or a stronger inspector general -- though those are important aspects.  A revolution of reform means you're going to have continuing work day-in-and- day-out over a long period of time.  Reform is not a one-night stand.  Reform is forever," Bolton said.

The assembly needs "to be creative about how to work the budget mechanisms," the ambassador said, to allow the General Assembly to take into account the mandate and program reviews now under way in the secretariat.

Those reviews will help member states decide which programs to continue and which to cut.


Americans see the United Nations "as a competitor in the marketplace for global problem-solving.  If it's successful at solving problems, they'll be inclined to use it.  If it's not successful at solving problems, they'll say:  Are there other mechanisms, other institutions, other frameworks ... other courses of action," Bolton said.

"That's why making the U.N. stronger and more effective is a reform priority for us because if it is a more agile, effective organization, [the United Nations] is more likely to be a more successful competitor as a global problem solver."

The release of a report by the Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-for-Food Program headed by Paul Volcker in September described a litany of problems within the United Nations that were exposed during the seven years the United Nations ran the $64 billion program. Volcker said that the organization lacked effective auditing and administrative controls, had weak planning processes, inadequate funding and too few professional staff, and that the 60th General Assembly must insist on key reforms.  (See related article.)

Bolton has said that the shortcomings of the Oil-for-Food Program should be viewed as "as a catalyst for change at the United Nations."

For more information on U.S. activities at the United Nations, see The United Nations at 60

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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