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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

13 April 2006

Reform at United Nations Is Top U.S. Priority, State Official Says

Officials discuss progress of body's first comprehensive review of its mandates

By David I. McKeeby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – Management reform at the United Nations is at the top of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s agenda, says Kristen Silverberg, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs.  

The United States needs “to see some serious, tangible progress in the short term, and long-term commitment” to reform, Silverberg said in an April 13 panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. 

Joining Silverberg was Robert Orr, assistant U.N. secretary-general for policy coordination and strategic planning, who said that a “quiet but rather important wave of reform taking place at the U.N. today,” is perhaps the most important institutional restructuring in the world body since its creation. 

U.N. member states acknowledge the need to improve the organization’s capabilities, Orr said, and are working to improve the United Nations’ ability to support post-conflict reconstruction through a Peace Building Commission; to promote human rights thorough the creation of a new Human Rights Council; and to pursue management reform through the creation of a new ethics office and an independent audit advisory committee to investigate reports of waste, fraud and abuse. (See related article.) 

Orr said that mandate review is another key element of U.N. reform.  At the 2005 World Summit (the high-level plenary meeting of the 60th session of the U.N. General Assembly), the heads of state agreed to make improvements that would allow the United Nations better to meet the challenges of the 21st century.  As part of this effort, world leaders called for a comprehensive review of approximately 9,000 U.N. mandates adopted from 1946 to 2000 based on actions, reports or other activities requested by the members and approved by various U.N. bodies.

“This is the first time in 50 years that the United Nations has tried to evaluate and re-prioritize all of its activities,” said Orr, who reported that members already are learning a great deal as the review progresses.

The purpose is to review all of the mandates that the United Nations has been asked take on over the years, “with the underlying notion that the U.N. can’t do everything,” Orr said. “Member states will have to prioritize what it is they most value.”

The review is aimed at enabling members to:

• Evaluate which U.N. mandates historically have been most successful as a way to set future priorities;

• Identify ongoing U.N. mandates designed to address issues that have changed or no longer exist; and

• Consider future discussions to eliminate outdated mandates, consolidate duplicative mandates and reduce or expand other mandates, as appropriate.

“Every mandate exists because someone wanted it badly enough,” said Orr, meaning that any consolidation or elimination of mandates, committees, or long-standing peacekeeping missions will be subject to complex negotiations.

Orr said that the United Nations hopes that the mandate review will result in both short-term management improvements as well as an ongoing process to track and mange performance more effectively.

Silverberg praised the secretary-general’s report and the mandate review as, “a very valuable first start.”

The full text of a report from the U.N. secretary-general and an online registry cataloging all 9,000 historical mandates is available on the U.N. Web site.

For more information, see United States and U.N. Reform.

(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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