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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

28 July 2006

U.N. Reform Remains High Priority for United States

U.S. Ambassador Bolton says making changes "uphill battle"

Washington -- Management reform at the United Nations remains a priority for the United States, but achieving changes is "an uphill battle," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee July 27.

"Some modest progress" has been made on changing the administration and management of the United Nations, but a "sharply divided" General Assembly has stalled efforts by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to reform and streamline basic managerial structures and practices, Bolton reported.

Even though the United States does not agree with every single reform Annan proposes, "we certainly agree with his diagnosis of the problem and support his efforts," the ambassador said.

The ambassador promised the Senate committee "we're not giving up" on the reforms.

Bolton explained that pushing an ambitious reform agenda is a group of 50 nations, including the United States, whose combined contributions total 86.7 percent of the U.N. budget. Blocking the reforms is a group of more than 120 nations who contribute 12 percent of the U.N. budget.

"Clearly there is work that needs to be done to bridge this divide," he said. A majority of U.N. member states oppose "some of the most basic and important management reform measures, such as giving the secretary-general more discretion on budget and personnel matters."

Bolton’s comments came in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is considering his work as the chief U.S. envoy to the United Nations over the past year. President Bush has renominated Bolton to the U.N. post. The ambassador's interim appointment is due to expire in January 2007 because the committee failed to endorse his nomination in 2005. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is responsible for foreign policy issues including evaluating treaties and approving diplomatic appointments.

U.N. reform, which includes better management and oversight and cost-conscious spending practices, has been a priority in recent years for both the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration.

As the result of his efforts over the past year, the U.N. staff and member states "have a much greater appreciation of the importance that Congress -- mirroring the American people -- attach to the subject of U.N. reform," Bolton told the committee.

Another key element of the reform package is a review of all U.N. program plans, usually referred to as "mandates." The General Assembly is to review each mandate to determine whether the programs should be retained, cut or redesigned for efficiency.

Not one single mandate out of 9,000 mandates that have been adopted by the General Assembly over the years has been eliminated or even consolidated, Bolton said. The process is bogged down because some states are trying to put conditions on which programs will be reviewed, an approach that could eliminate 96 percent of the programs from scrutiny, he added.

Blocking the mandate review "is inconsistent with both the spirit and clear decision by leaders who signed the World Summit Outcome Document last September," the ambassador said.

Summit participants agreed in 2005 to reform the United Nations to make it more efficient and responsive to the needs of the 21st century. At the opening of the 60th General Assembly session a few days later, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for "a lasting revolution of reform." (See related article.)

Progress has been made in establishing a U.N. Ethics Office, strengthening financial disclosure requirements for U.N. staff members and protecting U.N. personnel from retaliation for reporting misconduct, Bolton said.

In an effort to increase openness and accountability, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations is making the reports published by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services available to the public via its Web site, he added.

The United States is the largest financial contributor to the United Nations, paying 22 percent of the organization’s regular assessed budget.

In prepared remarks, Bolton also recapped the critical work of the Security Council over the last several months on the Middle East, Iran, North Korea, Darfur and Burma as well as U.N. work in other areas such as eradicating HIV/AIDS and supporting human rights.

For more information on U.S policy, 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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