Tag Archives: UN reform

Set on Repeat: UN Security Council Reform

Even though the story isn’t new–how UN Security Council reform can’t ever seem to get off the ground–the challenges facing this most powerful of all UN bodies are:

David M. Malone, a veteran Canadian diplomat and now rector of United Nations University, calls it “a crisis of relevance.” The Security Council has been unable to end the conflict in Syria for five years and it has been adrift in the face of a civil war in South Sudan. It has remained largely silent on what could amount to crimes against humanity in Yemen as a Saudi-led coalition backed by the United States conducts a campaign against Houthi rebels that has also killed hundreds of civilians. And it has been unable to stop the Russian seizure of Ukrainian territory; even a move to set up a tribunal to prosecute those who downed a Malaysian civilian aircraft over eastern Ukraine was vetoed — by Russia.

Several Council diplomats — and Mr. Ban — are increasingly exasperated by the inability of the Security Council to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The United States has repeatedly vetoed measures dealing with the conflict. It helped defeat a French-led effort to set a deadline for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Source: Calls Grow at U.N. for Security Council to Do Its Job: Keep the Peace – The New York Times

Wonder how reforms ought to be undertaken so as to assuage US fears? Read this from Kara McDonald and Steward Patrick at CFR.

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Do We Need New Global Institutions? – The Globalist

Ian Goldin argues that we need to fix the institutions we have.  Reform, reinvention, and revision–to make the world a better place. His framework includes the following principles:

  1. Not all issues require collective action.
  2. Selective inclusion is required.
  3. Apply Variable Geometry.
  4. Global management requires legitimacy.
  5. For global action to be effective, there must be enforceability.

He concludes:

Global politics is gridlocked. There can be no doubt that the system needs radical reform. The establishment of a shared system of rules to promote inclusive and sustainable globalization is urgently needed.

The question is whether this will be in time to proactively address systemic global crises — or whether reform must emerge from the ashes of a devastating crisis, as has been the historical norm

via Do We Need New Global Institutions? – The Globalist.


World Bank, Rooted in Bureaucracy, Proposes a Sweeping Reorganization – NYTimes.com

Can the World Bank heal itself? This initiative is a big deal among the development crowd and there is no shortage of suggestions (and here).

Many development experts have applauded the changes, at least in theory. “The concept is terrific, as is the emphasis on the bank’s comparative advantage as being a knowledge institution,” said Nancy Birdsall, the president of the Center for Global Development, a Washington-based research organization.

But Dr. Kim acknowledged the challenges that might come with reforming the bank’s bureaucracy. He said that the response to his proposal had been “mixed,” with some employees welcoming the plan and others voicing concern that the bank might focus too much during the transition on internal change and not enough on enacting its development programs.

via World Bank, Rooted in Bureaucracy, Proposes a Sweeping Reorganization – NYTimes.com.


For the U.N., Syria Is Both Promise and Peril – NYTimes.com

The UN faces a crisis of credibility at present, and the Syria conflict will provide the latest and most important test. Inspectors are back in Syria; will this mirror the failures that occurred in Iraq?

For the West, one lasting lesson of the Syria crisis should be that the politics of national security today require a legitimacy that must be earned, in practice as well as principle. It is no longer enough to justify military intervention by pointing to a crime against humanity. In the wake of misbegotten wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, American and European leaders must now also demonstrate that an intervention has a plausible chance of improving the lives of those in peril, as well as advancing the security of those going to war in the name of peace.

For Russia, China and other nations that reflexively oppose Western-led interventions, the test of legitimacy is no less acute. For if they persist in blocking United Nations action where action is justified, they will hasten the day of the organization’s irrelevance. Just as few states or peoples want the Security Council to be a rubber stamp for unilateralist American policy, so, too, will it lose credibility if it serves as a shield behind which unspeakable outrages can take place in the name of safeguarding sovereignty.

via For the U.N., Syria Is Both Promise and Peril – NYTimes.com.

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A Better Internationalism

Recent events in Syria could lead to serious questions about the UN and international system that has been created out of WWII.  Does it even work? Can a Security Council that excludes India, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, and Germany address the most pressing global security threats?  What should follow the Millennium Development Goals? And how could a system meet the United States’ needs while providing a more stable, prosperous world.

A big job, needing some big ideas.  A new article from teh World Policy Journal gives it a shot:

But future military interventions like the Libyan case will and should be rare. The real test of American constructive internationalism won’t be dramatic hard power showdowns. Most of the world’s first order challenges, like the basic needs of the bottom billions, destructive climate change, nuclear proliferation, and unsustainably unbalanced globalization cannot be solved by military force. They are not amenable to crisis-management internationalism—by Washington or any other global or regional power. And they are far too dangerous to keep ignoring or under-resourcing.

Dealing with these challenges will not require budget-busting aid programs or massive global transfers of wealth. What they need is sustained steady funding and commitment, which is harder than it sounds. Trillion dollar wars are politically easier to fund than much more modest and constructive assistance programs. Consider the history of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

via A Better Internationalism.

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The Inside Story of Russia’s Fight to Keep the U.N. Corrupt | Foreign Policy

Very strong reporting from Colum Lynch giving insights into why the UN has so many problem.  Hint: Look at what the member states want.

The high-level intervention on U.N. spending marked only the latest example of Russia flexing its diplomatic muscle to protect its commercial position at the United Nations. For much of the past decade, Russia has been engaged in a systematic effort to stymie attempts to root out corruption in U.N. spending. The Russians have pushed out U.N. reformers. Theyve defanged watchdogs. And theyve blocked internal budget reforms aimed at saving costs. …

The dispute provides a textbook example of the difficulties of implementing basic financial reforms at the United Nations when major powers have conflicting commercial interests in the outcome. As such, the secretary general and key countries have been unwilling to openly confront Russia because its cooperation is required on a wide range of critical issues at the United Nations.

via The Inside Story of Russias Fight to Keep the U.N. Corrupt – By Colum Lynch | Foreign Policy.


Getting the UN House in Order: Ethics, Whistleblowers, and the Eternal Case for Reform

What does the UN response to Mr. Wasserstrom’s case say about the moral authority of the institution?  According to the Government Accountability Project, the U.N.’s ethics office received 343 inquiries–and this is only part of a part of a series of problems that render the institution susceptible to critics.

Even though he won his case, Mr. Wasserstrom said a United Nations oversight panel judge’s decision last month to award him only $65,000 of his claimed $3.2 million in total damages had sent a message that “clearly tells U.N. staff that even when a whistle-blower wins, he loses.”

The coercive pressure of the withholding threat, Mr. Wasserstrom said in a letter to Mr. Kerry, could force changes in what Mr. Wasserstrom described as an organizational culture in which “U.N. personnel who are aware of misconduct, corruption and fraud are likely to remain silent.”

via Aggrieved U.N. Whistle-Blower Seeks Withholding of U.S. Funds – NYTimes.com.


Other issues include the Haiti outbreak, the negative impact of peacekeeping missions, and the institutional politics–baked into the structure–that reduce risk-taking, give every country a voice (even when they don’t warrant it), among other issues.




US Ambassador Politely Asks UN Colleagues to Stop Showing Up Drunk to Meetings – Adam Clark Estes – The Atlantic Wire

This is not from the Onion:

This is apparently not a new problem. The budget committee meetings tend to run late into the night at this time of year, as delegates struggle to meet deadlines. Some diplomats spoke up after Torsella’s very public shaming and said it’s not uncommon for delegates to show up visibly drunk to negotiations. We’re not talking about cheerful, oops-I-had-a-glass-of-chardonnay-at-dinner drunk either. “There has always been a good and responsible tradition of a bit of alcohol improving a negotiation, but we’re not talking about a delegate having a nip at the bar,” one unnamed diplomat told the press, mentioning one incident where a delegate got so hammered that he barfed, though it’s unclear where. Another explained, “On one occasion the note-taker who was meant to be recording the talks was so intoxicated he had to be replaced.” One more unnamed diplomat said that delegates were showing up “falling down drunk.”

What’s sort of silly about Torsella politely asking these leaders of the world to show up sober to work is the simple fact that’s it’s just a request. It’s not like the US ambassador can dissolve the committee due to misbehavior, though he did say “we will respond accordingly” if the party animals can’t clean up their acts.

via US Ambassador Politely Asks UN Colleagues to Stop Showing Up Drunk to Meetings – Adam Clark Estes – The Atlantic Wire.

Even better, and the Model UN geek inside me loves this part, the Atlantic Wire includes the full text of Joseph Torsella, US ambassador for management and reform.  He notes:

Mr. Chairman:

As for the conduct of negotiations, Mr. Chairman, we make the modest proposal that the negotiating rooms should in future be an inebriation-free zone.  While my government is truly grateful for the strategic opportunities presented by some recent past practices, let’s save the champagne for toasting the successful end of the session, and do some credit to the Fifth Committee’s reputation in the process.

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Some Thoughts on the United Nations | Power Games | Big Think

The UN needs updating as much as reform. An outstanding short blog, Power Games, offers this useful précis:

Much has been made of the UN being obsolete and increasingly irrelevant. Is this an assessment that you would agree with, or is it too simplistic and harsh?

There are many reasons why the UN’s credibility suffers: the corruption of high-profile efforts such as the Oil-for-Food Program, the dubious membership of the Human Rights Council, and the failure to do more to stop humanitarian crimes, for example. Given the sheer number of agencies and initiatives that fall under the UN’s auspices, however, it would be misguided to declare the entire organization obsolete. Consider the work of its peacekeeping forces, which, according to Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations, “are deployed in roughly fifteen conflicts around the world to preserve regional security”; or that of the UN Children’s Fund, the UN Development Program, the World Health Organization, and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

The UN plays other important roles: the Millennium Development Goals that it articulated in 2000, for example, are widely embraced benchmarks for gauging the modernization of developing countries; documents such as the Convention on the Law of the Sea provide a basis for adjudicating disputes; and UN data and reports shape our understanding of numerous issues, ranging from refugee flows to nuclear safety to climate change. It is also revealing that while countries that seek to use force to achieve their objectives are unlikely to be dissuaded if the UN denies them “permission,” they nonetheless try to secure its imprimatur.

via Some Thoughts on the United Nations | Power Games | Big Think.

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Voting for U.N. Rights Council Puts Focus on Records of Panel’s Member States – NYTimes.com

For idealists who view the Human Rights Council as flawed but necessary, this raises the argument that perhaps this body is irredeemable?

With each speaker, frustration about Venezuela, Pakistan and Kazakhstan joining the Human Rights Council became more palpable. But some, like Thor Halvorssen, the president of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, remained hopeful that the system could be reformed. “It is up to the news media and civil society groups to point out the contradictions within the Human Rights Council,” Mr. Halvorssen said.

But some think reform is a lost cause. Critics of the council say the election system is flawed, giving equal say to all countries in the General Assembly, regardless of their record. “That’s the problem with using the U.N. to address human-rights problems,” wrote Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford and former foreign correspondent for The Times, in an op-ed in July. “Every single state in the world, even the most reprehensible, is an equal member.”

Once they gain membership, repressive states use the council to craft Orwellian resolutions that seek to protect their political control under the banners of national sovereignty and international respect. “The council is irredeemable,” Mr. Brinkley wrote. “It’s time the U.S. dropped out.”

via Voting for U.N. Rights Council Puts Focus on Records of Panel’s Member States – NYTimes.com.

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