UN’s 60th Anniversary - A Balance Sheet of Ambiguity

Posted in Other , UN | 03-Sep-05 | Author: Dieter Farwick

UN HQ in New York - waiting for a historic summit ?

The summit of UN members’ heads of states on September 15 in New York was supposed to be a big celebration with a “new design” for the decades to come. The summit was seen as an incentive to the desired end – reform or restructuring of the UN – after years of discussions over this matter. As the summit approaches, this “dream” does not coincide with reality. Secretary General Kofi Annan, one of the strongest promoters of change, will not be able to show the sign of victory.

It was Kofi Annan who emphasized the significance and urgency of the restructuring.

Mats Berdal writes in his essay “The UN’s unnecessary crisis(IISS quarterly Survival, Volume 47, Number 3, Autumn 2005)

“The enduring nature of the crisis has contributed to the widely held impression – both mistaken and profoundly unhelpful – that a truly critical moment in the history of the organization has been reached and that “make or break” decisions must be made this year.This impression has been powerfully encouraged by Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s own insistence that the member states are faced with nothing less than “ a new San Francisco moment”, requiring far-reaching institutional change, including of the Security Council. To present the challenge facing the UN in such stark terms has been a major strategic error and one of its more predicable consequences has been an unseemly and ugly fight among key members about Security Council enlargement. This has diverted attention from real and more pressing issues .It has also done much to diminish the prospects for a successful summit meeting in September……..

Since the report of the high-level panel was issued in December2004, though, the Secretary-General has been arguing world leaders to think in still bolder and more radical terms. He insists that “the UN must undergo the most sweeping overhaul of its 60-year history”.

Earlier dreams of the UN Security Council becoming a kind of “world government” were buried years ago. The core topic of recent discussions was the reconstruction of the UN Security Council. Many observers believe that the present structure with the 5 veto powers China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States as permanent members and 10 non-permanent states – elected for two years – is a relic of the post-WWII world order and therefore does not reflect the situation of the early 21st Century.

New emerging powers – like India, Japan, Germany and Brazil – and power-gaining regions – such as Latin America, Africa and Oceania – want to have more power and influence to protect and promote their own interests in the UN Security Council.

There was a lot of lip service for these ideas but when time came closer to decision finding, the gloves were taken off. No veto power wanted to weaken its privilege. Many more countries than the abovementioned wanted to become permanent members. The African Union even claimed the right to veto for its potential members. Old bills were presented. China for example, looking back to Japan’s brutal occupation rejected Japan’s attempt. The US supported Japan, but did not sponsor Germany’s efforts sided by other European countries. The attempt to restructure the UN Security Council came close to squaring a circle. It was like repairing a running engine.

This fight was the most visible. There were more bones of contention – like the up-date of the UN Charter reflecting challenges such as “legalizing humanitarian interventions” or “defining terrorism.”

The UN discussions were hampered by the growing negative image of the UN: Corruption – as seen in the “oil for food” program, the ever increasing bureaucracy with growing inefficiency and the inability to come to decisions when there were controversial national interests of the “Big Five” – see Sudan/Darfur. The non-decision on the war in Iraq in 2003 is still a hidden agenda with dues to be paid.

It is not risky to say that any major progress will be postponed for years when and if the summit passes without major success.

Our newsletter, written by a young German academic, tries to draw up a balance sheet regarding one of the UN’s most ambitious programs: The “United Nations Millennium Development Goals” started five years ago. It comes as no surprise that his assessment shows a balance sheet with ambiguity. Official UN statistics paint a more positive picture than those of independent individuals or organizations.

It goes without saying that the rich have to help the poor to build a safer and better world. The question is: How? It is not sufficient as happened at Gleneagles, for the G8 countries to just write off the debt of the poorest countries. Is this the right incentive?

A difficult question to answer is about efficiency and/or cost-benefit relations. After decades of humanitarian aid in the so-called developing countries, there is a growing common understanding that more research is needed. Why are some countries more successful than others that have similar pre-conditions? Have the donors the right – or even the obligation - to carefully check where their money is spent? How can “good governance” be promoted? What is the yardstick for “good governance”? How can corruption be avoided? How can the “brain drain” from developing countries be stopped?

Carsten Michels comes to clear recommendations about what should be done to improve the efficiency of UN aid programs. Just pouring more money into the developing countries is the least effective way.