Eye on Africa: The U.N. matters
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- "It's time for Kofi Annan to step down," Senator Norm Coleman, R-Minn., wrote in the Dec. 1 Wall Street Journal. "Mr. Annan was at the helm of the U.N. for all but a few days of the Oil-for-Food program, and he must, therefore, be held accountable for the U.N.'s utter failure to detect or stop Saddam's abuses."
Coleman is chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which has conducted a seven-month bipartisan probe into the United Nation's Oil-for-Food program. Created in 1996 by the Security Council, it was designed to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people under U.N. economic sanctions following the 1991 Gulf War, allowing Iraq to trade oil for food, medicine and other necessities.
"We have obtained evidence that indicates that Saddam doled out lucrative oil allotments to foreign officials, sympathetic journalists and even one senior U.N. official, in order to undermine international support for sanctions," Coleman continued. "While many questions concerning Oil-for-Food remain unanswered, one conclusion has become abundantly clear: Kofi Annan should resign."
Sen. Carl Levine, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the same subcommittee, disagrees. "I have seen no evidence of impropriety whatsoever on the part of Kofi Annan," Levine said in a statement.
I followed with great interest as Sen. Coleman made the round of media outlets to pitch his case against Annan - and by extension, against the United Nations.
I agree with Coleman that a scandal of this magnitude merits a truly independent examination to restore the credibility of the United Nations. However, as grave as this scandal may be, it is only one in a string of failures that have plagued the world body in recent memory -- most of them occurring before Annan.
Annan's resignation would not solve the deeper issues affecting the United Nations. The 59-year-old international body needs a complete restructuring - not a bashing campaign. Coleman's crusade misses an opportunity for real change at the United Nations, which would positively affect millions around the world.
While serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, I was once informed by fellow Marines of a U.N. planned invasion of the United States. They told me about the sighting of unmarked U.N. black helicopters in Louisiana. I dismissed their claim only to hear it again from a few retired FBI and U.S. Secret agents two years later. Imagine my disappointment; I had expected better judgment from these security professionals. The United Nations does not have an army. It cannot initiate military operations without the approval and support of the Security Council, where the United States has veto power.
To many Americans, the United Nations is a foreign organization -- both in concept and practice, but for many in the developing world, the bond with the United Nations is personal.
Like millions of others, I grew up in the developing world and became acquainted with the United Nations before I even started elementary school. Caring mothers often lined in front of U.N. medical centers to immunize their children against a host of diseases. Pupils were as familiar with UNESCO and UNICEF as they were with the World Health Organization.
Secretary-generals were as popular as Muhammad Ali and often more famous than U.S. presidents. I remember them: Trygve Lie, Dag Hammarskjöld, U Thant, Kurt Waldheim, Javier de Cuellar and Boutros Boutros-Gali.
To an entire generation, the United Nations represented the perfect organization. Many designed their education with a U.N. career in mind, hoping to make a difference somewhere. However, the reality of U.N. inefficiencies has drained the luster of the organization's noble mission.
The United Nations has been failing its charter to uphold world peace. The Security Council passively watched as the Rwandan genocide unfolded, with the United States leading the way to non-intervention. U.N. military missions have gotten weaker over time. With a $608 million yearly budget, the U.N. mission in Congo is both the most expensive and the least effective. The U.N. Development Program has yet to help a developing country out of poverty. The fight against HIV/AIDS needs a boost, as the most affected countries in Africa drown in the pandemic.
U.S. leadership in the United Nations is as critical to the world as the United Nations is to U.S. foreign policy. Since the U.N.'s creation in 1945, the United States has been it largest financial contributor. In 2003, the United States contributed more than $3 billion to the U.N. system - 22 percent of the total budget. Yet, the United States failed to build a solid coalition for its campaign to depose Saddam Hussein.
Recent events in Iraq underscore U.S. power limitations. The United Nations provides the United States a unique platform from which to shape issues relevant to its interests: the war against global terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the promotion of peace in the Middle East and in other regions such as Africa.
The United Nations could emerge as an invaluable partner of the United States in the quest for international peace. If Sen. Coleman wanted to build a positive legacy, he should push for institutional reforms at the United Nations - and not antagonize the organization.
The United Nations is not a U.S. federal agency. Its employees have no allegiance to the U.S. government. Sen. Coleman and his Republican colleagues in the U.S. Congress should approach it as an international organization. They should allow the investigation to take its course, demanding greater transparency where needed.
The United Nations provides the perfect forum for U.S. public diplomacy. Coleman should perhaps spearhead a robust initiative to revamp the sluggish restructuring process underway at the United Nations.
A leaner, less bureaucratic and more efficient United Nations is likely to yield greater dividends for the United States, enhance its national security and advance its foreign policy objectives.
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