The ICAS Lectures


Why the United Nations is Important to Us

Gerald C. Anderson

ICAS Spring Symposium
Humanity, Peace and Security
May 19, 2005 12:30 PM -- 5:00 PM
U.S. House Rayburn House Office Building, Room 255
Capitol Hill, Washington D.C. 20510

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Biographic Sketch & Links: Gerald C. Anderson

Why the United Nations is Important to Us

Gerald C. Anderson
Office of Peacekeeping, Sanctions and Counter-terrorism
Bureau of International Organizations Affairs
U.S. Department of State

  • The UN is currently facing a critical test of its credibility. In light of the Oil for Food scandal, the discovery of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers and years of fiscal inefficiency, our political leadership is wary of American participation and financing of the UN.

  • We certainly seek first and foremost to reform the way the UN operates (and I will address that later) but I want to speak for a moment to those who might wonder why we need the UN at all given our position in the world, our economic and political strength, and our ability to project military power when we are threatened.

  • While our global reach is unchallenged, we still cannot tackle problems, eliminate threats or even do good on a global scale alone. Our multilateral campaign to mount a global war on terror and our coordinated response to tsunami relief efforts are two very different examples of how our foreign policy objectives can be reached more quickly and effectively if we do not act alone.

  • Much like these two examples, other global problems require global solutions. The proliferation of nuclear weapons, the spread of HIV/AODS, environmental disasters and the scourge of narcotics trafficking are each dangerous threats that know no borders.

  • Bilateral and regional agreements are important steps to address these types of threats, but creating a wide enough safety net takes additional time and resources, especially in areas where entire sub-regions are unable to overcome challenges without outside assistance (Central Africa). In these cases, truly multilateral fora like the UN are needed to take stock of the problem and contribute toward a common solution.

  • Multilateral organizations can be the most efficient way to set international standards. There are international norms and standards for dealing with civil needs, like delivering international mail, creating regulations for international maritime and air traffic. This type of cooperation is key to getting all nations on board to strengthen security standards, so we can travel and operate with increased safety, even in these days of global terrorism.

  • Multilateral organizations are effective ways to leverage our resources for the greatest good. The U.S. alone cannot do all things for all people, nor should we try. Even though as a nation we enjoy great wealth compared to a large part of the world, our resources are not limitless. Our government has a stewardship responsibility over these resources, and often we choose to contribute to a multilateral effort to get the maximum effect that we can afford.

  • UN peacekeeping is a vital area that depends entirely on multilateral cooperation. We contribute approximately 27 percent of the UN's peacekeeping budget, and provide some services lift, logistics and advisory support where we deem appropriate. There are 17 UN peacekeeping missions deployed in 4 continents that we are committed to supporting, and could never operate on our own.

  • The best platforms for advancing our values of freedom, democracy, and prosperity are usually in fact the broadest ones. As President Bush said at the UN last fall, "The security of our world is in the advancing rights of mankind." Freedom democracy and security are mutually reinforcing and must be tackled on all fronts.

  • With many people suffering from oppression under tyrannical regimes, lacking basic human rights and suffering from poverty, hunger and disease, we need global forums where we can make our case for freedom and human rights to the non-democracies of the world.

With Leadership by the U.S., the UN Can be a Strong Force for Freedom
  • The preamble of the UN Charter says that " We the peoples of the United Nations are determined promote social progress and better standards in larger freedom," a concept picked up in the title of the Secretary-General's latest report on UN reform. Chapter 1 of the Charter explicitly states that the purpose of the UN is to promote and encourage respect for fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction.

  • So, fundamentally, the founding principles of the United Nations perfectly complement what we are trying to accomplish in our foreign policy, but these lofty goals need strong leadership if they are to be achieved. The UN works best when its member states work together, and the United States assumes a leadership role. Let me detail a few examples.

  • With our leadership, the UN Security Council managed the entire transition process inside Iraq-- from encouraging significant political and economic reform with Resolution 1483, to creating the mandate for a multinational force in Resolution 1511, to charting a path for transition after the transfer of governmental authority back to the Iraqi people in Resolution 1546.

  • The Security Council thus created the international and legal frame works in which democracy is now emerging in Iraq.

  • Another area where the UN has benefited from US leadership is un Sudan. We spurred the UN to undertake a Commission of Inquiry into violence in Darfur. We also sponsored Security Council resolutions to authorize a peacekeeping force to protect the North-South agreement and impose sanctions. Other Council members also deserve credit for their work on Sudan, but no one can deny the important leadership role the U.S. played in shaping the UN's response to the Sudan crisis.

The Case for Reform of the United Nations
  • We believe in the ideals in which the United Nations was founded, and we want the UN to have improved capability to achieve its important purposes. In this vein, we are pressing for management and oversight reforms to make the UN more efficient and effective. We see the UN as an instrument for making the world safer and enlarging freedom with the potential to do even more if reformed to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

  • The Secretary-General himself acknowledges that the time is ripe for change. To his credit, his focus on the larger issues of institutional arrangements has brought a rather new intensity to the discussion and opened a window of opportunity for real reform.
  • As the largest assessed and voluntary contributor to the United Nations and its technical and specialized agencies, the United States bears a special responsibility to ensure the UN is living up to its original purposes and principles. You cannot ensure the UN is doing what we want it to do without accountability and results-based budgeting and management.

  • The problem: One of the lessons we have learned from the Oil-For-Food investigations so far is that the United Nations Secretariat needs to be more focused on the importance of better management, transparency, and oversight. Credible oversight is critical, but codes of conduct also must be enforced, and managers held accountable for their own actions as well as the actions of their people.

  • The UN needs to work harder to implement results-based budgeting and management in every program. That means programs, once created, should not continue without regard for results. More need to be ended when their effectiveness wanes. The UN system also needs rationalized budgets that do not grow year after year on auto-pilot, and that have greater oversight.

  • We are beginning to see the UN address these problems. This past January, for example, we were able to get a resolution adopted that mandates the Office of Internal Oversight Services release any of its audit reports to member states upon request. Program managers will now be held accountable for their programs. That's a significant step, but more is needed. OIOS is still too beholden to the very bureaucracy it is inspecting and auditing especially for its funding.

  • Our priorities: Our management and administrative reform priorities for the UN include first, creating a culture of accountability and integrity, second improving effectiveness, and third, boosting relevance.

  • Two examples of how we hope to encourage a culture of accountability include strengthening the independence of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is critical to creating a culture of transparency, accountability and integrity in the UN Secretariat. To meet professional standards for effective and independent oversight, OIOS must be more independent of the offices and activities it audits and investigates. Currently, OIOS is dependent upon reimbursement from the UN funds and programs it is investigating for the costs of such investigations. We want OIOS to operate with an independent budget.

  • It is also imperative that we enhance internal oversight of UN peacekeeping missions, particularly in light of the sexual abuses of minors by peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and several other countries. Increased capacity for OIOS investigations and personal conduct units in all peacekeeping missions are important first steps in creating a culture of zero tolerance for misconduct.

  • In the second major area of reform we are pushing, improving effectiveness of UN operations, there are additional examples of changes that can maximize the UN's effectiveness while incorporating greater efficiencies.

  • The first reform in this area is we are pressing for consolidation of UN Information Centers around the world. These centers strive to communicate the UN's message and data around the world. They represent approximately one third of the budget for the UN Department of Public Information, yet there is little proof that they are successfully explaining UN programs/concepts to local populations.

  • A vastly altered world media landscape, changes in the information culture and revolutionary advances in information and communication technologies should compel the UN Secretariat to look for more up-to-date solutions, even in areas where Internet services is limited, the UN can do better.

  • We also aim to reduce the frequency and duration of UN conferences and meetings. At $565 million a biennium, the UN's budget for conference services is the single largest section in the UN budget. With such a high cost, we think member states ought to be able to pre-approve the Secretariat's plans for each conference and meeting's agenda and desired outcomes.

  • The third area of reform proposals I would like to mention is aimed at boosting the relevance of the UN's work. In December 2003, we were able to get the General Assembly to approve a pilot program that gave him authority to redeploy up to 50 positions from lower to higher priority areas.

  • This pilot program was an important first step towards giving the Secretary-General greater flexibility so as to strategically align and realign budgetary resources with human resources. We would like to expand this program, but we are disappointed that the Secretary-General has not yet utilized this new and important authority. We will press for him to do so.

  • To further boost the relevance of the UN's work, we are seeking a regular review for relevance of all program mandates with a designated timeframe for review of all new mandates.

  • There is a perception that once authorized and created, UN regular budget programs and activities continue indefinitely. We and other major contributors continue to support the adoption of time-limiting provisions whereby each new program and activity would include a termination date.

  • Under this approach, each UN program and activity would end unless the General Assembly specifically adopted a resolution to extend it. This is the approach the Security Council takes in authorizing peacekeeping operations; each mandate includes fixed terms, must be renewed in order to continue, and has a defined exit strategy.

  • It is essential that, whatever set of reforms the UN considers later this year, matters of management, administration, personnel, accountability, transparency, and oversight must be included. We are communicating to the Secretary-General to express our belief that management and administrative reforms are critical to achieving the vision of the UN Charter.

  • The momentum for management and oversight reform at the UN is clearly growing, and you can be assured we will continue striving to make the UN a more effective and responsible partner in advancing peace, development, and human dignity.

  • Thank you.

This page last updated 5/27/2005 jdb

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