September 09, 2005

The State of the U.N.'s Management

...is rather dismal per the recently published Volker report.

At a news conference at the Roosevelt Hotel, Mr. Volcker was unsparing in his criticism. "Our assignment has been to look for mis- or maladministration in the oil-for-food program and for evidence of corruption within the U.N. organization and by contractors," he said. "Unhappily, we found both."

Wednesday's 847-page report excoriated Mr. Annan and the Council for their management of the program and said the United Nations must be extensively overhauled if it is to earn global credibility and meet 21st century demands.

"The organization requires stronger executive leadership, thoroughgoing administrative reform and more reliable controls and auditing," it said. At stake, it said, was "the United Nations' ability to respond promptly and effectively to the responsibilities thrust upon it by the realities of a turbulent, and often violent, world."

Endorsing the harsh prescription, Mr. Annan asked, "Who among us can now claim that U.N. management is not a problem, or is not in need of reform?"

Mr. Volcker said responsibility for the program's lapses "must be broadly shared, starting, we believe, with member states and the Security Council itself."

The report blamed the Security Council and its sanctions committee for tolerating smuggling that went on outside the oil-for-food program. "Turning a blind eye to smuggling," it stated, "surely undercut a sense of discipline in conducting the program...

...The four-volume report examined in detail the history, conduct and unraveling of the scandal-tainted $64 billion program, which was intended to ease the effects of sanctions on Iraq by supplying food and medicines in exchange for letting the government export oil. It made recommendations for tightening up financial and management practices to make the United Nations accountable, transparent and efficient.

It faulted Mr. Annan for not curbing the corruption and shoddy administration of the program, but said it had found no evidence to support charges that he influenced a contract awarded to Cotecna Inspection Services, the Swiss company where his son Kojo Annan had worked.

This is one reason, among several others, that I found the huge hullabaloo surrounding John Bolton's nomination fight lacking in historical perspective. People like Steve Clemons, whose evident passion I respect, went about doing their damndest to crucify Bolton on a wide-ranging bill of goods (a good deal of which was drummed-up hyperbole, at least in my estimation). Meantime, we have endemic corruption through the U.N. (not merely oil for food) of extremely significant proportions. If this is the world body meant to act as guarantor of international stability, well, its control and administrative mechanisms are manifestly in need of critical overhaul lests its credibility be severely (even fatally) wounded. There is nothing about John Bolton, of course, that somehow makes him a knight in shining armor to magically effectuate far-reaching reforms, and, relatedly in terms of the odds of successfully bringing about real reform, there are also quite a few member states not fully seized of the urgency of the issue. But no one denies Bolton has a strong voice, or that he is highly intelligent--two traits that I think will stand him in good stead despite the awkward recess appointment--not least on the U.N. reform issue (on matters like Iran his credibility will obviously be more open to criticism, a matter I'll return to later). David Shorr (Bolton friendly) and Suzanne Nossel (Bolton unfriendly) have more on this issue well worth reading. For more on my views on Bolton (I supported his nomination, albeit with some reservations), just plug his name into the search function to the right.


Posted by Gregory at September 9, 2005 03:29 PM | TrackBack (9)
Comments

I don't really follow your reasoning, Greg. Why couldn't we have had someone who was interested in UN reform who also was internationally respected and thus could more effectively move the body, via diplomacy, to the goals everyone would like to see? I fail to see why a bombastic bully who is not respected by other nations is somehow a more effective agent of reform than someone who is tough yet also has stature.

Posted by: Mitsu at September 9, 2005 05:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg....

even Bolton's critics have no problem acknowledging that the US was a bureaucratic mess that needed serious reform.

The issue wasn't whether reform is needed, the issue is whether someone like Bolton was the right person to help bring about needed reform. And the answer, of course, is no ---- any proposals for reform brought to the table by someone like Bolton will immediately be perceived as an effort designed to make the UN a less effective institution that is more in keeping with the anti-internationalist biases of the Bush admininstration, than with those who want a truly effective UN.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at September 9, 2005 05:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, the problem is that neither Bolton nor the Bush administration gives a rat's ass about this kind of technical, administrative reform at the UN. When Bolton talks about reforming the UN, he means enfeebling or rendering obsolete most of the institutions, provisions and mechanisms that may in any way inconvenience the complete unfettered exercise of American imperial power. Bolton wasn't sent to reform the UN; he was sent to dismantle it. Which is precisely why Bush was so eager to get him into that job.

Posted by: Jonas at September 9, 2005 07:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Luka - your freudian slip is showing

"even Bolton's critics have no problem acknowledging that the US was a bureaucratic mess that needed serious reform."


C'mon - you can criticize something other than the US if you try real hard ;)

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at September 9, 2005 07:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here is my question: if the UN goes ahead with the reforms the US is demanding, does that mean the US will return the favor by being more supportive of the UN than it has been in the past?

I ask this because the Bush administration's foreign affairs team is dominated by neocons and realists. These two groups disagree on a great many issues, but one thing they have in common is that they believe the UN by its very nature is at best ineffective, and at worst deeply subversive of American interests.

That makes me think that the reform effort is really intended to weaken the UN, rather than make it more effective. However, I might be wrong, so I would be interested in any arguments to the contrary.

Posted by: Les Brunswick at September 10, 2005 01:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The "neo-cons" are simply realistic about the UN

If it reforms it may become better but I am pessimistic

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at September 12, 2005 04:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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