|Submissions »||Staff »||Archives »||About »||Links »|
What aspects of UN reform have you been working on lately?
My work has involved all aspects of UN reform from recommendations about the international system of collective security, to management reforms within the UN to make the Secretariat work better, to engaging with governments to get them to adopt better policies to address such threats as terrorism,, civil wars, deadly infectious disease, and nuclear weapons proliferation.
Two recent high-profile issues involving the United Nations include the Oil-for-Food corruption scandal, and reform of the Security Council. Did your panel address any of these concerns?
Our panel’s mandate was to stick to issues of improving collective security, so we didn’t’stray much into management reforms. The Volcker Commission was addressing the oil-for-food scandal, and he had 200 lawyers and accountants compared to my staff of 10, so we didn’t have much of a comparative advantage there.
With regard to the issue of the Security Council, the Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change could not agree on a single formula for Security Council expansion. We agreed it should be expanded, but disagreed on which formula should be pursued. One option was to simply expand the number of permanent members. Another option involved no expansion of permanent members, but the creation of longer term, renewable Council seats. Both options were put to the [UN] membership, and this was a hotly contested issue this year. Four countries – Germany, India, Japan Brazil – wanted permanent membership and thought they could get everything they wanted, but found too much opposition, and rather than seek a compromise they stuck to their maximalist position.
Which option do you support and why?
Permanent membership on the SC is anachronistic, for the same reason why I think elite pacts/power sharing agreements aren’t particularly useful. Power changes over time, demography changes, technology changes, society changes, and you want institutions that are flexible, that can change with changing times. The whole notion of permanent membership says once and for all these countries will be on the Council, and yet you don’t know what will happen to them over the next 30-40 years. We’re partly in the mess we’re in today because today’s permanent members do not reflect today’s realities. If we expand the permanent members, then it is likely that in ten years, the permanent members will again not reflect the realities of the day. Also, the notion of permanent membership is profoundly antidemocratic. So I think the second option, longer term, renewable seats, was a very good option – it gives important countries a longer term and greater role in Council decision-making and adds more continuity to the Council. It also improves accountability as countries would have to go back to the General Assembly for a vote if they wanted to continue on the Council.
What countries should get those seats?
For the longer term seats, you want the countries who contribute the most to the organization, financially, and militarily – you want to reward them and create incentives for countries to do more. So we proposed a new system whereby, within each regional group, the top three contributors in terms of peacekeeping and financial contributions would be eligible for running for these longer term seats. We don’t particularly care who gets the seats – the most important thing is to reward contributing countries and give them the incentive and encouragement to do more.
As a segue into other aspects of UN reform, why does the UN need reform in the first place? What UN reform steps are currently being undertaken?
Secretary General Kofi Annan put forward [the report] “In Larger Freedom” in March 2005, which concerned reforms in development, security, human rights, and institutions. The report highlighted the fact that the UN needs reforms for several reasons. First, the UN is designed for the world of 1945, not 2005. Second, there’s no consensus among member states regarding what collective security is and what the role of the UN should be in providing it. Third, there are many changes that are needed in order to make the UN more effective in addressing today’s threats.
What are the main obstacles to achieving meaningful UN reform? What could the US do to help this reform?
The most difficult part is that most reforms have to be adopted by consensus of the 191 UN member states, and it’s difficult and time-consuming to forge a common vision and program. With regard to the US, it’s important for the US to see an effective United Nations as in its interests. The US also has to be prepared to negotiate and compromise.
Is this kind of UN reform really in the best interests of the United States?
Yes, absolutely. The fact of the matter is that inthis world, what threatens the US cannot be addressed unilaterally. The US can’t defend itself against terrorism unilaterally, it can’t defend itself against weapons of mass destruction or deadly infectious disease unilaterally. It doesn’t matter how powerful the United States is – it needs sustained institutional multilateral cooperation if it is to protect its security.
How is it going to get that? Only if it is willing to cooperate with others in addressing their threats so they’ll cooperate with the United States in addressing its threats. It’s very simple – it’s not rocket science. The sooner the US understands that its security is interdependent with global security, the greater the chance that we will successfully prevent many of the threats that are out there.
We’ve seen the disastrous results of American unilateralism when it chooses to eschew international institutions and cooperation. The adminsitration’s global war against terror has been a disaster for American security and for global security. So it seems to me that the last several years show that the US does have a stake in crafting much more effective multilateral institutions.
Switching tracks, what impact do you think the Volcker Report will have on the direction or urgency of UN reform efforts?
The UN Secretariat took the Volcker Report more seriously than governments did. Enormous amounts of attention were shed or focused on what the Secretariat did right or wrong, and in the end very little came out of the report in terms of the wrongdoing by Secretariat officials. The real story, the absolute scandal in Volcker’s report was the lack of oversight and accountability by the Security Council and the complicity of over 2200 business firms, who, while working closely with their governments, accepted kickbacks and put billions of dollars in Hussein’s coffers.
That scandal, the Oil For Food scandal that did not get the attention of the media and the American right wing, is having global consequences. France has begun legal proceedings against one of its former ambassadors to the United Nations, and the foreign minister of India was forced to resign as the result of judicial investigations into whether he accepted kickbacks relating to Oil For Food. The Australian government is currently in crisis because of allegations that it encouraged its wheat industry to pay huge kickbacks to Saddam Hussein. So all of a sudden governments are waking up and are going to have to respond, but up to this point, UN Secretariat officials have taken [the Volcker Report] more seriously than governments have.
What suggestions do you have for where to take UN reform now?
First thing: don’t focus on the Security Council. The best thing you can do is let it slide for the time being, and there are important things coming out of the UN World Summit that have to be finished first: the UN must establish a Human Rights Council by August , the Secretary-General has to put forward his own proposals about UN management reform, and there are many other issues which have to be taken care of right now.
Copyright © 2006, Stanford Journal of International Relations
Department of International Relations, Stanford University
Last updated: 5/24/06, by Hammad Ahmed.