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What kind of reform?

Posted by Helen Tuesday, June 20, 2006 , ,

The subject of the United Nations and its relationship with the United States came up a few days ago in the House of Lords, by way of a Starred Question, Lord Judd asking Her Majesty’s Government:

“What is their response to the speech made by the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations on 6 June, and, in particular, to his criticism of the policy of the Government of the United States”.
As it happens, Mark Malloch Brown went further in his speech and poured contempt on the people of the United States as well, showing, as a kind of aside, his distaste for freedom of speech in the media and a desire to see government propaganda that would promote the UN.

Several days before the Question in the House of Lords, John Bolton, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, had given a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies. Inevitably, the subject of Mr Malloch Brown’s speech came up with Mr Bolton making it quite clear that the former’s behaviour was inexcusable.

When challenged by a questioner from the audience (wisely, the transcript gives not names), he replied:
“He has a sentence in his speech where he said that the rôle of the UN is a myster in Middle America, even as its rôle in the Middle East increases. Now, you know, maybe it’s fashionable in some circles to look down on Middle America and to say that they don’t get the complexities of the world and they don’t have the benefit of Continental education.

There is a suspicion in so many ways that it is illegitimate for an international civil servant to criticise what he thinks are the inadequacies of the citizens of a member Government.

Now, what are the consequences of that? One of the consequences, potentially, is that Americans looking at this will react in the way Americans sometimes do; you know the American saying: “Who elected you?”

That’s one possible response. Another possible response, is one that I fear substantially, is that this will throw our efforts in the UN reform process into disarray.

One of the defences that Malloch Brown made was that the United States shouldn’t be upset because he was being critical; after all, he criticised the Group of 77 as well; but that just proves the point: he doesn’t see the illegitimacy of a civil servatn – who doesn’t represent any sovereign Government the last time I looked – telling Governments that their performance isn’t up to his standards; this is a classic political mistake and I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the consequneces, sadly.”
One would think that this eminently reasonable attitude would be reflected among British politicians as well. One would be wrong, if the House of Lords short debate is anything to go by.

While Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (alas, not nearly as glamorous as the would-be Socialist presidential candidate in France who has the same surname) muttered on behalf of HMG that they were not going to interfere in what was not really their concern but try to concentrate on what mattered, which is the reform of the UN, other noble lords produced rather less satisfactory comments.

Lord Judd waffled on about a crisis in the international community, a large part of which, apparently
“is exasperated by what it sees as the arrogance of the great powers, even to the point of using the UN as a subcontractor”.
Lord Howell of Guildford, the leader and intellectual guru of the “let’s revive the Commonwealth” brigade seemed to think that “a period of silence on the part of all those immediately involved might be beneficial”, though he did not explain how he was going to achieve it.

According to Lord Howell
“while Mr Malloch Brown was a shade tactless in attacking the chief paymaster of the United Nations, Mr John Bolton – the US ambassador – is also suffering a serious tact deficiency and needs to learn that America is not the only nation on earth and badly needs friends all round, wherever it can get them”.
Well, true, though America has more friends than Lord Howell seems to realize. Then again, I assume that his lordship was present when Mr Bolton gave his speech and could not have ignored completely the explanation as to why an unaccountable international civil servant attacking sovereign states and their people might not be the best way to go about building up that famous international community.

While Baroness Royall proceeded to exhaust her collection of trite generalities, Lord Wallace of Saltaire managed to come up with some curious comment:
“My Lords, does the Minister agree that, collectively, the European Union nations, which provide 40 per cent of the UN’s budget, are now the largest contributor and that we rather underplay our collective weight?

Given that it was the reaction of the United States representative to the UN rather than the moderate speech by Mr Malloch Brown which appears to have caused the problem, do the British Government consider that it was the very complimentary references which Mr Malloch Brown made to the British Prime Minister’s views that irritated the American representative, or his remarks about the refurbishment of a building of which John Bolton has famously said that it would not matter if the top 10 storeys were knocked off?”
The second part of that statement is embarrassing tosh. It is not part of Mr Malloch Brown’s job to award brownie points to governments or states that are members of the UN, even if he does want to come back to a peerage; nor is it the references to the PM that annoyed the Americans but the very immoderate, not to say, insolent references to the American government and American people.

As for the refurbishment of the building, it does not seem entirely wrong of the American representative to be wary of handing over yet more of the American taxpayers’ money for a self-aggrandizing organization that, apparently, must not be criticized, no matter how corrupt and inefficient it shows itself to be.

Baroness Royall agreed that the EU wields “a lot of financial and moral influence wihin the UN” but the only example she could provide was that the EU, which is not, of course, a member as such, “played a pivotal role in the 60the anniversay of the UN last September”.

The point is that individual EU members face largely the same problems that America does and other western countries do: they would like to see a root and branch reform of the UN but they cannot carry anything through, despite providing that organization with the bulk of its funding.

If Lord Wallace had listened to or read Mr Bolton’s speech, he would have found an interesting account of what happened when the SecGen proposed various management reforms. The Americans largely supported a batch of reforms that the SecGen described as absolutely vital.

These proposed reforms went to the Budget Committee and were defeated by the Group of 77 (“a kind of counterpart to the non-aligned movement”) with all its 132 members uniting and, unsurprisingly, carrying their position.
“The vote in the General Assembly’s final vote was 121 in favour of their motion and 50 against, the 121 constitution about 12½% of the total assessed budget of the United Nations, the 50 against constituting the European Union, the United States, Japan and a number of other important countries like canada, Australia, New Zealand – these 50 countries amounting to 87%of the assessed budget. So, 121 with 12½% of the budget defeated 50 with 87%.”
So much for the influence the EU member states can wield in the UN. It amounts to about the same that Britain can wield in the EU.

Indeed, many of John Bolton’s descriptions of what the problems are with the UN can apply with great ease to the EU. There is corruption, mismanagement, lack of accountability, an “entitlement mentality”. Noticeably, according to Mr Bolton, those agencies of the UN that are funded by voluntary contributions perform much better and are more careful with the money than those funded by assessed contributions. Since all the EU’s agencies are funded by assessed contributions, they all remain inefficient and mismanaged.

Clearly, Lord Wallace of Saltaire thinks there is nothing wrong with any of that and it is really rather arrogant of the Americans to say that as they are giving a large amount of money they want to know a little more clearly what that money is going on. Most of us would call it taking some care of what the taxpayer hands over willy-nilly.

Then there are all those endless resolutions that the General Assembly keeps passing on subjects that they neither can nor should do anything about. How is that different from the activities of the European Parliament?

As their lordships seem incapable of grasping what it is John Bolton has been proposing, I shall summarize it here and direct our readers to the full speech.

There are four aspects to the reform the Americans want to see: a review of the Mandates, which have, until now been piling up on the United Nations without any rationalization or understanding whether these can be fulfilled and whether any of them are contradictory; greater accountability; management reforms (defeated for the time being); a review of the “disjunction between assessed contributions and voting power”.

Any politician who wants to see the UN survive and flourish ought to support these four points. They are unlikely to be carried and so those of us who think the UN has long outlived whatever small use it ever had will, in the end, be proved right.

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