A New Bargain for UN Reform

The United Nations is torn apart by internal tensions. No sooner was the controversy over the creation of a Human Rights Council satisfactorily resolved than a new battle has erupted. The United States is pressing for administrative reforms and threatening to cut off funding if the reforms are not forthcoming.

The Secretary General has submitted a reasonable reform plan, but a majority of UN member states, acting together as the so-called G-77, are balking, because they regard it as another step in reducing the authority of the General Assembly relative to the Security Council. In particular, they object to the plan’s proposal to give increased powers and responsibilities to the Secretary General, whose selection is effectively in the hands of the Security Council’s five permanent members, which wield veto power.

Many UN members, believing that power within the UN has been shifting from the General Assembly, resist giving up what they regard as its last vestige: control over the budget through the work of the Assembly’s Fifth Committee. In practice, the Fifth Committee has exercised the kind of micro-management over personnel and expenditure that ought to be exercised by the Secretary General if the UN is to operate effectively and to have a staff which is up to the challenges facing the organization. This is the basis of America’s insistence on administrative reforms.

There is an urgent need to find a way out of this impasse. Failure of the current proposal would mean an effective end to all efforts to reform the UN, with disastrous consequences for people across the world who depend on the aid provided by the UN Development Program, the security provided by the UN’s numerous peacekeeping operations, or the myriad other services rendered by UN agencies. For example, failure of management reform would fuel demands by the US Congress to withhold America’s contributions to the UN budget – a policy that would greatly undermine America’s own interests, such as the planned expansion of the mission to stop genocide in Darfur.