The United Nations at 70: How to Fix a Broken Organization
As the United Nations begins a year-long celebration of the 70th anniversary of its 1945 founding, it is entirely appropriate that we reassess what the UN actually does. The fuzzy notion of continuing World War II’s winning coalition (itself called “the United Nations”) to prevent future wars disappeared long ago. The UN now has an extensive real-world record to evaluate, rather than merely its founders’ aspirations. Some drastic changes are clearly in order.
The UN system today is a huge operation, defying orderly analysis, which is precisely one of its biggest problems.
In many often-unknown or overlooked UN specialized agencies and programs, considerable important technical or humanitarian work is being done. The World Food Program, the International Maritime Organization and the Universal Postal Union, for example, generally serve their members well, without contentious political matters interfering, and without much publicity.
Others, unfortunately, have gone far astray, even humanitarian bodies like the UN Relief and Works Agency (“UNRWA”). It has helped preserve Palestinians as “refugees” over several generations, in violation of every precept of “refugee” status, for entirely political, anti-Israel goals.
In fact, it is the UN’s well-known political institutions that are fundamentally broken: the Security Council, the General Assembly and the misbegotten Human Rights Council.
The Cold War gridlocked the Council, but even after the Soviet Union’s collapse, it has not filled its originally envisaged role. On critical contemporary issues like nuclear proliferation and the war against international terrorism, the Council’s performance has been marginal at best. Far too often, its members are satisfied with rhetoric rather than action. Diplomats often say “the Council must pronounce itself,” as if that is enough, or that anyone cares outside the UN bubble.
Reform efforts have proven unsuccessful or even counterproductive. By the UN’s 60th anniversary, for example, the existing Human Rights Commission had become a safe haven for the world’s most egregious human-rights abusers. As with other UN bodies, members were typically elected through the consensus judgments of their respective regional groups, one of the least-known but most pernicious UN practices.
Under this back-scratching, vote-trading mentality, the Human Rights Commission routinely had Cuba, Libya, Iran and their ilk as members. Their principal activity was producing resolutions and reports on human-rights abuses in the United States and Israel!
When disgust and embarrassment finally forced the UN in 2006 to create a new “Human Rights Council,” few of the necessary reforms were adopted, or were significantly watered down. In consequence, the UNHRC is essentially indistinguishable from its predecessor. No wonder so many are so discouraged about the prospects for true UN reform.
The UN malfunctioned for many reasons, most importantly the hard truth that it never could do other than reflect the prevailing international reality. But the UN itself has contributed to its decay, most significantly through its system of assessed, or mandatory, financial contributions. Each of the General Assembly’s 193 members has one vote, no matter what their size or contribution. The United States pays 22 percent of most UN agency budgets (27 percent for peacekeeping), yet its views are routinely overridden by majorities of countries that pay trivial contributions.
The answer is to shift entirely to voluntary contributions. Each nation should fund only what it thinks useful or effective. The best-run UN agencies are already funded voluntarily, whereas some of the worst, least-productive bureaucracies are those funded by assessed contributions. No surprises there, since voluntary funding incentivizes performance. And the other members would once again have to listen to America if they wanted our money! Unquestionably, UN funding should be a major subject of discussion as we approach the organization’s 70th birthday in 2015.
There are countless other issues to consider as well, but let the debate begin!
John Bolton was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 through 2006. He is currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a Fox News contributor
This article was originally published by FOX News.