Pay Now, Reform Later
The state of U.N. reform.


Anne Bayefsky

In the next two weeks the United Nations expects to approve its two-year budget for 2006 and 2007. With New York City aglow in holiday lights and sleigh bells, U.N. apparatchiks are praying that the collective consciousness will be so dulled by eggnog that “U.N. reform” will be a foggy memory come voting day.

Keeping it simple, therefore, here’s a list of unkept U.N.-reform promises that could be scribbled on the paper coaster from the last happy hour.

A new and improved U.N. Human Rights Commission/Council.

Two months of backroom warfare over human-rights protection has resulted in what insiders are calling the “Commission-minus.” In other words, Western governments are beginning to wax nostalgic about the measly number of resolutions naming human-rights abusers that they managed to pass through the old body. They’re now concentrating on an electoral plan which manages to preserve their own seats, let alone removing the bad guys.

A definition of terrorism and a comprehensive convention against terrorism.

For the Organization of Islamic Conference this is a no-brainer. Why define terrorism when you would end up fitting the bill? Given the governing operating principle of consensus, the script is clear. Hold out. Throw in a few proposed amendments and watch the other side fall all over each other to accommodate. While the convention failed to materialize–not to worry, the negotiations will begin again next year–Western governments did support new language in the draft on “self-determination.” And while no definition saw the light of day, the General Assembly did adopt a resolution on terrorism which “reaffirmed” concern for the terrorist as victim, or in U.N.-eeze “the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism.”

Management reform.

What’s the hurry? Items like a review of U.N. governance arrangements and significantly strengthening the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) are coming, sometime. You can’t just strengthen; first of all you have to review. The secretary general is keen on reviewing the OIOS and has promised more consultants and another “steering” committee. As for the new ethics office, from inside the negotiations last week comes word that objections run the gamut from: “an ethics office would add to the inefficiency of the bureaucracy,” to a U.N. job makes “adherence to strict ethical conduct obligatory.”

Mandate review.

The September Reform Summit idea of reviewing mandates older than five years and potentially getting rid of the rot, (like the U.N. bodies in the business of disseminating anti-semitism), had a caveat. The “necessary decisions arising from this review” were scheduled for 2006.

Security Council reform.

Posturing aside, it’s not on the map. At least not while the endgame is providing non-democracies with more seats, at more tables, for purposes which bear little relationship to the U.N. Charter.

The four-billion-dollar question, therefore, is where does all this non-reform leave the U.N.’s 2006-07 budget? As U.N. tradition would have it, the biennium budget is adopted by consensus. As U.S. tradition would have it, there is a two-step process. Step one: Join consensus and approve the budget regardless of its contents. Step two: Immediately withhold, from the just agreed-upon contributions, the amounts stipulated by congressionally-imposed limitations.

Over the years, the impact of congressional limitations has ranged from minor nuisance to major hurdle. Withholding substantial amounts adds up, and when a pre-set percentage of the amount due is reached, the offending state loses its vote in U.N. bodies. When that limit was fast approaching back in 1999, then President Clinton and subsequently President George W. Bush, coughed up the arrears. But the withholding continues and the arrears still accumulate.

Currently, U.S. U.N. contributions cannot be used for the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, the Division for Palestinian Rights, and “projects whose primary purpose is to provide benefits to the PLO or entities associated with it or to the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO)”–provided the primary purpose is not to “provide humanitarian, educational, developmental and other nonpolitical benefits.” The grand total withheld by the United States for the 2004 regular budget, out of a contribution of $362,800,000, was only $644,000.

The language is arcane. SWAPO in 2005? The terminology is also vague, and the resulting State Department discretion vast. Furthermore, the list is haphazard. Missing is the propaganda arm of these same entities, a section of the U.N. Department of Information called “information activities on Palestine.” Also missing is a program of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on “follow-up to the Durban Racism Conference.” The United States walked out of this hate-fest in disgust, and refused to participate in the adoption of Durban’s final declaration, but U.S. taxpayers are paying for its implementation.

There is one much more robust congressional rider on the books, which reduces U.S. contributions for any international organization by over 100 million dollars a year unless it can be certified that (among other things) no U.N. affiliated agency grants status to an organization “which promotes, condones, or seeks the legalization of pedophilia, or which includes as a subsidiary or member of any such organization.” The particular U.N.-accredited NGO which had such a connection, (giving rise to the provision), eventually lost its U.N. status and there has been no actual withholding to date. The certification is repeated every year.

Clearly a detailed analysis of U.S.-U.N. funding is overdue. Why not apply this last formulation to organizations which promote or condone terrorism or anti-semitism? Certifying U.N. bodies don’t have those connections would certainly keep the State Department busy.

The U.N. Reform Act 2005, adopted by the House in June, would make the withholding of 50 percent of U.S.-U.N. dues mandatory unless there are various reforms. The Bush administration, however, wants withholding to be discretionary. A draft bill from Senators Norm Coleman and Richard Lugar makes such a change. But it has been kicking around the Senate since last July with no sign of interest from Senator Lugar in taking it forward.

Meanwhile, back at the U.N. corral, the posse of budget oversight–the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (on which the U.S. sits)–has sent out some smoke signals. Last week it released a report on the proposed cost of everything buried in the U.N. September Reform document. Not pulling any punches, they began by describing the budget analysis that accompanied the Summit Outcome this way: “…the intense pressure under which the Secretariat prepared the report resulted in a document that is not totally coherent.” They proceeded to lambast the various budget proposals as “contradictory,” “piecemeal,” “overtaken by events,” and “lacking convincing evidence.”

From where the secretary general and company sit, none of this is supposed to have any impact on the imminent adoption of the U.N. 2006-07 budget. The New York Times, parroting their U.N. cohorts, called Ambassador Bolton’s effort to draw a line between the money and the merchandise “counterproductive.” The betting around the U.N. delegates’ lounge is on “pay now, reform later.” It is time for the President to put our money where his mouth is and refuse to join consensus on the U.N.’s 2006-07 budget. If pushed, the U.S. should call for the vote and vote No. Anything less will make a mockery of U.N. reform, while gift-wrapping a U.S.-bashing Christmas present that the enemies of democracy don’t deserve.

Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and at Touro College Law Center. She is also editor of