Politics & Policy

Charter Club


Next month, the United Nations turns 60. The institution has been a colossal failure. It has never achieved its intended purpose, which was to promote international security and peace around the world. Instead, the U.N. has become nothing short of a sprawling, ineffective bureaucracy.

The nomination and subsequent recess appointment of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. created a swirl of editorial comments and debates on the floor of the Senate about his managerial style and his desire to make changes in how the organization is run. Why is that controversial? No one has stepped forward to proclaim the greatness of this organization that seeks to ensure international security–in fact, almost everyone criticizes it for its ineptness and its inability to achieve the objectives of its charter. Real leadership is needed at the U.N. to break up the stale, unimaginative and corrupt regime now has in place.

In San Francisco in 1945, the original drafters of the charter, fresh from the catastrophe of two world wars within 30 years, were hopeful and hungry to replace the League of Nations with an organization that would support the peaceful desires of the world community. Yet they could never have anticipated the number of bureaucrats, committees, and subcommittees this organization would spawn in New York and Geneva–much less the general lack of vision offered by the organization’s leadership today.

The U.N.’s inefficiency is further highlighted by the rising influence of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. These virtually unaccountable watchdog groups, streamlined in terms of budget and staff, now fulfill the role of promoting peace and security once envisioned to be performed by the U.N. The ineffective and inefficient management of the U.N. workforce has created a vacuum for the NGOs to fill. In 2005, NGOs are more mobile, flexible, and operations-oriented than the U.N. Their rise in influence continues to render the U.N. irrelevant. This irrelevance is as dangerous for nation states as it is for the future of the U.N. organization, and it means that a real shake-up at the U.N. must occur within the next decade.

The U.N. has been touting the “changes” it will make as a result of meetings in late August and September. To date, though, I have heard only that several human-rights subcommittees have changed their names, and a few minor adjustments have been made to various programs. No substantive changes have been made.

Now is the time for a sense of urgency to be injected into these meetings. The U.N. must streamline its staff and take a hard look at its organizational outcomes, measures of effectiveness, and salary structure. It must become an goal-oriented, flexible organization with an objective means of promoting liberty, peace and security for all nations. The U.N. needs a secretary general who understands the status quo is failing, and that the times in which we live demand a tough, aggressive management style.

At 60, the U.N. needs a John Bolton to remind everyone of the vision of the charter’s original drafters. The United States may just save the United Nations from itself.

Glenn Sulmasy is an associate professor of law at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy where he specializes in international and national-security law. The views expressed herein are his own.


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