On Monday, Kofi Annan delivered a farewell dress at the Truman Library. To mark the occasion, National Review Online asked U.N. critics to weigh in on Anna’s legacy as secretary-general and what can/should be done about the United Nations.
I always maintained that the failure of U.N. management and leadership in the Oil-for-Food scandal made it impossible for Kofi Annan to achieve real, substantive U.N. reform. Sadly, this prediction has proven to be right. Annan’s legacy will be one of missed opportunity and failed leadership at a time when the U.N. needed to play a critical role in the developing global community. Years were wasted on dodging reform efforts that could have positioned the U.N. to better address today’s international conflicts. As Kofi prepares to leave, the U.N. is still in desperate need of greater transparency, accountability, and management reform. His refusal to step aside and bring in new leadership after the Oil-for-Food scandal was a key factor in that failed opportunity.”
– Norm Coleman is a Republican United States senator from Minnesota and of chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
Kofi Annan’s speech was a thinly veiled parting shot at U.S. foreign policy delivered by an embittered U.N. leader seething with self-righteous indignation and resentment. It will go down in history as one of the most blatant assaults on a U.S. administration by a serving U.N. official.
Annan has a long track record of opposition to the U.S.-led war to remove Saddam Hussein from power, as well as to the wider conduct of the global war on terror. The people of Iraq owe no debt of gratitude to Annan, who consistently ignored their suffering, opposed their liberation, and actively undermined Coalition efforts to establish security and rebuild the country.
Annan’s departure from office cannot come soon enough. His ten years in power have been a monumental failure, and he leaves behind an institution whose standing could barely be lower and a legacy that is a testament to mismanagement, corruption, and anti-Americanism. He is probably the worst secretary-general in the history of the United Nations, a staggering achievement considering the intense competition.
– Nile Gardiner is director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation.
Pedro A. Sanjuan
Kofi Annan is hard to judge without sounding facetious.
Kofi took advantage — after being married to a distant relative of the great and courageous Swede, Wallenberg — to engineer for himself the Nobel Peace Prize. In similar fashion, Kofi benefited from the U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal to make money through his son, Kojo. Later Kofi Annan bribed the Volker commission with $34 million of Iraqi money to whitewash his complicity in the Oil-for-Food scandal, the largest robbery in the annals of the U.N. And Kofi now promotes himself as a great figure who will be vindicated by history.
Having said all that, Kofi Annan is not the greatest secretary-general crook produced by the United Nations after the assassination of Dog Hammarskjöld, a great man who died for his principles. Others among Hammarskjöld’s successors have been even greater crooks than Kofi, principally Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who set up a private company in New York to handle his bribe-taking while Boutros was U.N. secretary-general.
The fault lies in the system of a secretive organization relegated to political irrelevance during the Cold War by the United States and the Soviet Union so the two superpowers could threaten to blow each other up and the rest of the world without interference.
The solution is largely related to taking the secrecy away from the U.N. Secretariat so we who pay taxes can see what the U.N. does with our money.
It is hardly surprising that Secretary-General Kofi Annan chose to focus his last speech in office on the perceived failings of the United States. After all, he spent much of his tenure criticizing American policy. But it is even more typical that, in taking a swipe at his imaginary adversary, he let an opportunity go by unrealized to make the organization a stronger institution than the one he inherited.
After ten years of Annan claiming that U.N. reform is a “process, not an event,” those seeking to reform the organization are left with a stack of reports and very little in the way of tangible change. Among the few measures implemented are international accounting standards, a new ethics office, a whistle-blower protection policy, and new financial disclosure requirements. While these reforms should not be dismissed, they comprise only a small portion of the reforms necessary to dramatically improve the performance of the U.N.
Indeed, after years of talk and multiple reports on reform, the U.N. is little changed from the organization that allowed the Iraq Oil-for-Food scandal, the despicable peacekeeping abuses in the Congo, and the extensive cases of fraud and abuse in procurement to occur.
The U.S. is not responsible for this lack of progress. On the contrary, the vast bulk of reforms — particularly the critical management and oversight improvements that would undergird other initiatives and reorganization and make them effective — remain stalled due to opposition by most of the countries in the General Assembly to reforms proposed by Annan and supported by the U.S.
Yet, instead of urging the recalcitrant elements of the General Assembly to support U.N. reform, Annan choose instead to engage in platitudes and ad hominem attacks on American policy in human rights, international peace and security, and development –
‐ As if the U.N. were simply chomping at the bit to address situations like those in Darfur, but for U.S. intransigence;
‐ As if the Human Rights Council would act as a balanced and reliable forum for examining human-rights abuses without disproportionate scrutiny of Israel, if only the U.S. had run for a seat on the body;
‐ As if threats to international peace and security would be immediately addressed if only the U.S. agreed to subject its military decisions to the wisdom of the Security Council that regularly shields rogue nations from consequence for their actions.
‐ As if the U.N. would prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, if only the U.S. would be more multilateral in its policies.
‐ As if the U.S. and other donors were more responsible for poverty, despite trillions of dollars in development assistance, than the repressive policies of many poor nations.
‐ As if the economic gains of globalization could somehow be better realized if only market-led growth was subject to increased taxation, regulation, and redistribution led by the U.N.
Supporters of the United Nations, including Annan, often describe the organization as an “indispensable instrument” or as possessing a “unique legitimacy.” These claims are more wishful thinking than reality. In reality, the U.N. is fraught with outdated mandates, waste and inefficiency, and a vulnerability to paralysis that impedes action.
U.S. policy does not make this so — quite the opposite, if the U.S. had its way, the U.N. would be far more effective in addressing these issues. The United Nations possesses advantages and resources that make it useful in addressing many international problems. It is in the interest of the U.S. to have an effective United Nations and engage the organization to advance its priorities and facilitate cooperation with other nations in addressing common problems. Yet, to be useful, the U.N. must carry out its responsibilities competently, and the organization as it currently exists falls short.
It is past time for the U.N. General Assembly to move forward on adopting the fundamental reforms necessary to make the organization more relevant and effective. Casting blame at the U.S. is unworthy of Annan who knows better than anyone the failings of the organization he has led for the past decade. Hopefully, the election of a new secretary-general will reinvigorate the drive for U.N. reform that stalled under Annan’s watch.