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A Report Card on Reform of the United Nations

A Report Card on Reform of the United Nations

Ambassador John R. Bolton, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Testimony before the House International Relations Committee
Washington, DC
March 16, 2006


Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. Your continued scrutiny and attention to both the reform of the United Nations and critical matters related to international peace and security discussed by the Security Council are vital. Increasingly, the Secretariat and other Member State representatives recognize that working with Capitol Hill on areas of mutual concern is not just beneficial, but indispensable, as is evidenced by those representatives' participation in recent meetings with U.S. delegations. In the time I have before you today, I would like to provide you with an update on progress toward implementing reforms critical to the revitalization and stronger effectiveness of the United Nations, since I appeared before you in September. Per your request, I am also pleased to brief you on several matters pending before the Security Council, including Sudan and Iran.

UN Reform Since the World Summit Meeting: A Mixed Report

Management Reform Mr. Chairman, in evaluating the results of our efforts to overhaul the structures guiding and managing UN agencies and activities, I have to conclude that reform is a work in progress, but our efforts are ongoing and progress has been made. The establishment of the independent ethics office, adoption of whistleblower protection, and the growing role of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) are important first steps. It is critical, though, that OIOS maintain its independence and autonomy if it is to function effectively. A well-functioning OIOS can serve as an important catalyst for fundamental change, or what Secretary Rice has termed, a "lasting revolution of reform" in the way the UN operates.

I believe we are beginning to make some progress in recognizing how deep the structural problems run, which is an important first step. Whether it is Mr. Volcker citing a "culture of inaction" at the UN, or OIOS citing a "culture of impunity" in how procurement matters are handled at the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the world is waking up to the glaring deficiencies within the UN system deficiencies that provide an inviting target for those would abuse the system, as we saw in the Oil-for-Food scandal.

It is not just outsiders saying this, Mr. Chairman. Many of us, myself included, were struck by the comments and report issued by Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week. In his own words he noted, "The earlier reforms addressed the symptoms, more than the causes, of our shortcomings. It is now time to reach for deeper, more fundamental change. What is needed, and what we now have a precious opportunity to undertake, is a radical overhaul of the entire Secretariat its rules, its structure, its systems to bring it more in line with today's realities, and enable it to perform the new kinds of operations that Member States now ask and expect of it." This was necessary, he continued, because "in many respects our present regulations and rules do not respond to current needs, and indeed that they make it very hard for the organization to conduct its work efficiently or effectively." The United Nations has changed and so, too, must the rules and regulations.

We share the view of the Secretary-General and applaud his forthright and blunt acknowledgment of the nature of the problem. The notion of "radical overhaul" is exactly what we have been stressing. And it is exactly because we share that assessment, Mr. Chairman that the United States galvanized many in the international community in support of our efforts to authorize only interim spending of the 2-year budget of UN operations. We would not accept a "business as usual" approach to UN reform.

We are about to begin a thorough top-to-bottom review of all programs mandated for UN agencies and operations. This review is sure to be a long, tedious process. This thorough scrub, though, is exactly what is needed. It provides a long-overdue opportunity for all UN Member States to thoroughly assess the thousands of mandates, many of which are vague, unclear, and sometimes intentionally confusing, to sort out those that are still relevant to today's problems from those that are duplicative or no longer needed. There will undoubtedly be disagreements between delegations, as some will cling to special pet projects, but the U.S. Mission will approach this review with a seriousness of purpose. This review affords us the best opportunity to eliminate the significant waste and overlap which pervades the UN system. As the report issued last week by the Secretary-General pointed out, past reviews of programs and operations have been piecemeal. This new review of mandates will instead be comprehensive. As difficult as this task will be, we fully concur with Secretary-General Annan, who stated unequivocally that, "Only by an effort of this scale a management reform as broad as it is deep can we create a United Nations Secretariat fully equipped to implement all mandates, using its Member States' resources wisely and account for them fully, and winning the trust of the broader world community."

Reform of Financing Mr. Chairman, every 3 years there is a review of the scale of assessments of each member state's dues to the United Nations. Currently, the United States is the largest contributor paying some 22% of the UN budget, a number to which we remain committed. With specific regard to peacekeeping operations, the UN assesses us at about 27%, although in accordance with U.S. law, our payments are currently capped at the 25% rate. While the United States remains a strong supporter of a more effective, streamlined and efficient UN, we do believe that other Member States can and should contribute more. Currently we are exploring with other member states a variety of mechanisms through which a reform of finances can help to achieve our shared goals.

As I discussed before you late last year, we are still analyzing how different funding mechanisms influence or impact performance, such as whether an agency is receiving a voluntary or assessed contribution. Many have observed that some specific agencies competing for funding against non-governmental organizations or other international institutions for the services provided perform better.

Applying more sound economic and financial rules to UN financing can also have implications more broadly for the scale of assessments debate. Currently, for example, the assessment is based on Gross National Income (GNI) as determined by Gross Domestic Product. These numbers can be greatly skewed, however, by distortions introduced into the marketplace by currencies which are non-convertible. By contrast, the World Bank, OECD, and Asian Development Bank rely not just on this indicator but uses data based on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) as well. PPP does not look at official exchange rates, but compares the value of countries' currencies (and thus GDP values) based on how much is needed to buy the same basket of goods and services in those different countries. This method, as the World Bank notes, "allows us to make more accurate comparisons of standards of living across countries."

We have proposed that the Fifth Committee in the United Nations, the body that handles such issues, begin utilizing PPP indicators as an important economic tool in its discussions of scale of assessments. In so doing, it will be better equipped and have more balanced data. We have been actively consulting with other delegations and have received strong support from some members, notably Japan.

Human Rights Council Mr. Chairman, let me turn now to the issue of the Human Rights Council. As you know, the United States has expressed its dissatisfaction with the current proposal under consideration to create a new Human Rights Council. We appreciate Senator Coleman's introduction of a resolution before the Senate on the subject. Our dissatisfaction is one of principle, based on our unwavering belief that that we must ensure the credibility of the body's membership. Because we believed the membership criteria mechanisms in the resolution were not strong enough, we called a vote and voted "no" in the General Assembly. We cast a no vote more in sadness than in anger, but it was the right vote for a simple and straightforward reason: the United States is deeply committed to the preservation and promotion of human rights and we will not settle for "good enough." The United States remains a champion of human rights and looks forward to working with others to improve the primary human rights body at the UN.

Mr. Chairman, we can and must do better. The United States had raised a number of objections to the draft resolution. We strongly believe that human rights violators must be kept off the Council. The United States made clear that the new Human Rights Council needs to have mechanisms in place to ensure that the world's most egregious violators and abusers of human rights do not serve on the Council and stand hypocritically in judgment of others. The resolution did not sufficiently allay these concerns and we were concerned that it would simply replicate some of the same flaws that have crippled the existing Commission. We were shocked by the staunch resistance to our proposal that those countries under human rights or terrorism-related sanctions by the UN Security Council be excluded from serving on the Human Rights Council.

A second mechanism that we believe should be in place, and which would serve to secure a more credible membership for the Council is requiring a 2/3 majority vote for membership to the Council. Secretary General Annan himself has endorsed this requirement and we are, again, surprised and disappointed that it was not included in the draft resolution brought up for adoption.

As I've stated before, we will refuse to put lipstick on a caterpillar and call it a butterfly. We are not, however, abandoning the process. We will work cooperatively with other Member States to make the Council as strong and effective as it can be. We will be supportive of efforts to strengthen the Council and look forward to a serious review of the Council's structure and work in two years. We remain committed to support the UN's historic mission to promote and protect the basic human rights of all the world's citizens. The real test will be the quality of membership that emerges on this Council and whether it takes effective action to address serious human rights abuse cases like Sudan, Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe, Belarus, and Burma. I know this subject is of profound interest to the Committee and I will keep you informed of future developments.

High Priority Matters on the United Nations Security Council

Sudan and Darfur Mr. Chairman, let me turn my attention now to issues we consider to be of the highest priority for consideration by the Security Council issues I know the Committee is concerned with as well. First is the tragedy we are still witnessing in Darfur. We are working assiduously through the Security Council to push forward our plan to provide additional troops under UN command to supplement the forces already there under the auspices of the African Union (AU).

In that regard, we and others in the international community, including the African Union, are working closely with DPKO to generate and develop a plan for a peacekeeping force equipped to address the declining security situation. We have provided U.S. military planners to help them develop a range of options to present to the Security Council for consideration. We are pleased that the African Union, most recently at their Peace and Security Council meeting on March 10, as well as the UN Secretariat shares our view on the importance of increasing the UN's involvement in Darfur. We will work with the African Union and the UN to ensure that a UN mission in Darfur operates with African troops at its core and under African leadership. We will simultaneously work closely with Sudan's Government of National Unity and our African and European partners to energize the African Union-mediated Darfur peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria. This remains a top priority for President Bush. The continued escalation of violence in Darfur only strengthens our resolve. I want to thank Congress for the interest you have shown in this matter as well.

Iran Mr. Chairman, let me now turn to the threat posed by the Iranian regime and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. As Secretary Rice noted in her testimony last week, we face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran. The Bush Administration has been engaged in intense efforts to seek a peaceful, multilateral solution to the problem posed by Iran's nuclear weapons program. Although the United States is often accused of unilateralism, we have pursued multilateral efforts through the IAEA and in conjunction with the EU3, Russia, other like-minded nations and now the United Nations.

We are pleased that by an overwhelming vote, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Iran to the United Nations Security Council. And we are now working with other Security Council members to reinforce the IAEA's continuing investigation of Iran's nuclear program and international calls on Iran to meet all IAEA Board requests.

With the conclusion of the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna just a few days ago, and the arrival in New York of the report by Director General El Baradei, the Security Council will remain "seized with the matter" the term of art we use in Turtle Bay to convey that this matter is actively on the agenda.

We are encouraging the UNSC to consider as a first step the adoption of a UNSC Presidential Statement (PRST) that calls on Iran to comply fully with the IAEA Board's repeated requests, including resuming a full suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, cooperating fully with the IAEA, and ratifying promptly the Additional Protocol. As diplomacy enters this new phase, we are committed to working with others in the international community to seek a peaceful, diplomatic resolution. Such a resolution must include Iran giving up its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. It is now up to Iran to demonstrate that it seeks the same outcome. If Iran defies the UNSC, however, as it has defied the past nine IAEA Board resolutions, we believe the UNSC should consider taking additional measures to seek Iran's compliance with those steps.

While it is premature to discuss the exact steps, sequence and pace at which the Security Council will take action, rest assured that our view is that Iran will face additional, graduated isolation and diplomatic pressure if it does not reverse course, take the steps called for by the IAEA Board, and return promptly to negotiations.

It is important to bear in mind that we do not see action in the Security Council as supplanting the role of the IAEA in resolving this matter. Indeed, we envision the Security Council as supporting and enhancing the efforts of the IAEA to address the international community's concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The government of Tehran's trumpeting of its right to a civil peaceful nuclear program is a canard. Russia has presented a proposal that would enable the Iranians to reap the benefits of safeguarded civil nuclear power while addressing concerns that they are really pursuing nuclear weapons. The EU-3 proposal also opened the possibility of technical cooperation on nuclear power and a range of other areas. As the President has said, we do not oppose Iran enjoying the benefits of peaceful, safeguarded nuclear energy. It is clear, however, that Iran's pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle is neither peaceful nor solely for civilian energy generation. Frankly, Iran's track record justifies this suspicion. As the resolution adopted on February 4 by the IAEA Board of Governors notes, there have been "many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement." Put differently, with rights come responsibilities -- responsibilities that Iran has not come close to meeting.

Our work with the international community to seek a peaceful, diplomatic resolution within the UNSC is not the only tool we will use to address this problem. In addition to our diplomatic efforts at the IAEA, the UN Security Council, and bilaterally, we are beefing up our defensive measures to cope with the Iranian nuclear threat. As Secretary Rice has said, "In conjunction with our multilateral diplomacy, the United States will develop sensible measures, security measures, including looking further at our Proliferation Security Initiative and those who cooperate with us to try and deny to regimes like Iran, North Korea and others the materials for covert programs that threaten the international system."

This combined pressure, we hope, will persuade the Iranian regime to make the strategic decision to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our hope is that the Iranian regime will make the same strategic calculation that Libya and many others have that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction make them less, not more secure. The Iranian people have many ties to the world, whether economic, social, or cultural. We must use those ties to help to raise the pressure on the Iranian regime, while taking care not to isolate the Iranian people. The United States already imposes numerous bilateral sanctions on Iran; it is noteworthy that many other governments around the world have begun to include the word "sanctions" in their discourse when discussing Iran.


Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you and your distinguished colleagues for this Committee remaining "seized of all the matters" confronting the United Nations. Your continued close and personal attention to matters of vital importance has been extremely beneficial in helping those of us at the Mission to advance U.S. national interests.

As I noted at the beginning of my remarks, there has been some progress made in reforming the United Nations to make it stronger and more effective, but much work remains to be done. Recognition of this problem, though, is a critical first step. We fully share the view of Secretary-General Annan who, when discussing management reform last week, said that, "Failure to carry through reform in any one of these areas can greatly reduce, or even nullify, the value of reform in all the others." Whether it is management reform, reform of financing, or establishing a Human Rights Council worthy of its name, rest assured that we will continue to work diligently with Congress, the UN Secretariat and other delegations to achieve our shared objectives. But as we demonstrated in the case of the Human Rights Council, we must have the resolve, strength and courage to cast a "no" vote on principle when necessary. We will continue to work with Member States to do the most possible to advance what the Charter calls "fundamental freedoms" in the everyday lives of people worldwide.

And as I noted in my remarks on several of the pressing issues confronting the Security Council, I promise to keep you and Committee staff fully abreast of ongoing developments. I am proud of the working relationship we have developed over the six months I have resided in New York, and I look forward to continuing and deepening that relationship. Thank you. I stand ready to answer any questions you may have.

Released on March 16, 2006


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