European Affairs

Washington Should Reconnect with the Rest of the World     Print Email
Mark Malloch Brown

Mark Malloch BrownThere is a critical difference between U.S. and European approaches to reforming the United Nations. Europe fully understands the urgency of UN reform, whereas the United States does so only intermittently, particularly when it comes to supporting a globally agreed upon set of recommendations. There are plenty of homegrown ideas in Washington, and some of them are very good. But few of them are connected with the work that is going on in New York to arrive at a set of reforms that all the organization’s members and other interested parties can support.

It would be good if the Europeans could send a message to the United States that a reform plan home-cooked in Washington, as opposed to one negotiated with potential reform allies in New York, risks being stillborn. Worse, such a U.S. plan actually risks derailing reform as a whole, because it could very easily be seen as another heavy-handed American effort to make change alone.

The reform plans that have been emerging in New York already have a strong American influence. The trinity of priorities ­ development, security and human rights ­ very much reflects America’s priorities. That is particularly true of the fourth goal that backs up the first three: management reform. One of the first questions asked in Washington when we first proposed this reform package was whether the vote on Iraq would have been different in an en-larged Security Council. The answer is broadly “No.” This is only a hypothetical scenario. But while one or two more countries might have been in favor of the war, the majority of new members would probably have been more likely to oppose it.

Iraq, however, is an exceptional case. The normal business of the Security Council is much more the failed and failing states of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, continuing civil wars in Africa, Afghanistan and other places with which we are all very familiar. The point is not that a bigger Security Council would necessarily make action more or less legitimate in any of those situations; but, that it would, from the American and European point of view, make it much more affordable. An important fact is often ignored about the so-called G4 countries (Japan, Germany, India, and Brazil), which are lining up at the gates for entry into an expanded Security Council. Between them, they contribute twice as much to the UN budget and, therefore, twice as much to UN peacekeeping, as the so-called P4 ­ the four permanent members of the Security Council other than the United States (Britain, France, China, and Russia).

The legitimacy of such operations in financial terms would be hugely enhanced if the Security Council became more representative of global contributions. There is a real “taxation without representation” problem emerging in the funding of peacekeeping operations. There is a sense that those who pay do not necessarily enjoy a vote in the decision to authorize Security Council action.

In a way, it is not so much the enlargement itself that matters. What is really important is the recommitment to an enlarged Council, not just by the new Council members, but more broadly by all governments. We hope that such a heightened commitment will pave the way for agreement in other areas where reforms are being proposed, such as the definition of terrorism, the responsibility of the international community to protect victims of genocide and human rights abuses and the creation of a Peace-Building Commission to promote lasting peace between warring parties after conflicts are over. Reforms in these areas would all be critical steps toward an enhanced security arrangement, and they would be easier if the Security Council were seen as more legitimately representative of today’s distribution of economic, political and military power.

The UN Secretariat does not particularly favor one proposal for enlarging the Council over another. It is judiciously neutral. But the Secretariat feels very strongly, and Secretary General Kofi Annan has made very clear, that it is not healthy for the organization for the talks to go on for ever. Security Council reform has already been discussed for 12 years. There are ambassadors of the current five permanent members who arrive, join in the discussion and allow it to continue without end. They enjoy the Security Council club as presently constituted and leave feeling that their mission has been well done, that the conversation has found no end, and that they can hand over the baton to their successors to talk out the subject for another four or five years.

Nevertheless, while the Secretary General feels very strongly that we need to bring some closure to this debate, we do not want the security agenda, and particularly the enlargement of the Council, to overshadow reforms in the areas of development and human rights. And here, too, the U.S. role is critical.

The subject that most excites the United States is human rights. In a sense the Secretary General surprised everybody by going much further than his own High Level Panel by proposing a new human rights council, a significant strengthening of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and a serious effort to make human rights a real priority in all the activities of the organization. And yet, these proposals, which are getting more support than many of us had expected, are nevertheless hostage to progress on the development agenda.

The development agenda is perhaps the one that is most ready for serious discussion, especially now that Europe as a whole has adopted the goal of bringing levels of official development assistance up to 0.7 percent of GDP by 2015. This presents the United States with a huge challenge not to act as a spoiler. The 0.7 percent target troubles a lot of American officials who wonder why you do not estimate what you need to do to promote development and then put up the money, rather than start by announcing what you plan to spend. That would be an odd way, for example, to construct a defense or a social security budget, and it is something to which many Americans object. Despite that, however, there are still ways in which America can get on board. U.S. official development aid has grown dramatically in the last few years, so there is no reason why common ground should not be found on this agenda, too.

Finally, there is management reform, an area in which the controversial nomination of John Bolton to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations has had a somewhat perverse effect on the American position. U.S. interest in management reform was until recently to be found in only two places. The first was the Congress, where the subject arose in discussion of the lessons to be learned from the problems of the Oil for Food program for Iraq. The second was the United Nations itself in New York, where the issue aroused considerable passion.

The U.S. administration was curiously silent on the subject. There was a sort of pragmatic new foreign policy afoot, which had a certain impatience for UN reform and institutional reordering. There was much more interest in what could be done in the week ahead about, say, Afghanistan or Iraq, or the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. The Bolton nomination, however, whether intentionally or not, became a referendum on UN reform. It made the administration take a much greater interest in reform than it may have ever intended.

There is a huge body of American intellectual work and policy leadership running through all the three big ideas of the reform ­ development, security and human rights ­ and, indeed, a lot of U.S. interest in management reform as well. But at the moment the American approach is excessively insular. Many of the ideas that are emerging are very good, but they badly need to be connected to the reform discussion going on in New York.

Europe can perhaps act as a bridge to bring the two processes together. In New York, despite the efforts of a first class merican diplomatic team, there is a sense that America is not acting as a leader in the reform process and that there is even some estrangement between Europe and the United States. It is extremely important for the success of the reform effort that the United States get back into the heart of the discussions in New York and feed in its own proposals.

Mark Malloch Brown is Chef de Cabinet of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and has also served as the Administrator of the UN Development Program. He was previously Vice-President for External Affairs and Vice-President for UN Affairs at the World Bank. In 1997, he chaired the UN Secretary-General’s task force on the reform of UN communications. This article is based on remarks made by Mr. Malloch Brown at a European Institute seminar on U.S.-EU Cooperation on UN Reform, held in Washington on June 1, 2005.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number VI, Issue number III in the Summer of 2005.