June 3, 2005

Update — United Nations Reform

By Martin Leatherman & Newsdesk.org staff

The United Nations faces louder calls for reform as the Iraqi oil for food scandal unfolds, and is under new pressure after the failure of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty summit and the nomination of John Bolton as America’s U.N. ambassador.

The $64 billion “oil for food” program was created by the U.N. after the first Gulf War to supply war-torn Iraq with food and medicine in exchange for oil.

But revelations of illegal profiteering from the program have implicated a wide range of politicians and business leaders from around the world.

The first casualty is at the U.N. itself. Joseph Stephanides, head of the U.N. Security Council affairs division, was dismissed for “serious misconduct” in urging that a British company win an Iraqi inspection contract, according to Agence France Presse.

Though the U.N. has been targeted as the nexus of the scandal, citizens of the member nations that were instrumental in carrying out the program have also been blamed.

Other suspects include former French interior minister Charles Pasqua, the former head of the Russian presidential administration Alexander Voloshin, British lawmaker George Galloway, the son of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and American oil traders Ben Pollner of New York, and David Chalmers Jr. and Oscar S. Wyatt Jr., both from Houston.

As the scandal plays out, the United Nations is simultaneously struggling with questions of its own relevance and effectiveness.

At the U.N. headquarters in New York City last week, the summit on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty ended without a consensus.

Little progress was made because of “lack of convergence” on the agenda, the issues and the final report, according to the United Nations.

The Guardian reports that Iran objected to any mention of its nuclear weapons potential; Egypt wants the option of withdrawing from the treaty as long as Israel has nuclear weapons; and the United States itself blocked any mention of its previous commitments to disarmament.

All this is red meat for American conservatives, who’ve long vilified the U.N. for these issues of corruption and ineffectiveness.

Their attitude is exemplified by President Bush’s nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, a longtime critic of the agency and a proponent America as a unilateral global power.

Democrats oppose the nomination, saying he intimidated subordinates at the State Department and is decidedly undiplomatic on matters of foreign affairs, according to NPR.

They are also concerned about allegations that Bolton exaggerated intelligence claims about weapons programs in Cuba and Syria.

Robin Cook, the former Foreign Secretary for the United Kingdom, said Bolton is hostile to any checks on U.S. power abroad, and that the nomination shows America’s neoconservatives would rather see the U.N. remain dysfunctional than undertake effective and independent reform.

Most agree that the international body needs to reform to face 21st century challenges, but exactly what needs to happen is in dispute.

Reuters reports that the U.N.’s reform program focuses on broad issues such as poverty, war, terrorism and humanitarian crises, while the United States is intent on addressing management and accountability.

This May, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) introduced the United Nations Reform Bill of 2005, which threatens to withhold U.S. funds to programs it sees as unimportant, and bars human rights violators from participating in U.N. human rights councils.

The U.S., which according to the Associated Press covers 25 percent of the agency’s budget, would also like to see more U.N. programs raise their own money, as the World Health Organization and UNICEF do.

In March 2005, Kofi Annan said his reform plans also target the Security Council, by making it more representative of its international membership.

He has proposed two options. The first provides for six new permanent seats — none with any new power of veto — and three new two-year temporary seats.

The second option has no new permanent seats, but does create a new category of eight seats with four-year renewable terms, and one two-year temporary seat.

Both plans would give greater representation to Africa.

Annan also wants more relevance for the Social and Economic Council, which was originally intended to be equal to the Security Council.

A more positive development has been the United Nations World Environmental Conference in San Francisco, which coincides with the agency’s 60th anniversary.

Mayors and leaders from around the world gathered at the conference to discuss and share ideas on urban environmental policy, proving a thriving grassroots interest in the issue.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger used the conference as an opportunity to publicly break with the Bush administration over global warming, by unveiling an aggressive greenhouse gas reduction plan for California, according to the Associated Press.

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Keyword search (oil for food):
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“FOCUS: Reforming the United Nations”
Newsdesk.org, February 5, 2005

“Oil-for-food scandal: Annan orders first sacking”
Agence France-Presse, June 2, 2005

U.S. role in oil-for-food probe eyed
Associated Press, May 17, 2005

“The man who bought oil from Iraq”
New York Times, October 19, 2005

“Panel says BayOil key in Saddam scheme”
Houston Chronicle, May 16, 2005

“Saddam’s oily deals”
Newsweek, January 25, 2005

“Nuclear non-proliferation conference at UN closes with ‘very little’ accomplished”
United Nations Press Release, May 27, 2005

“Nuclear treaty failure sets tone for summit”
The Guardian, May 28 2005

“Background: John Bolton’s nomination to the U.N.”
NPR, May 24, 2005

“Why American neocons are out for Kofi Annan’s blood”
Guardian April 1, 2005

U.S., U.N. want U.N. reform but differ on what it is”
Reuters, May 29, 2005

“In larger freedom”
United Nations, March 21, 2005

U.N.: U.S. reform bill counterproductive
Associated Press, May 25 2005

“Schwarzenegger to unveil emissions plan”
Associated Press, June 2 2005

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