Democracy Arsenal

June 06, 2006


The US and the UN - Mark Malloch Brown
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Mark Malloch Brown is sometimes mentioned as a dark horse candidate to succeed in Annan in the event that all else fails and there's no consensus on an Asian candidate.  He's speaking now.  He's said he's gonna talk about the grievous consequences of America's failure to properly engage with the UN.  But he's preaching to the choir here.

He calls Annan the UN's best SYG ever, but its his boss.Malloch_brown   He's saying that the UN's ability to carry out critical functions is being undermined by the lack of US leadership, using the human rights council as an example.  I'm gonna move my seat in the hope of challenging him with a question when he's done.  This is all true, but beside the point.  Yes, we need to figure out how to rebuild a consensus around the UN, but that process will require addressing some of the organizations' limitations.

He argues that the UN's role is a secret in middle America because of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh's disinformation campaigns.  That's true, but its been true for years despite efforts by organizations like the UN Foundation and UN Association to address the ignorance and publicize the UN's important contributions.  What we need is creative and new ideas for how to turn this around, not more ranting about why American perceptions of the UN aren't what they should be.

He's acknowledging that the Group of 77 developing countries have opposed vital reforms to, for example, give the SYG the authority to properly manage the UN, for example by being able to hire and fire and shift around posts to meet priorities.  I hope he doesn't attribute their recalcitrance wholly to resentment toward the U.S. . . . yup, he just did.  He argues they oppose reasonable proposals just because we back them.  But there's more to it.  Those obsolete posts are filled by country-nationals who often have their home missions in thrall.

He's calling for no more take-it-or-leave-it demands by the US.  Yet often take-it-or-leave-it is all that works.  It was Holbrooke's approach to getting an agreement on US dues to the UN paid.

May 29, 2006


10 Things To Look For in a New UN Secretary General
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

The labyrinthine and secretive process of selecting a replacement for UN Secretary General (SYG) Kofi Annan, whose second term ends in December, is now getting underway.  This site does a marvelous job of tracking the progress and prognostications.  Given the shape the UN's in, its no exaggeration to say that the choice will have a major impact on the future role and effectiveness of the world body.   Here's what anyone who cares about the UN ought to be looking for:

1.  A Strong Manager - Some say the next SYG ought to be more of a politician than a manager, since the key underlings run things day to day.  But management skills are always critical for a top job, no matter how much is delegated.  The UN risks desuetude if its sprawling bureaucracy lapses into even one more serious scandal.  The SYG needs to surround himself with the right people, and his chief lieutenants must believe that the boss is watching, that he knows incompetence, laziness, and dishonesty when he sees it, and that he won't tolerate it for even a minute.  The Admistration is right on this one, though may be focused on management skills to the exclusion of other vital qualities.

2.  A Charismatic Leader - The Bush Administration may well prefer a SYG who is not a leader in his own right, assuming that such a person will be easier to control.  But the divisions in both the UN's General Assembly and the UN Security Council mean that only someone with charm, persuasive powers, and forcefulness will be able to make headway.  The organization's tendency toward lowest-common-denominator indecision and passivity is what has made it so ineffectual on Darfur and, to date, Iran.  If the SYG doesn't have the personality to help cut through it, no one will.

3.  An Asian - The UN has an informal agreed regional rotation system which dictates that this is Asia's "turn" to have a SYG.  There's been talk about alternative E. European candidates, and the idea that given the array of qualities on lists like this one, there whould be no limits on finding the right person for the job.  But everyone agrees that the two key parties who must acquiesce before white smoke billows from UN HQ are the U.S. and the Chinese.  The Chinese will demand an Asian, and they'll get an Asian.  It's almost certain that this will mean the next SYG is a man, which is why I use the male pronoun in this list.

4.  A Visionary of Sorts - While a highly competent functionary can effectively lead an organization like the World Food Programme or UNHCR that has a well-defined mission, leading the UN involves setting a global agenda.  The SYG needs to articulate his own views for how to prioritize among the UN's dizzying array of programs, speaking from conviction when he argues for something.  At least rhetorically, Kofi Annan did well on this score, showing leadership in promoting a Responsibility to Protect and the promotion of democracy. 

5.  Someone who Enjoys the Respect of the Developing World - The UN is dominated by delegations from the developing world who are eternally suspicious that the wealthier countries who fund the UN and dominate the Security Council will shortchange their priorities.  They will make life miserable for a SYG they don't trust, and can and will paralyze the UN in the process.  This sets a high bar for candidates from Japan or Korea who are not seen as "of" the developing world.

Continue reading "10 Things To Look For in a New UN Secretary General" »

February 19, 2006


10 Signs UN Reform is Alive
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

I spent this weekend at a conference organized by the Stanley Foundation on UN Reform.  Stanley is deeply valued at the UN for convening in-depth, substantive sessions that are small enough to allow participants to engage and actually reach decisions.   David Shorr, an occasional guest-blogger here, has masterminded these UN events in recent years.  This weekend he and Stanley Foundation President Dick Stanley focused on the nuts and bolts of how to streamline the thousands of UN mandates that have accumulated over the years.   

They convened a group including a dozen UN ambassadors from major countries (none with mustaches), a handful of their deputies, a few top Secretariat and US government officials, one academic and one blogger.   For me it was a chance to delve back into reform issues 5 years after completing negotiations at the US Mission to the UN to reform the organization's financial system in 2001.   Here are 10 reasons why the weekend left me somewhat heartened on prospects for UN reform:

1.  With the spotlight gone, important hard work is actually getting done - Many of us despaired last Fall when the UN's historic reform summit ended with a whimper.  With world leaders missing the chance to endorse an ambitious program, reform seemed bound to die.  But it hasn't.  Wading through thousands of UN mandates to decide what to kill is tedious, daunting and vitally necessary.  The UN deserves major kudos for plunging into this head-on.   There's also hope of major progress on a reformed Human Rights Council as soon as this week.

2.  The top people in the UN Secretariat are seized with reform - The UN seems to have woken up, smelled the Kofi, and realized that it needs turn itself around or risk extinction.  The UN's best people are now focused on reform which, just 5 years ago, was n unsexy backwater that highflyers avoided at all costs.  When I asked whether a certain charismatic, high-ranking UN official was involved in the reform effort, the answer was "everyone is."

3.  Member States are engaged in reform at a higher level than ever - To see a group of top ambassadors devote a holiday weekend to the intricacies of criteria for retiring outdated UN mandates was impressive.  In 2000-01, ambassadors would step in only at the literal midnight hour; usually Christmas Eve when failure to reach decisions meant spoiled holidays and no budget for the new year.  The dominance of low-level, less accountable delegates bedeviled many a reform debate.   Having ambassadors around the table is a huge improvement.

4.  Key member states now care about how the UN is perceived (especially on the Hill and by the US public) - When I served at the US Mission, other delegations took offense if we brought up the expectations and demands of Congress or the US public about UN reform.  Our domestic political dramas were no concern of theirs.  Now, delegations from around the world - including developing countries - speak of the need to demonstrate publicly that the organization is changing, and to adduce tangible evidence that old habits are being broken.   This is a potentially big breakthrough.

5.  Mistrust of the US is forcing the American delegation to make compromises - There was lots of talk about suspicion and polarization at the UN being at an all-time high.  This is countries' polite way of saying they're mad as hell at us.  Countries demanded so-called confidence building measures by the US as a precondition for their willingness to engage on a reform agenda that, on its surface, means making the UN more focused and efficient, but that many countries fear is a veil for cost-cutting and shortchanging developing countries' priorities.  The US knows its radioactive and needs to show flexibility to get others to play ball.

Continue reading "10 Signs UN Reform is Alive" »


A Muslim Secretary General?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Steve Clemons over at the Washington Note has a very interesting run-down (at the end of the post) of the emerging candidates to be the next UN Secretary General, including the intriguing point that most of the first-tier contenders are Muslim.  Read it and be the first on your block to be dropping the names; for more, here is a Richard Holbrooke commentary on the subject, and here, god bless, is an entire website devoted to the horserace. 

Of course, to derive the maximum benefits from a Muslim ascending to the top slot, it would be helpful for the person not to appear to be America's hand-picked Muslim.  Is our diplomacy up to that?

Two Olympic postscripts:  I'm looking forward to seeing what non-profits pick up quickly on the Joey Cheek phenomenon (nice finish in the 1000.)  And, on a cultural note, the next time someone tells you that European culture is inherently less tacky than ours, do refer them to... ice dancing.

Italian_ice_dancers Happy Monday.

February 02, 2006


Bolton Sends 'em Boltin
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Bolton_pointing Amb. John Bolton presided over his first UN Security Council meeting today and no one showed up.  On time, that is.

On the first day of the US's month-long Council Presidency Bolton banged the gavel at 10 AM sharp, only to have his 14 colleagues from around the world - used to the Council's normally leisurely cadences - saunter in at quarter after.  The Council membership is balking at a series of proposals Bolton has made for his tenure, including daily morning briefings on security issues from Kofi Annan with notes circulated in advance, and free-form debates in lieu of scripted statements.  In response, Bolton has described his quest for reform as "irresistible force" bumping up against "immovable object."

The funny thing is,  Bolton's right.  The UN is too prone to operate like a laid-back international coffee house.   It hardly seems too much to ask that the 15 people responsible for global peace and security meet to discuss the subject each morning.  UN delegations like written statements because they enable capitals to dictate every word.  But the end result is tedious, repetitive and cautious statements that stand in the way of genuine debate.  Resolving tough issues among a diverse group requires the ability to react and compromise.  Dispensing with prepared statements for routine meetings would make life more interesting, and allow the Council to cut to the chase.

The sad part is that Bolton's confrontational style and lack of allies may well mean that potentially valuable proposals for change fall flat despite their merits.

December 07, 2005


Bolton's UN Budget Brouhaha
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Mort rightly notes that there's a disaster in the making at the UN, with the US - at Ambassador John Bolton's instigation - threatening to block passage of this year's biennial budget unless the membership agrees to set aside monies to finance a series of reforms that haven't yet been agreed.

This is all the depressing and utterly predictable result of the failure of this September's UN Summit on reform to deliver tangible results.  I'm glad there's still a debate alive on prospects for converting the UN's disgraced Commission on Human Rights into a more credible Human Rights Council, but I'd be amazed if this actually happens.   In assessing the situation now, I part ways with a lot of progressives (probably including Mort) on the issue of UN reform and how to make it happen .  .  . (also read on for my prediction on how all this plays out in the coming weeks)

Continue reading "Bolton's UN Budget Brouhaha" »

December 05, 2005


A Looming UN Crisis
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

Having spent most of Friday at the United Nations headquarters in New York, I am much more pessimistic about the chances for reaching agreement on a new human rights council.  More alarming, I fear that the US is precipitating a crisis which will further weaken American ability to lead and which could debilitate the UN. 

As reported in an editorial in the New York Times on Friday,  John Bolton has informed his colleagues that the United States will only support an interim three month budget for the UN and will accept a longer budget only after the US reform agenda is implemented.   This position has provoked a sense of alarm in New York, causing the Secretary General to cancel a long-planned trip to Asia.   With the possible exception of Japan, the US position has no significant support. UN officials say that the UN will run out of money by late February if this course is adopted.

Perm Reps from friendly nations, deeply involved in these negotiations, believe that Bolton went directly to the President (perhaps through the Vice President) and that the Secretary of State was told by the President that the US would not budge from its opposition to adopting the regular UN budget this month.

So much for the promise to the Senate that Bolton would simply be an Ambassador taking orders from the State Department. Only a concerted counter-attack from supporters of the UN, in the administration, the Congress, and the public, can prevent a train wreck.

December 01, 2005


John Bolton and the UN Human Rights Council
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

What is John Bolton up to?  Is he conducting his own policy or is he taking orders from the State Department, as promised? 

With attention focused on Iraq, these questions have not gotten the attention they deserve.  Mr. Bolton has been off on his own suggesting that voluntary contributions should substitute for UN dues and that the US will soon start looking for other ways to work with friendly governments if the UN does not reform.

On one key issue -- the creation of a new Human Rights Council -- the evidence is mixed.  After jeopardizing success on this and other issues in his now famous rewrite of the consensus statement of world leaders,  Bolton has largely stayed out of the fight over the creation of the new Council, giving the lead to officials from the State Department.

As the negotiations come to a head over the next two weeks, one can only hope that he will remain on the sidelines and that the Administration will use its influence to secure a favorable outcome.

Continue reading "John Bolton and the UN Human Rights Council" »

October 31, 2005


Security Council Unites Against Syria in Hariri Slaying
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

The UN registered another point of proof that the rumors of its demise are exaggerated:  the Security Council coalesced around a tough consensus resolution challenging Syria to cooperate fully with the continuing investigation into the death of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, or face consequences.  Algeria, China and Russia all went along along once the US, France and Britain agreed to strike language referencing sanctions if the Syrian obligations are not met, with the proviso that the resolution be adopted under Chapter Seven of the UN's Charter which specifically references enforcement mechanisms including sanctions and military force.

While this was not unexpected, nor should the accomplishment be dismissed.  The world is, at least for now, united in isolating a rogue state.  We have been unable to achieve similar with respect to Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and other outlaw regimes.   The real proof of the UN's mettle, of course, will come only if - -  as seems almost inevitable - - Bashar Assad's compliance with the investigation is incomplete and further measures are warranted.

But in the meantime let's touch briefly on a few reasons why, at least thus far, UN diplomacy is working better than usual in this case.   The cohesion and will to act derive in part from the specifics of the incident itself - a public assassination of a wildly popular former leader by the government of an occupying country.  But certain other aspects of what's unfolding transcend the Hariri case itself and have implications for US diplomacy at the UN:

1.   Generation of Objective Evidence - Innuendo, circumstantial evidence and even US intelligence weren't enough to rally the world against Syria.  But the findings of an independent, UN-appointed expert prosecutor were.   We dismissed the role of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq but had weapons been there, in retrospect it seems incontrovertible that the teams would eventually have found them and that, if they did, the UNSC would have been forced to act.  Rather than expecting the UN members to take our word for things, the extra time and effort to allow them to gather facts objectively will tend to pay off.

2.  Patience - The simple fact that the US is in no hurry for Syrian regime change and has been willing to allow the Mehlis investigation to run its course makes a big difference.  Behind the scenes of today's resolution was undoubtedly an agreement that if the Syrians indeed stonewall, sanctions will come later.  The UN moves painfully slowly, but allowing enough time to quiet all doubts and to "give a chance" to recalcitrant regimes is sometimes what it takes to build consensus.

3.   No (Public) Foregone Political Conclusions - That the US is too mired up in Iraq and other things to be able to handle Syrian disintegration helps a lot here.  If Algeria, China and Russia were convinced we wanted Assad out and quickly, they'd be far less likely to accede to the ratcheting up of  pressure on the regime.  By contrast, because the US made so nakedly clear that it would be satisfied with nothing less than Saddam Hussein's ouster, other countries resisted all forms of cooperation with us on Iraq for fear of abetting a US-led coup.  Even if Bush and Co. believe that nothing less than toppling Assad will do the trick, the decision not to flaunt their long-term designs is making it easier to sustain consensus.

October 24, 2005


Time for the UN to Step Up to the Plate on Syria
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Having praised the UN for its tough-minded report on the Hariri assassination, its now time for the organization's supporters to call on the world body to follow up with action.  Tomorrow the Security Council will meet to consider next steps.  The US and France are reportedly united in pushing for a resolution that would require full Syrian government cooperation with the next phase of the investigation, including access to all witnesses and suspects, and backing those demands with the threat of sanctions.  The US is calling for a meeting of Foreign Ministers of all Security Council members as soon as this Friday.

That France is solidly on board and even fronting the issue bodes well, in that their bona fides in the Arab world are a lot stronger than ours right now.   This is not a case where the US is moving unilaterally or pursuing a self-serving agenda.  Recognizing that, the rest of the Security Council membership should rise to the occasion.   

There's reason for hope because:

1) Syria's actions do not raise the usual Chinese and Russian concerns about infringements on sovereignty - on the contrary, the assassination of Hariri was a grave insult to Lebanese sovereignty;

2) Syria's relatively isolated among the UNSC membership - while China and Syria have strengthened ties it won't get the level of protection that, for example, the Russians afford to Iran;

3) mercifully this issue sidesteps the quicksand of UN debates that pit developed versus developing countries - ordinary, disenfranchised people throughout the Middle East seem to get what happened to Hariri and want to see justice;

4) Syria's only strong ally among the UNSC membership would appear to be Algeria which has just 2 months left in its term;

5) Europeans and others on the Council can make a strong argument that in acting, the UN can prevent the US from taking measures against Syria on its own - after all that's gone down in relation to Iraq, that's got to have powerful appeal;

6) After flirting with the edge of irrelevancy after its failed September Summit on reform, the organization would benefit from proving its worth on an issue that matters to its host country and largest member state, the US.  This imperative won't be lost on the Council membership.

We can expect the usual to-and-fro over whether to include sanctions in an initial resolution, what the sanction triggers should be, and how far the measures should go.  But Russia, China and others ought to realize that for the sake of Lebanon, of the principle of sovereignty, of the stability of the Middle East and of the future of the UN, now is as good a time as any to prove that the world body is something more than a debating shop.

Oh, and a word to the Bush Administration:  there's plenty to blame Syria for right now, but John Bolton and colleagues had best not freight up an initial Hariri resolution with other US-specific hot-button issues that will only complicate the negotations and stand in the way of consensus.  After all, the Administration needs a success on this even more than the UN does.

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