• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Self Delusion at State on U.N. Reform

    Last week, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing titled “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” At that hearing, Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–FL) made a statement:

    Ambassador Susan Rice says that the U.S. approach to the U.N. is, “We pay our bills. We push for real reform.” Instead, we should be conditioning our contributions on “reform first, pay later.”

    In the past, Congress has gone along by willingly paying what successive Administrations asked for—without enough oversight. This is one of the first true U.N. reform hearings held by this Committee in almost 4 years, but it won’t be the last.

    Right now, the vast majority of countries at the U.N. General Assembly pay next to nothing in assessed contributions, creating a perverse incentive because those who make decisions don’t have to pay the bills. So I am going to reintroduce legislation that conditions our contributions—our strongest leverage—on real, sweeping reform, including moving the U.N. regular budget to a voluntary funding basis. That way, U.S. taxpayers can pay for the U.N. programs and activities that advance our interests and values, and if other countries want different things to be funded, they can pay for it themselves.

    Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer yesterday directly challenged Ros-Lehtinen:

    Now, let me be clear: this Administration takes seriously our obligation to guard taxpayer dollars. We are second to none in pushing for a more efficient and effective UN. But gutting our assessments isn’t “UN reform.” It’s just paying less. And trying to avoid paying our bills hurts our ability to deliver results at the UN that the American people want, and that the United States needs. The United States must be a responsible global leader, and that means paying our bills and working for real renewal at the UN.

    How could we have won tough Security Council sanctions on North Korea and Iran if we were continuing to incur arrears? How could we have championed any of our management and reform achievements just over the past two years if we had failed to keep current on our assessments? How can we work with other leading contributors to maintain UN budget discipline and hold down costs if we do not meet our own obligations?

    No longer can our adversaries at the UN change the subject to our arrears when we press them on an important policy matter, as they did for so long. The President’s decision to pay our UN assessments in full means that we have had more political capital to galvanize support from allies, partners, and others for achieving our goals at the United Nations.

    Seldom has so much nonsense been packed into so few words.

    As I detailed in my testimony before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.N. reform has stagnated since 2006. Some key reforms have actually been reversed and weakened: The U.N.’s quasi-inspector general—the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS)—has been directly undermined by the U.N. Secretary-General. The U.N. Procurement Task Force was eliminated for doing its job and uncovering mismanagement and fraud. The U.N. Ethics Office is weak, and its authority has been refuted by other U.N. organizations. Financial disclosure is a farce. The effort to review U.N. activities for relevance, effectiveness, and redundancy has been killed. The U.N. Human Rights Council is just as bad as the body it was created to replace. U.N. peacekeepers continue to go unpunished for criminality and sexual abuse.

    Brimmer provided few details about the Administration’s “management and reform achievements” because they are embarrassingly meager. Of the reforms mentioned, all have significant questions. Contrary to Brimmer’s claim, the U.N. Ethics Office was established well before President Obama was elected. But its authority was challenged early and remains under assault. The OIOS has been hindered repeatedly, according to former OIOS Under-Secretary-General Inga-Britt Ahlenius, with little objection raised by the Obama Administration. Transparency at U.N. funds and programs is woeful—the U.N. Development Program and other U.N. organizations steadfastly refuse to provide the U.S. unfettered access to their audits or other internal documents.

    The U.N. General Assembly has taken no action to address these problems or adopt other reforms despite the decision by the Administration to unconditionally pay our arrears to the U.N. It has, however, increased its budget and increased the amount it charges America for U.N. peacekeeping. The Obama Administration did not even bother to demand a vote on these decisions.

    This is hardly surprising. Notable U.N. reform successes typically share one thing in common: congressional involvement backed by the threat of financial withholding.

    As I detail in my testimony, congressional intervention led to U.N. budgetary restraint in the 1980s and 1990s. It led the U.N. to create the OIOS—the first inspector general equivalent in the history of the U.N. It led the U.N. to reduce U.S. assessments earlier this decade.

    Fear of congressional action helped to spur the U.N. to adopt new rules for U.N. peacekeepers and to establish the Volcker Commission to investigate the Iraqi Oil-for-Food program.

    In fact, the U.S. has used financial withholding to press for U.N. reform fairly frequently since the 1980s. Despite this practice, the U.S. was able to advance its agenda in the U.N. and in other U.N. bodies and organizations. For instance, it was able to get Security Council sanctions on Iraq, Libya, Iran, and North Korea and other countries while the U.S. was capping its contributions to U.N. peacekeeping at 25 percent or in arrears for other financial withholding.

    Brimmer’s suggestion that the Obama Administration achieved sanctions on Iran and North Korea only because we were paying our bills to the U.N. reveals a shocking lack of confidence in the Administration’s diplomatic skill.

    Perhaps the most outrageous part of Brimmer’s speech was her insisting that Ros-Lehtinen and other Members of Congress were insincere in their desire for U.N. reform.

    If Congress simply wished to pay less to the U.N., there would be no need to link it to reform. It simply has to pass legislation reducing U.S. funding to the U.N. The U.S. has a responsibility to pay its bills, but the obligation to pay U.N. assessments has not prevented Congress from withholding in the past and will not in the future. Congress rightly understands that it has an even greater responsibility to make sure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are not wasted. It is too bad that the State Department does not share this sentiment.

    But clearly, it is not only about reducing U.S. contributions to the U.N. Representative Ros-Lehtinen and other Members of Congress are proposing U.N. reform legislation backed by financial withholding because they recognize the value of many U.N. activities and are angered that they are undermined by ineffectiveness, corruption, and lack of prioritization.

    History is littered with examples of failed U.N. reforms. The unfortunate reality is that few countries are interested in making sure that the U.N. has adequate oversight and accountability or uses its resources effectively. Most pay the U.N. a pittance and, therefore, have nothing at stake. Diplomacy alone is rarely sufficient to overcome this inertia. Congress has been instrumental in pressing for U.N. reform in the past and will continue to be indispensable in the future.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to Self Delusion at State on U.N. Reform

    1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Self Delusion at State on U.N. Reform | The Foundry: Conservative Policy News. -- Topsy.com

    2. Bobbie says:

      I don't know any employment where you get paid before you do the job? Must only be in government? I can't believe the mindset of so-called authority who just cower from their responsibilities and these people get paid to hold no accountability? Thank goodness we have grown ups in office who will teach by holding accountable those accountable. U.N. reform or riddance. I say riddance. Idiots are too expensive, honesty is reasonable.

    3. Sal Ssclafani, Carro says:

      It is about time! Thank you Ambssador Susan Rice.

    4. Joe Mollric says:

      Please be kind enough to spare the superfluous chicanery.

      How has the United Nations served The United States?

      What would we loose if we told them to secure another location outside the United States? Perhaps Moscow!

      What did diplomacy accomplish with Germany, Japan, Italy, USSR, North Korea, China,Vietnam, Iran, Iraq and last, but not least, Afganistan?

      Name the last Secratary of State that saved American lives and promoted American sovereignty at the expense of our enemies.

      Joseph Stalin, that well known humanitarian, coined a name for our state department, small caps, "useful idiots."

      They spend our national treasure and prestige, and receive scorn, ridiculous demands and global humiliation.

      "WHEN WE, THE CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES, PROVIDE FOREIGN AID, IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM, RESERVE THE RIGHT TO DEMAND REPAYMENT, AT ANY LATER DATE, AS COMPENSATION FOR THE SAME."

      Make that an amendment to the constitution.

    5. R Holland, Chandler, says:

      How about giving the UN 5 years to find another home. Maybe in the middle east somewhere.

    6. Jax Tico Jacksonvill says:

      Move them out of NY. Just revoke the UN's lease and get a few large moving vans. Now that would be a stimulus! The UN works for the interests of countries other than the United States of America. The UN should be in one of those countries. Perhaps in the middle in some wonderful desert in the middle east, or in the middle of Africa where they can swat at flies and live in the fear they help to create for people all aroung the world.

      Move them out and don't pay them any more of our tax dollars until they have reformed the organization. freewethepeople. com

    7. Paul St George, UT says:

      Politicians are afraid to touch the third UN rail or criticize the "sacred UN." Since the present economic slump, very few pols have made any signiificant pro-US noise at the UN since John Bolton, (praise his name!) was our only effective UN ambassador.

      I suggest that a copy of this article be sent to all Representatives and Senators, just to see if they understand the situation and hopefully do something to reduce at least some of the billions of UN donations to the UN by US taxpayers. It's more wasted money that does us no perceptible good and certainly does not reduce the hate-filled, anti-US rhetoric that issues from that less-than-credible, useless and corrupt organization. Just a humble suggestion…

    8. Pingback: World Spinner

    9. vicki,iowa says:

      i just wanted to ask someone at the heritage foundation who is in charge of filing charges against the president?who do we the people have to call to get that ball rolling?all i know is if it was just john doe in iowa hed be in jail right now.going against his own american people and our alias discussing our defenses is putting our whole country in danger.trying to force everyone to purchase insurance is an anarchy.who do i call to end his distruction before he ruins whats left of us,or our safty?

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×