Some Personal Comments on the US Proposals for UN Reform 22 June 2005

I was fortunate to come across "US Proposals for UN Reform, June 22, 2005 "on the www.acronym.org.uk web site recently (Source: US Department of State, Washington File, http://usinfo.state.gov.). Its a press release of "a Statement by Ambassador Anne W. Patterson, Acting U.S. Representative to the United Nations, On U.S. Proposals for UN Reform, In the General Assembly,". I tried to find the similar statements of other members of the veto 5; but alas no luck. So it is unfair commenting on this US view and not on others; but one could say you have to recognise the reality of power and its implications for the UN. This does not mean that we have to throw up our hands in total despair, at least not in the longer run. But it does mean that we have to analyse carefully the limited steps than can be taken when big power confronts the UN and other international attempts to establish law and work through law and mediation. I hope it is not taken as US bashing. . I love the American people; I always seem to meet nice ones, but some of their government's policies sucks

Since reading it I have kept on thinking about some of the points raised. Now when that happens; in order to find peace and get it off my mind I have to write it up. This in not an informed or official view. Itís a personal view; by someone not as well informed or knowledgeable about the issues as those who will be involved in preparation, discussions and making the very very important decisions for humanity and the earth in New York in September. Anyway at least a bit of one point may be useful.

Some Notes

I have tried to put quotes from the statement in italics. Most bold or emphasis is mine.

I hope you will read :

Visit the Links page at www.arcwebsite.org for more Must Read Documents.

Apparently there is some good information about the drafts of the outcome document for the World summit on http://www.reformtheun.org, which is run by  the World  Federalist Movement.

IANSA www.iansa.org reports on 26 August 2005 that "the US has just proposed big cuts to the draft Outcome Document for the summit - including cutting the reference to regulating small arms. Not only do they suggest cutting the commitment to a new international  instrument covering marking and tracing, brokering and transfers, but also they want to cut the commitment to implementing the  Programme of Action." See http://www.iansa.org/campaigns_events/index.htm 
 

Introduction

The statement starts off on a positive note.

"My government has invested much time and effort to analyze what ails the United Nations and what can be done to fix it. U.S. interest is not limited to government officials; UN reform is very much on the minds of the American people; they too want a strong United Nations." I think it goes a bit further than that in Americans and the World UN attitudes we read that the American public's "General Attitudes Towards the UN: The majority is strongly supportive of the UN and of US participation in it."

"We know that if reform is to succeed it must be a collective endeavor. We are prepared to do our part and look forward to continuing serious discussions with delegations to define specific reform objectives and to enact them. We must not harbor illusions that this process will be easy. It will be arduous and will take time. Our final product, however, can only be as good as the work and preparation that go into it."

It includes Realism:

" The noble vision for the United Nations so eloquently set forth in the Charter signed 60 years ago this week is far from realization"

"The United Nations was created to enable us to confront jointly the common threats to our security, to our freedoms, and to the ability of all our citizens to aspire to economic prosperity and its benefits. Even with its shortcomings, the UN has served us well. Clearly, however, it needs improving. We all recognize this, and we all recognize that we have an opportunity, indeed a solemn historical responsibility, to make it work better."

It describes the seven areas in which the US government seeks reform.

Seven Areas

1 ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

" We recognize that for some developing countries, especially the poorest, debt relief and official development assistance remain essential sources of finance. The U.S. is a leader in both areas, having cancelled 100% of bilateral debt from countries eligible for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative and nearly doubled our Official Development Assistance, to $19 billion, since the adoption of the Millennium Declaration. " (Cynic Yes while spending $500 billion; 26 times more; on the military and weapons and are probably earning more than $19 billion on arms sales to developing countries).

" the United States has been at the forefront of contributors of official development assistance. We intend to stay there" That one cannot deny. See; the US is not all bad.

"In determining the development component of the September outcome document, we must avoid the temptation to give too much emphasis to the supportive role of the international system and too little attention to where development starts - at the local and national levels." I agree. Although they have their fancy complicated (economic) models I am not convinced that the international system can really deliver change. For example, their inability to deal with the increasing scourge of gun crimes in many countries. Change must come from the people; they are the only ones who can implement and sustain it. It is better to teach a hungry man to fish than to give him a fish.

"The United Nations can make its greatest contribution to development by helping countries make and implement the right choices leading to good governance. As President Bush said at the Monterrey Conference, "developed nations have a duty not only to share our wealth, but also to encourage the sources that produce wealth: economic freedom, political liberty, the rule of law and human rights."

I prefer the view: "

Aim of Globalization should be to extend benefits of developed countries in being able to reduce poverty and provide necessities of survival to poor people in developing countries. Require a shift in thinking by both rich and poor. Poor will not begrudge rich for their success if the rich will help poor to emulate their success so poor can meet basic human needs and ultimately fulfil more of their potential. Globalization should involve employing/empowering poor people to provide the goods and services they need themselves, like the rich people have. Those who know how (rich) can help and train others so they can be competent also. Financial and economic organizations (e.g. IMF, World Bank) should review their theories (morals and standards) with the mission / aim to benefit people and reduce poverty."

2 MANAGEMENT

" management and administrative reform of the UN needs to receive the highest priority attention.

.. Our proposals relate to three themes: accountability and integrity, improved effectiveness, and boosting relevance." The aim is to achieve " a more streamlined organization and a firm commitment to accountability and results,." No one will dispute firm commitment to accountability and results; except to protest that it is a slur on the good character of those people who work so hard in the UN. Of course the UN has a firm commitment to accountability and results. Streamlined is a bit more contentious. Most people want the UN to do more. With a budget less than that of the Tokyo fire department (around $6 billion for 2 years; compared to the global spending on the military and arms of around $2 trillion every 2 years); streamlining will mean the UN doing less. Dashing and frustrating the hope of many who believe in the important role the UN has in achieving a better future for humanity and the earth.

The proposal that "* Internal Oversight needs to be more independent from the activities it reviews; an oversight board with separate budget authority would help accomplish this." worries me the most. Oversight bring to mind overseers during slavery. I hope the oversight board would only have a monitoring role and not dictate or approve policy. I must confess I know little of the oversight board. Perhaps the UN should also consider the usual system used by many organisations. That is to have a quality system that conforms to ISO 9001, with internal and independent external auditors and an impartial ombudsman. (Although implementing a quality system is no joke and can lead to more bureaucracy, and less effectiveness initially).

3 HUMAN RIGHTS

"The protection of human rights is one of the United Nations' most solemn duties, a Charter responsibility that should be a source of hope to millions of oppressed people throughout the world. Unfortunately, the UN Commission on Human Rights as currently constituted, where countries with records of serious human rights abuses like Zimbabwe and Cuba sit in judgment of democratic countries, casts a shadow on the work of the Commission and seriously harms its reputation and effectiveness.

We support the creation of a UN mechanism such as the proposed Human Rights Council that effectively addresses the most serious human rights situations. A smaller body is needed for more efficiency and less politics; 20 members would be ideal.

We believe that members of the new Council should have a solid record of commitment to human rights and should not include serious human rights abusers. This is not a pass/fail test, but a guideline that UNGA members should keep in mind when they cast their votes to elect members of the Council, and a message that all countries and the UN leadership should emphasize."

I hope that this will not mean that the importance placed on human rights by the UN to date will not be reduced. One of the things to be achieved by the US in this century is a reduction in gun related deaths "During the 20th century guns in the US killed more Americans, than all American soldiers killed in all wars." Or as a post card reads "In 1996 handguns murdered 2 people in New Zealand, 13 in Australia, 15 in Japan, 30 in Great Britain, 106 in Canada, 213 in Germany and 9,390 in the United States". What right does the arms trade have of making the world awash with weapons (there were 1 gun to every 12 people in the world, it increasing and they are still producing) that take the (right to) life or kill of half a million people around the world each year.

One of the things to be achieved by the UN in this century is a reduction in the number of people killed by governments.

From UNDP Human Development Report 2002

"When order breaks down in a country, poor people usually suffer first and most. All too often, violence against civilians emanates from forces under government control. During the 20th century governments killed 170 million people; far more than died in wars between countries."

The not a pass/fail test reminds me of an idea for " Defining appropriate measurable criteria as to when leaders should vacate office

Crisis such as those in Iraq and Zimbabwe could be avoided if the United Nations (UN) defined and agreed appropriate measurable criteria as to when leaders should vacate office. As some leaders ignore or ride rough shod over their constitutions that define such criteria it will be useful for us to have a UN standard. Such criteria could include their agreement to abide by such UN criteria, constitutional provisions, the human development index, human rights, economic factors, environmental factors, popular and political support, maximum length of time, and of course the number of lives lost due to their leaders policies.

It should not include arbitrary criteria; such as when any of the Permanent Members of the UN security council say they should go, or when a group of army officers decide it is time to break their oaths to protect their country, seize power and loot the Treasury; as has so often been the case during the life of the UN. Such criteria should be appropriate to the different political systems in different countries. For example modern democracies may require more stringent criteria than fledging democracies or other forms of government. Major problems arising such as some current leaders not agreeing to any criteria that indicate they should go can be solved by delaying the coming into effect of such criteria and other strategies. The good legacy it will give future generations should make leaders feel proud to have their name associated positively with defining such criteria. "Should vacate office" means not mandatory but a shame about your performance - do the honourable thing.

The people always seems to know when leaders should go (ok some people are biased) so it must be possible to define such measurable criteria. If the water coming from the top of the mountain is dirty or contaminated, it can't be clean in the valley below."

4 PEACEBUILDING COMMISSION

"The Peacebuilding Commission proposal has generated significant support among member states. The Commission is needed quickly to ensure greater coordination between the UN's political and military activities and we will advance detailed recommendations shortly, and combine efforts of the GA, ECOSOC, and the Security Council. Our vision of how to make the Peacebuilding Commission most effective includes the following elements:

Ö.

* Resources to establish the PBC should be re-programmed from within the UN system; we oppose the creation of a proposed Standing Peacebuilding Fund.

* The Commission would consist of a Core Commission and country-specific sub-groups. The Core Commission would perform an executive function: it would be responsible for establishing country-specific sub-groups and for overseeing possible discussion of thematic peacebuilding best practices."

Perhaps one of the best supported and most important proposal for UN reforms; and yet almost doomed to failure as no money or resources will be made available to implement it effectively. Perhaps the PBC should have a mechanism for Civil Society involvement so that those concerned citizens around the world who believe in peace can make a useful contribution to achieving it through the PBC.

I think the PBC can be seen as analogous to the health service department of the UN. However I wonder what could be seen as the civil engineering department; as the civil engineers had a greater impact on public health than doctors in most countries. Itís a shame that violent conflict prevention has been excluded from the PBC remit. Lets hope that in a few year, like health professionals the UN will recognise that prevention is better than cure.

I am not sure about this country specific sub-groups. Especially if it means much duplication, confusion over who should do the required work, and the specific countries having to finance their PBC activities. This is a non starter for some poor countries like those in Africa where wars and violent conflict are most prevalent.

I think there should be No more Reliance on Regions Peace Keeping forces

The present strategy of regional forces is not working for some parts of the world such as Africa (over 9.2 million dead in conflicts since 1994). The past Cold war strategy where we had 2 or 3 powerful sides; and states choose a side; who armed them; did not bring peace or security. The present arrangement of the UN begging for peacekeeping forces for each crisis is akin to the days of the wild west when the law could only raise a posse to prevent the baddies reeking havoc. The world has moved on. Also if other departments and functions of the UN (e.g. WHO, UNDP) operated on the same basis of no standby force they would not be very effective. The Preamble of the Charter "to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security" and the inclusion of the Military Staff committee (Article 47) support the case for a UN Standby Force. Perhaps a standby force will reduce the perceived need for many states to expend much valuable resources on arms. Imagine if police forces were scrapped and everyone had to arm themselves to protect themselves.

A concern is that regional forces may also means more resources wasted on arms. Instead of having two competing superpowers fuelling an arms race as during the cold war we would have several regions in an arms race (an Orwellian nightmare). For example; the UK view that most EU countries arms and military spending should rise; as 20 years ago many spent 5% of GDP on the military and arms yet now it is considered (by the UK) as too low at 1% of GDP. Their  reasoning is that improving EU defence capacity is a way of improving their ability for peacekeeping around the world. Much of the arms used to kill the 9.2 million people in Africa over the last 10 years came from the arsenals of the former Soviet Bloc countries and the European Union states selling off their old stocks to help finance updating to NATO standards.

My view is that guns are made to and do kill people, we need to invest more in other methods of providing security (e.g. Human Security) and implement Article 26 of the UN charter by gradually diverting resources away from armaments and towards thing that benefit humanity and the earth.

Waiting for the US to agree on Arms Reduction is a major stumbling block. OK its the UN way to wait till all States agree before some States act. But perhaps some States should just implement a 1 to 5% reduction in their Military and Arms spending. Or even form a group of States that commit to arms reduction and only trade arms and military equipment between those States who join the group and commit to arms reduction.

Anyway lets keep quiet, keep our fingers crossed and hope and pray that the PBC does get established.

5 TERRORISM

"It is time for all UN member states to unequivocally outlaw acts of international terrorism, which is an unacceptable scourge for all countries. We are in broad agreement with the counter-terrorism strategy proposed by the Secretary General, but do not agree with all its elements.

Regarding a definition of terrorism, the U.S. welcomes the position, contained in the Secretary- General's report, that the right to resist occupation does not justify the targeting and killing of civilians. We do not, however, want the effort to come to agreement on a definition of terrorism to distract from the more important task of moving forward on completion of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. Adoption of the Convention would be an important and symbolic achievement in the UN's global effort to combat terrorism.

We must join together on the occasion of the High-level Event to condemn all deliberate and targeted terrorist attacks against civilians and non-combatants. It is time for all UN Members to recognize that there can be no justification for such attacks, regardless of the cause, motivation, and grievance. We believe that the Outcome Document must include language to this effect. This is a priority for my government."

Hey! you know this might gradually lead to greater achievement of the UN's prime purpose; the of maintaining International peace and security. A seed of hope is in definition of terrorism. The US non definition " all deliberate and targeted Ö attacks against civilians and non-combatants." throws up some interesting paradoxes. In Kofi Annanís Millenniums report "We the peoples the Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century.." report we read that most wars are within states and most people killed or injured are civilians. 90% of all war casualties are civilians. So will a terrorist be found not guilty if their defence is that they were not targeting civilians and non-combatants; but the missed their military target and killed civilians? Or will armies be branded as terrorists if a large percentage of war casualties are civilians? Its curious that in civil law people and companies are prosecuted for acts or products that kill people (e.g. deliberately, or through negligence), yet arms companies or war mongering governments are not. When a terrorist uses a weapon designed , made and sold by the arms industry the arms industry must bear some of the responsibility; as in some sense the terrorists are fulfilling the indented purpose of the weapons; that is to kill people.

Perhaps it time to abolish war. " It is time for all UN Members to recognize that there can be no justification for such attacks, regardless of the cause, motivation, and grievance.". Let's face it; what the UN has achieved in it's 60 year history is astounding and far exceeds the expectations of many when it was founded. If the empowerment of women is possible, then the move to a Culture of Peace is possible. OK I recognize the fact that there are violent people in this world; that lethal response is sometimes necessary because of the lethal weapons; that weapons fuel violent armed conflict, that conflict is inevitable but it does not have to lead to violence, that we need more non-violent conflict resolution training, that we need more democracy, observance of human rights, more sustainable development and less (yes please) poverty. Lets make another leap into  to a Culture of Peace .

 

6 DEMOCRACY FUND

" Human rights and democracy are at the center of our collective vision for the United Nations. The UN Democracy Fund is an innovative, yet practical, tool for promoting democratic values, including the rule of law, independent courts, a free press, political parties and trade unions, and free and fair elections."

What a great idea. I would include peace and the MDGs as being "at the center of our collective vision for the United Nations"; and also fund them accordingly.

 

7 RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT

" It is a given that national authorities must protect their own populations. In cases involving genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and other large-scale atrocities in which national authorities are unable or unwilling to protect their citizens, the international community should be prepared to use diplomatic, humanitarian and other methods to protect civilian populations. If such methods appear insufficient, the Security Council may, out of necessity, decide to take action under the Charter to restore international peace and security."

Again we need defined, documented and measurable criteria as well as effective systems. It would also be good for states to exercise their responsibility to stop making things to kill people and supplying weapons that fuel violent conflicts.

Summary

"There can be no question: Now is the time to reform this organization. The United States continues to be ready to contribute in every way possible to the great task before us, a task that will take the United Nations closer to becoming the organization that its founders envisioned in the Charter they signed almost 60 years ago this very day: "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights ... in the dignity and worth of the human person ... in the equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small."

Fine words America. Lets hope you negotiate in good faith and not just for national interests. One of my concerns is that the US always seems to do better than most others through these international institutions, or just ignores decisions it does not like or even worse like in the Conference on Disarmament's (CD) refuses to even agree an agenda (or play ball).

This summit may give the world and the American peoples some hope. Peoples from all over the world most of whose ancestors crossed the waters to the brave new world that now has greatest military power that ever existed. The hope of the world lies with the actions of the American Peoples (as represented by its Government); a collection of all races from all corners of the globe. Lets hope that they will listen to, take on board and agree with many of the points raised by the representatives of states from all the other corners of the globe. Lets hope all nation states will remember the dead from 9/11, of the over 9,000 each year from hand guns, of hurricane Katrina; in the USA. Lets hope all nation states will remember the dead from the Tsunami and other natural disasters; Terrorist acts around the world; wars around the world; the victims of gun crimes; the half a million people killed each year due to small arms and light weapons; the 9.2 million dead in Africa due to conflicts in the last 10 years; and the species of the Earth that man has made extinct during the last 5 years' Let us hope they agree on policies that will make the world a better more peaceful place. (And let hope they find time to Enjoy their moment in history).

© Karl Miller 25 August 2005

See also Some Link on UN Millennium Review Summit of World Leaders 14-16 September 2006