The UN must change
 
Montreal Gazette

Thursday, January 31, 2002


Supporters of the United Nations say that if it didn't exist, the world would have to create it. That might have been true at the end of World War II, but not today.

There are countless organizations helping sort out global problems: the G8, the World Trade Organization, the Commonwealth, NATO and many other multilateral governmental organizations work in parts of the UN's mandate. Tens of thousands of non-governmental organizations duplicate much of the UN's work.

In the face of this, the 56-year-old organization must either reform itself or wither away.

What's wrong with the UN that everyone else is doing its job for it?

The Security Council is too often paralyzed by disagreement. The 189-member General Assembly spends too much time on issues of little practical benefit to anyone (the Falklands War, which ended 20 years ago, still remains on its agenda). Countries regularly renege on the pious promises they make at UN meetings and summits.

And this is expensive. Canada and its G8 partners pay three-quarters of the UN's regular and peacekeeping budgets, which were about $5 billion in 2000.

The developed world also funds most of the UN's special agencies and boards and provides key personnel for peacekeeping or humanitarian operations.

Despite this, the 168 countries that pay only about 14 per cent of the costs regularly use the UN to attack Western democracies, especially Israel. There are more than a dozen one-sided UN resolutions criticizing Israel, most relatively silent about misdeeds by the Palestinian Authority or Arab states.

Then there is the plethora of conferences that assault Western values while ignoring abuses in developing states such as Zimbabwe. The recent "human-rights" fiasco in Durban, South Africa, was not unique.

Not surprisingly, taxpayers in Western countries are demanding a better return on their investment. The UN cannot ignore this; it must change.

The first reform should be a renewed focus on its core function as a security alliance intended to prevent another world war. Granted, that might mean addressing any serious conflict (the faceoff between India and Pakistan, both with nuclear capabilities, qualifies, yet where is the UN?). But UN member-states must match resources to goals and be willing to take sides where necessary. There must be no repeat of the UN's scandalous failures in places such as Srebrenica and Rwanda.

Second, as recent military operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia demonstrate, no collective security operation can succeed without the involvement and leadership of the United States. Even if other countries significantly increase their military capabilities - are you listening, Mr. ChrÈtien? - they need to work with the United States, not against it.

Third, the UN must constrain its spending and its bureaucracy. To his credit, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has focused on this, but the challenge will remain when he is gone. The UN should not create new, expensive in-house fiefdoms. It should drop altogether agencies such as UNESCO, the bloated "cultural" organization that spends $400 million U.S. each year on such things as the "Virtual Memory of the World" project that have little to do with the UN's real work.

The UN should authorize new programs for finite periods only, after which they should lapse unless they get reapproved by the General Assembly. Existing programs and expenses should have fixed terms, too.

Canada enjoys goodwill at the UN, but in part, it's because we tend not to challenge states that use the international forum to pursue agendas inimical to Western values. It's time we stood taller.

We should review all of our votes in the General Assembly and oppose resolutions not in our interests. This is particularly true of one-sided Middle East votes and those that seek to expand the UN beyond its peace-and-security role.

A UN for the 21st century must be lean, focused and sympathetic to Western values. Otherwise, it will not be worth keeping.