by Austin Bay
March 30, 2005
Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants to reform the United Nations,
but the more immediate issue is who will reform Kofi Annan.
Credit former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and his
"Independent Inquiry Committee" with delivering a skull-cracking report on
the United Nations' Oil For Food (OFF) scandal, albeit one administered with
a soft hammer. Investigators argue there is no evidence that Annan knew
about an OFF contract bid involving his son, Kojo Annan, and Kojo's
Annan may not be a thief, but we do know he's a floundering
bureaucrat responsible for mismanaging a sick organization mired in a
multibillion dollar fraud.
That's why Volcker's report is the beginning of a genuine reform
process, not a conclusion, and a slew of corrupt officials and businesses
must face prosecution, not mere investigation. Corruption at the United
Nations has worked hand-in-glove with incompetence to produce institutional
paralysis and political irrelevance.
OFF operated behind all of the righteous code words of
international good intentions. Implemented while economic sanctions shackled
Saddam Hussein, the program supposedly used revenue from controlled oil
sales to provide the Iraqi people with food, medicine and relief supplies.
However, it had no oversight -- at least, no credible oversight. Annan's OFF
chief, Benon Sevan, was in Saddam Hussein's pocket. Saddam "flipped" the
program using those old-time tools of political judo: graft and payoff.
The scandal has deeply damaged the United Nations as an
institution. For many critics, this doesn't matter. They already argue the
United Nations is a facade masking coalitions of the corrupt -- a forum
where cynical international elites romp in a champagne sewer greased by the
planet's Saddams, mafia thugs and rogue corporations. They point to the
United Nations' dismal record in Bosnia, the Congo and Sudan's Darfur.
Why should such an organization continue to suck dollars and
Such an organization shouldn't -- that's why it needs massive
Reform is in America's interest. Winning the War on Terror means
not only military victory, but economic and political stability in the hard,
chaotic corners where terrorists hide. A credible United Nations would play
an extremely useful role in this process.
Pieces of the United Nations meet immediate, on-the-ground
humanitarian needs -- and I've seen them work in Africa. If U.N. refugee aid
programs didn't exist, the sub-Saharan conflicts of the last three decades
would have killed many hundreds of thousands more than they have.
Successful aid operations require more than financing and
coordination capabilities, however. They require moral credibility. I am
certain that the United Nations' corruption will affect legitimate
non-governmental organization aid and development programs crucial to many
Third World countries, in the same way honest businesses suffered negative
political and media consequences after Enron and Global Crossing's corporate
crimes were exposed.
Annan's U.N. reform study (see www.un.org/secureworld ) offers
several excellent ideas for organizational change. The study recognizes the
current U.N. structure is a relic of World War II.
But the real reform means oversight and accountability. At the
moment, it is only the United States -- in its often anarchic manifestations
of free press, congressional committees and bouts of taxpayer outrage --
that acts as a check on the United Nations.
Though the Bush administration probably favors keeping a
weakened Annan --floundering, continuing to make fool mistakes until his
term is up next year -- the first reform is to force Annan to resign, now.
His refusal to resign is ego-crat at its worst. The second reform is to
prosecute the thieves. The third is to end the ridiculous requirement that
jobs be distributed by nationality, a feature that feeds "connected elites"
into U.N. staff positions instead of experts hired on merit.
As for real reform: (1) strip France of permanent U.N. Security
Council (UNSC) status; (2) keep Russia as a permanent member, but with no
veto (all it has are nukes); (3) add India and Japan as permanent UNSC
members (though with no veto). Now Britain wields the European veto, China
the Asian and America the real veto.
To impose these reforms requires a secretary-general who is a
committed democratic leader, someone neither bureaucrat, kleptocrat nor
ego-crat. In a Wall Street Journal On-Line article last December, Glenn
Reynolds (www.instapundit.com) suggested former Czech president and Cold War
dissident Vaclav Havel as Annan's replacement.
I can think of no one better.