Center for American Progress

Calling the Administration’s Bluff on U.N. Reform

Calling the Administration’s Bluff on U.N. Reform




Note: Since this column was posted, the Bush administration formally opposed the Hyde proposal. The administration can further demonstrate a commitment to strengthening the U.N. by implementing the remaining recommendations outlined below.

Calls from the right for a more modern United Nations (U.N.) are proving hollow. Reverting to the days of isolationism, this week Congressman Henry Hyde introduced legislation calling for the United States to withhold dues to the U.N. pending reform of the world institution. Regrettably, the Hyde proposal demonstrates that President Bush and his conservative allies are less concerned about supporting the U.N.’s efforts to modernize, and more interested in rendering impotent this essential institution.

This year offers a tremendous opportunity to shape a U.N. that can more effectively meet 21st century challenges. From quelling unrest in the world’s hotspots and securing loose nuclear materials, to leading efforts to fight poverty and assisting victims of natural disasters, the U.N. plays a crucial role in ensuring security and promoting prosperity for Americans and people around the globe.

The U.N. is the first to recognize that it must become more representative, transparent and accountable to become more effective; U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan himself has introduced groundbreaking ideas for improving management and programs. His proposal for reform of the Commission for Human Rights – which until now has enabled countries like Libya and Sudan to shield themselves from challenges to their own human rights records – has tremendous potential to restore the institution’s credibility.

Congressman Hyde knows that withholding dues from the U.N. would break the institution’s back, as the United States contributes nearly a quarter of the U.N.’s resources. Withholding dues now – or otherwise impeding the U.N.’s work until certain conditions are met – would result in the suspension of vital U.N. activities. For example, Hyde’s bill would prevent an expanded peacekeeping presence to stop the genocide in Darfur until costly and time-consuming reforms can be implemented.

Worse, Congressman Hyde knows that withholding dues would severely weaken the U.S. hand in encouraging reform or otherwise promoting U.S. interests within the U.N. The remaining 190 U.N. member states – offended by blackmail – would resist any U.S. reform proposals. Furthermore, the United States would deprive the U.N. of the very resources it needs to bring about the reforms that the institution itself is calling for and that the Bush administration is pretending to care about.

The fact that the House of Representatives is considering the Hyde proposal as a stand-alone bill rather than as part of the Department of State authorization process – the natural vehicle for this proposal – demonstrates that conservatives in Congress are simply looking to pick a fight with the U.N.

Hyde’s proposal provides the latest evidence that the Bush administration and its conservative allies want to break the U.N. down. The nomination of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. is another glaring example. Bolton’s abusive style and fundamental opposition to the existence of the U.N. would undermine efforts to find common ground on reform issues.

There are many steps the Bush administration can take to demonstrate that it is truly committed to strengthening the United Nations. First and foremost, the president can publicly and forcefully oppose the Hyde proposal and put real weight on members of Congress to reject it.

Second, the administration can propose an alternative ambassadorial candidate to Bolton, someone not opposed in principle to international law and institutions.

Third, the president can tell us exactly what his reform agenda is. His administration has slammed the U.N. repeatedly on management issues, but has only quietly endorsed Annan’s proposal for reform of the human rights system. The president has not even committed to attending the September summit – featuring more than 170 heads of state – where the General Assembly will take up these reform issues.

Fourth, the Bush administration can demonstrate a real commitment to U.N. initiatives, such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – targets set to eradicate poverty, fight disease, and otherwise improve the quality of life of people around the world. The administration has failed to join the growing number of countries committing to increasing foreign aid to 0.7 percent of GNP by 2015 in pursuit of the MDGs.

Finally, the Bush administration can enthusiastically impress upon the American people the indispensability of the United Nations. Until now, the administration has offered meager endorsements of the U.N. while allowing others – like Senator Norm Coleman and The Heritage Foundation – to dominate the domestic debate with attacks on Annan and the institution.

The momentum for U.N. reform is now. Regrettably, the Bush administration is squandering the single most important opportunity before us to strengthen the institution. Congressman Hyde’s proposal provides the latest evidence of conservative efforts to harm the U.N. It is time to call the administration’s bluff on U.N. reform.

Nicole Mlade is Senior Policy Analyst for National Security at the Center for American Progress. She directs the Global Alliances program, which brings together progressive leaders from around the world seeking cooperative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.




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