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U.N. Reform Movement Looks Different From the Inside


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Democrats and Republicans have staked out starkly different positions on John Bolton, President Bush's pick for ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton's supporters say he's a tough negotiator determined to reform the UN. The White House wants to see management shakeups there, but as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, the administration has said little about how it would make the world body more relevant.


John Bolton has had some famous words about how he'd like to see the UN reformed.

Mr. JOHN BOLTON (Presidential Nominee for UN Ambassador): The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost 10 stories today, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.

KELEMEN: His rhetoric from a decade ago still resonates in Washington. Members of the House International Relations Committee are calling for a management overhaul at the UN. Henry Hyde's committee has drafted legislation that would link US dues to a whole series of changes, mainly in budgeting and auditing practices.

Representative HENRY HYDE (Republican, Illinois; House International Relations Committee): We are opposed to legendary bureaucratization, to political grandstanding, to billions of dollars spent on multitudes of programs with meager results, to the outright misappropriation of funds represented by the emerging scandal regarding the oil-for-food program.

KELEMEN: Secretary-General Kofi Annan's adviser, Mark Malloch Brown, reassured the committee yesterday that Annan is trying to fix management problems, promising better whistle-blowing arrangements and financial disclosure rules. He urged the US not to simply make unilateral demands for management changes, but to join other countries in adopting the broader reform agenda laid out by Kofi Annan.

Mr. MARK MALLOCH BROWN (Annan Adviser): It only comes when we can work together as a progressive reformist bloc inside the organization, so thank you for your interest in reform, but my plea to you is not to jeopardize our common vision of an effective UN by acting alone.

KELEMEN: Annan's reform plan focuses mainly on lofty issues of international peace and collective security. The American who took part in drafting it, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, has been trying to get Washington interested in the plan's recommendations for dealing with today's threats.

Mr. BRENT SCOWCROFT (Former US National Security Adviser): Failing states, states emerging from conflict, a new subset on the Security Council--a peacekeeping council--dealing with that and dealing with issues of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear proliferation, those kinds of things.

KELEMEN: But US officials have been silent on another key matter: the expansion of the Security Council. Scowcroft is sympathetic.

Mr. SCOWCROFT: The Security Council reform is probably the thorniest issue. How you expand the Security Council--which is really designed for the power structure of 1945, not 2005--how you expand that without decreasing the effectiveness of the Security Council is the dilemma, and that is why I think the United States is so uneasy about it.

KELEMEN: So uneasy, in fact, that the Bush administration will only say that it supports Japan's entry into the Security Council and hasn't publicly backed efforts by Germany, Brazil and India to join. `Washington will let everybody shoot each other and then see who's left standing,' said one official who asked not to be named. The dean of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, Anne-Marie Slaughter, says she's heard that before.

Ms. ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER (Woodrow Wilson School): That is a policy that we and many other states have followed for a long time, and Security Council reform has been on the agenda for at least 15 years, and the position has always been it's never going to happen, so we'll just--yes, lay low, and when everyone knocks everyone else out, nothing will happen. This time it's very likely that it will happen or, alternatively, that if it doesn't happen, nothing else is going to happen either.

KELEMEN: Slaughter believes Security Council reform is an integral part of the total package under discussion. She wants to see the US play an active rather than reactive role. Scowcroft points out it was the US that shaped the UN in 1945.

Mr. SCOWCROFT: Now we blow hot and cold on the United Nations, but I think the practical fact is the nature of the world is changing. Interdependence is growing. And management of all of these forces, the flow across national boundaries willy-nilly, requires an international organization, and I think that's just a fact of life.

KELEMEN: While Bush administration officials have been promoting John Bolton as the man to help reform the UN, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also has her own adviser on the matter. Even so, the administration has given few hints about its vision for the world body beyond the need to make the UN's financial dealings more transparent. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.