News

Expectations Low as World Leaders Arrive for UN Summit

One of the largest gathering of world leaders in history is being held in New York this week to mark the 60th anniversary of the United Nations. Secretary General Kofi Annan had planned the meeting as a forum for achieving radical reform of the institution. But the event is turning out to be a lot less than expected.

When Secretary-General Annan announced the anniversary summit six months ago, he proposed an ambitious agenda. He urged presidents and prime ministers to come to New York prepared to enact a wide-ranging series of reforms.

"Some of those decisions are so important they need to be taken at the level of heads of state and government," he said.

But with the opening of the anniversary summit just days away, the secretary-general admitted that his grand plan had been reduced to a proposed summit declaration that amounted to little more than a general declarations.

"I hope they don't get watered down to the point where they became meaningless. I think some delegations have been engaged in tactical blocks," said Mr. Annan.

The centerpiece of Mr. Annan's reform package was an expansion of the powerful Security Council. But the idea quickly ran into fierce opposition, including from permanent members China and the United States.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's senior adviser on reform, Shirin Tahir-Kheli effectively put the issue to rest in a speech to the General Assembly in July.

"Let me be as clear as possible. The United States does not think any proposal to expand the Security Council, including one based on our own ideas, should be voted on at this stage," said Shirin Tahir-Kheli.

With Security Council enlargement effectively dead, work focused on Secretary-General Annan's other priority issues. They included replacing the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission, which in recent years has included as members such perennial rights violators as Sudan, Cuba and Libya.

Other proposals included an overhaul of U.N. management procedures, establishing criteria for the use of force by one country against another, and giving the world body authority to intervene in cases where a nation fails in its responsibility to protect citizens against genocide.

But as negotiations began in earnest on a final outcome document, it became apparent that in almost every case, the nations were not united enough to reach agreement.

To make things worse, just a week before the summit, Secretary-General Annan was further weakened by fresh revelations that he had presided over widespread corruption and mismanagement in the U.N.-run Iraq oil-for-food program.  After an exhaustive 18-month inquiry, oil-for-food investigator Paul Volcker concluded that the world body's credibility had been damaged.

"To some degree the organization has been weakened.  That's why reform is so urgent," he said.

A long-time U.N. critic, Republican Senator Norm Coleman, went a step further. Senator Coleman, chairman of a committee conducting its own oil-for-food investigation, questioned whether an embattled Secretary-General Annan was the right man to lead the reform charge. He reiterated his call for Mr. Annan to resign.

"If the guy leading the charge is stained with a record of incompetence, of mismanagement, of fraud, it's going to make it very hard for him to do the heavy lifting required," said Mr. Coleman.

With Mr. Annan beset by oil-for-food charges, and disagreements among member states on almost every point in his reform proposal, the text of the summit outcome statement began to shrink. On the eve of the gathering, with diplomats working round the clock, the document had shrunk from 39 pages to fewer than 20.

U.S. mission spokesman Richard Grenell likened the final outcome statement to a nicely wrapped gift box with nothing inside.

"The analogy of the U.N. reform document is a nice big bow on a box," he said.  "But the box is empty. We have to have a whole box of reform. Tying a ribbon on it, we can't even tell what color it is, or how to tie the bow."

Failure to agree on at least some substantive reforms will be seen as a further embarrassment for the secretary-general.

Swedish diplomat Jan Eliasson, who will preside over the high-level event in his capacity as president of the U.N. General Assembly, says it is clear that the goal of using the summit as a moment for reform has failed.

"Already everybody realizes that there is much work to be done in implementation and follow-up of what we come up with," he said.  "Reform is not created overnight. It is a process. But what we want to do is speed up this process. The UN is in great need of reform."

Looking back on the six months since secretary-general Annan called the reform summit, many diplomats and veteran U.N. watchers say it has highlighted the organization's flaws, putting a spotlight on the deep divisions among member states.

U.N. expert and Columbia University Professor Edward Luck says Mr. Annan misjudged the mood of the member countries following the crisis created by the Security Council's failure to agree on the use of force in Iraq.

"It doesn't seem that the best time to start reform is when there's a major political crisis," said Mr. Luck.  "In fact, it seems to me he was putting the cart before the horse, because you can't get major institutional reform unless you have a rather good political climate, and a fair degree of trust and common views among the membership. When they have very different views, when they are deeply divided, they can't agree on fundamental structural reforms. Never have they been able to agree on those things when they were deeply divided."

As presidents and prime ministers began arriving in New York for the anniversary celebration summit, the mood among diplomats was gloomy.

Secretary-General Annan postponed a news conference at which he had planned to trumpet progress on reform. It was a clear admission that the ambitious plan he set forth six months earlier is in shambles.

This week was supposed to be the moment of decision for the most sweeping package of reforms of the United Nations organization since its inception 60 years ago. But the reaction of the membership, as summed up by a senior diplomat involved in the negotiating process, is "this may be a flawed institution, but we are willing to keep it the way it is."

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs