U.S. demands for reform at the United Nations have triggered an angry backlash among a bloc of mostly developing nations that comprise the majority of the membership. Many diplomats are complaining that the United States is trying to seize control of the world body.
Tensions flared this week when the two highest-ranking members of the U.S. House International Relations Committee charged that a 132-member group of U.N. member states, known as the G-77, had been "working feverishly" to block efforts to clean up the institution.
The two Congressmen,Committee Chairman Henry Hyde and ranking Democrat Tom Lantos wrote a letter to the leader of the G-77, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, warning that U.S. lawmakers would be following their actions, and would hold them accountable.
G-77 Ambassador Munir Akram said the Congressmen's words had infuriated many members of the group. "There is consternation and perhaps a sense of injury at the tone and the substance of the letter," he said.
G-77 Chairman Kumalo of South Africa angrily dismissed the letter, saying it was not worthy of a reply. "We noted the contents of their letter which we think are very unfortunate, and as you read, the letter is threatening and full of misinformation, and we will set the record straight in a substantive way, but we will not be responding to the U.S. Congress," he said.
Other G-77 envoys expressed concern that the United States was using the issue of reform in an attempt to take power from the General Assembly where all 191 member states are represented, and give it to the Security Council, which is dominated by big and powerful countries.
They noted that Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, in his position as Security Council president for February, has scheduled meetings on two key reform issues, sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers, and allegations of fraud in purchasing hundreds of millions of dollars of supplies for peacekeeping missions.
Ambassador Kumalo says both those issues should be the province of the General Assembly. "We can't have the General Assembly taken for granted, it's been taken for granted for too long, and we're going to stand up for the General Assembly. We have an oversight role," he said.
Ambassador Bolton said he had been informed of the G-77 concerns, but plans to go ahead with Security Council meetings next week on the procurement fraud and sexual abuse issues. He told reporters the United States has nothing to apologize for, since U.S. taxpayers pay 27-percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget. "The United States believes in taking action and being effective. We don't apologize to anybody for that. I think it's important that the United States and like-minded countries, which I hope would include the whole membership, are determined that peacekeeping operations be run according to the highest standards. I don't dispute at all that the General Assembly has legitimate equities in fulfilling its responsibilities," he said.
General Assembly President Jan Eliasson says he shares the G-77's concerns, and was in discussions with Ambassador Bolton about them. He says he is hopeful the level of antagonism between the two main U.N. bodies would not jeopardize the chances for meaningful reform.
"I hope we would keep our heads cool and realize that we are in the midst of a very important reform process and we should focus on these reform issues and that we should do it in the best possible atmosphere. On the other hand, sometimes issues of principle crop up, and then you have to deal with them," he said.
Failure to deal with the reform issues could deepen U.S. Congressional concerns. Some lawmakers have called for withholding as much as half the $429 million U.S. share of the U.N. secretariat budget for 2006. In their letter to the G-77, Congressmen Hyde and Lantos warn that "reform hinges on greater transparency and accountability especially to the citizens of those few nations who bear the burden of financing U.N. programs".
U.N. figures show that 25 countries, led by the United States, Japan and European Union nations, finance nearly 80-percent of the world body's budget. The 132 nations of the G-77 group pay less than 15 percent.