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UN Reform Effort Welcomed By Some, Opposed By Others


The reforms recently unveiled by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to overhaul the world body's operations have met resistance, both from staff and from some developing countries. The shakeup responds to long-standing pressure for major organizational reform which many experts say is needed to make the United Nations more effective.

The charter creating the United Nations was signed in 1945, as World War II was drawing to a close, by representatives of 50 countries. Since then, the United Nations has grown to 191 members who meet to discuss how the world body can accomplish its main goals, including maintaining international peace and security.

To make the UN more efficient, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has unveiled a major overhaul of its operations.

"If I may put it bluntly, in one sentence, that in many respects our present regulations and rules do not respond to our current needs and indeed they make it very hard for the organization to conduct its work efficiently or effectively," he said.

The proposed changes would set up a mobile corps of 2,500 peacekeeping professionals, streamline the UN's procedures, including the budget process, and make multi-million dollar investments in training and technology.

The United Nations has traditionally been involved in peacekeeping, but this role has grown substantially since the Cold War ended. Much of the UN's budget is now devoted to peacekeeping missions in countries like Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Because of this, Linda Jamison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the UN needs a rapid deployment force. "The UN really does have to have a rapid reaction capability, which means communication, boots on the ground but it also should be observers, military experts," she said, " all kinds of people at different levels to report back to the Security Council about what is really taking place in a conflict region, immediately."

With peacekeeping and humanitarian missions its main focus, much of the U.N.'s work is now done in the field, away from offices in New York, Geneva, or other cities. Mr. Annan's reforms are aimed at improving field staff while making personnel cuts at home offices, and out-sourcing some administrative tasks.

These proposals are already meeting resistance from staffers, and from some developing countries led by South Africa. These member states feel the reforms are being forced on the U.N. by the United States in an effort to concentrate more power in the Secretariat and dilute the influence of developing nations.

Such resistance is misguided, according to Columbia University's Edward Luck.

"To want the U.N. to be better managed, to have its operations function more smoothly, to have better coordination and coherence in the system, these are not favors to the United States, these are favors to the U.N. and to all the member states to have it operate more effectively," he noted.

For his part, the U.S. envoy to the U.N., John Bolton, has welcomed the proposals and called for their approval.

"What the chances are for a truly successful reform, I don't know. But it is a test for the United Nations, it is a test for the seriousness of the commitment of member governments to wanting to have a truly effective United Nations system and that is what we're pressing for and that is what we hope we will succeed in achieving," he said.

The proposed reforms come in the wake of last year's investigation of the UN's Oil-for-Food program for Iraq, which concluded that shoddy UN oversight was partly to blame for widespread corruption.

While not mentioning the investigation, Mr. Annan did stress the need for radical change. "What is needed and what we now have, a precious opportunity to undertake, is a radical overhaul of the entire secretariat, its rules, its structures, its systems, to bring it more in line with today's realities and enable it to perform the new kinds of operations that member states now expect of it," he said.

Mr. Annan's proposed reforms come as he prepares to step down later this year, a factor some say may slow down the momentum for needed change.