Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed Wednesday what he called “the most extensive and far-reaching reforms” in the 52-year history of the United Nations. But the long-awaited proposals included neither staff nor budget cuts, and Republican critics immediately said they fell far short of what Congress expects if it is to pay the $1 billion U.S. debt threatening the United Nations with financial collapse.
“It’s frankly very underwhelming. If this is the whole blueprint, it’s going to be very hard for Congress to accept as a viable reform and a basis for paying the U.S. arrears,” said Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that oversees U.S. participation in the United Nations.
The “quiet revolution,” as Annan dubbed his plan, relies primarily on merging U.N. departments and other seemingly unremarkable steps. Annan said the package should be judged on its totality rather than individual parts, and he insisted it would lead to greater efficiency, reduced costs and fundamental changes in the way the United Nations does business.
But the consolidations are to be accomplished without cutting personnel from the 9,000-member secretariat, beyond 1,000 vacant positions that Annan earlier had promised to wipe from the books. The plan fails to eliminate any existing U.N. programs and proposes adding new ones. And, rhetorically at least, it tilts heavily toward the idea of an activist U.N. economic development role, which is supported strongly by Third World countries but opposed by American conservatives as a wasteful drain on the organization’s resources.
These facts pose potentially serious problems for the Clinton administration, which engineered Annan’s election to the secretary general’s post and hopes Congress will forestall eroding U.S. influence in the world body by paying $819 million of the U.N. arrears.