Arab nations plan to table a resolution at United Nations General Assembly condemning U.S.-British led "invasion" and "occupation" of Iraq and calling for immediate troop withdrawal. A similar effort at Security Council last week failed, doomed by veto powers of both alleged aggressors.
This is not likely to endear organization to Bush administration whose hawks regard it as a superfluous leftover from Cold War era. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) even introduced legislation to withdraw from organization altogether. Nile Gardiner, a visiting fellow at Heritage Foundation, summed up these sentiments in Insight Magazine thus:
"I think U.N. has been in gradual decline for many years. It failed to act spectacularly in Rwanda and did nothing about Slobodan Milosevic's brutal regime. Iraq is latest in a long line of failures."
Admittedly, like any bureaucracy, organization is self-perpetuating, self-serving and self-absorbed. But it - and its raft of specialized offshoots - still give back far more than they receive. In recognition of U.N.'s crucial role, several liberal Democrats have entered legislation to create a "permanent U.N. security force" and to "voluntarily contribute" to U.N. Population Fund.
Consider peacekeeping operations. At a total annual cost of c. $5 billion last year, U.N. peacekeeping missions employ close to 40,000 police and military and another 11,000 civilians from 89 countries. The budget is shoestring and more than half pledged contributions are still outstanding. The U.N. consumes less than 0.001 percent of world's gross domestic product. As James Paul, Executive Director of Global Policy Forum, observes:
"All UN staff, including specialized agencies and funds, are fewer than civil service of City of Stockholm or staff of McDonalds. The core UN budget is one half of one percent of US military budget and far less than cost of one B-2 bomber aircraft."
Even United States Mission to United Nations, on its Web site, seeks to debunk a few myths. Despite a massive increase in remit and operations, organization's budget, at $2.6 billion, has remained constant since 1995. The workforce was cut by 11 percent, to 9000 employees, since 1997:
"The UN has done a great deal to increase efficiency and overall accountability. In 1994, UN created Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to serve as inspector general and promote efficient management and reduce waste, fraud and abuse. During year ended June 30, 2001, OIOS recommended $58 million in savings and recoveries for UN and persuaded UN program managers to implement hundreds of recommendations for improving management and internal controls. OIOS investigations also led to successful convictions of UN staff and others for fraud and stealing UN funds."
Yet, bad - and expensive - habits die hard. Budget discipline is lax with no clear order of priorities. The United Nations suffers from an abundance of obsolete relics of past programs, inertly and futilely maintained by beneficiary bureaucrats. Follow-up U.N. conferences - and they tend to proliferate incontrollably - are still being held in exotic resorts, or shopping-friendly megalopolises. United Nations entities at country level duplicate efforts and studiously avoid joint programming, common databases and pooling of resources.
The aforementioned OIOS has hitherto identified more than $200 million in waste and fraud and issued 5000 recommendations to improve efficiency, transparency and accountability. Disgusted by flagrant squandering of scarce resources, United States - which covers one fifth of august establishment's pecuniary needs - accumulated more than $1.2 billion in arrears by 1999, double debts of all other members combined.
It has since repaid bulk of these even as it reduced its share of United Nations' finances. It now contributes 22 percent of regular budget, down from 25 percent and 25-27 percent of costs of U.N. peacekeeping forces, down from 30-31 percent.
But a row is brewing in corridors of power with regards to proposed budget for 2004-5. Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, United States Representative for United Nations Management and Reform, called it "a step backwards". The European Union, predictably, "fully concurred" with it and urged members to increase budget in line with U.N.'s enhanced responsibilities.