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20 September 2017
Progress on United Nations Reform
The Trump Administration’s proposed withdrawal from international obligations such as the Paris Climate Change Agreement and its proposed budget cuts to the United Nations, foreign assistance and diplomacy (largely rejected by Congress) would not seem to bode well for continuing US leadership at the United Nations. But with challenges come opportunities. One such opportunity comes with a convergence of UN reform agendas being advanced by the new Secretary General, the President and the US Congress. Any viable institution must constantly reinvent itself  to adapt to fast-changing geopolitics, demographics and technology. The UN is no exception. The world today is far different from that of 1945. Calls for reform are a compelling confirmation of the essential role the UN must play in our increasingly interconnected global community.

Because a more efficient and effective United Nations will be a stronger force for peace, UNA-NCA supports important reform initiatives. History teaches that US leadership is critical in achieving these reforms. And despite the occasionally discordant and harsh rhetoric coming from the Administration, progress is being made. Of course, meeting our funding obligations and generously supporting the UN’s humanitarian and human rights initiatives strengthens US leadership and leverage. See Status of FY2018 Appropriations.

On Monday, September 18th, President Trump addressed a high level meeting on UN Reform, inviting 128 nations which have signed on to a US-initiated ten point UN Political Declaration. The Declaration provides critical Member State support for the Secretary General’s reform initiatives to improve the management, transparency and accountability of the Secretariat. The Member States vest in the Secretary General the power to reduce “duplication, redundancy and overlap,” to develop human resource policies that “will attract, develop and retain high-performing staff members” and gender parity, to improve the planning and budget processes, and to align the UN’s “work on humanitarian response, development, and sustaining peace initiatives.” See Political Declaration. In his brief address on Monday, the President stated that the UN should focus on people and results, not process, that every level of management should be held accountable, and that whistleblowers should be protected. He urged that peacekeeping mandates have clearly defined goals and metrics that define success, and that Member States fully support the Secretary General's bold steps to streamline the bureaucracy and change business as usual. “We pledge to be partners in your work,” the President said.  With such reforms, the President predicted, “the United Nations will emerge as a stronger, more effective, more just and greater force for  peace and harmony in the world.” See President Trump’s statement

One of the weaknesses in the UN Charter is the ill-defined role of the Secretary General who is described as the “chief administrative officer,” an intentional objective of some of the original Charter signatories. Member State support is essential if the  SG is to be an effective global leader. Close your eyes and imagine that a President Roosevelt, Eisenhower, G.H.W. Bush or Obama had  called together almost 130 nations to vest in the SG enormous powers to strengthen the UN though management efficiencies that would enable the UN to realize fully the vision of its charter. UN supporters would be wildly applauding. Yet, this is what  happened on Monday if only the Administration can stay the course. The Declaration establishes an important foundation for UN reform, but it is only a first step. See Board Member Richard Ponzio’s article “Hitting the Reset on the UN".

Trump’s first address to the UN General Assembly on September 19th was quite a contrast, obviously written by another team. In vivid and typically Trumpian language, he spoke to both his base and the international community. He called for global cooperation in confronting the threats to the civilized world presented by “rogue regimes” such as North Korea, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and Cuba and by “radical Islamic terrorism.”  He thanked Russia and China for their support of UN sanctions against North Korea, but said this was not nearly enough. Trump attempted to reconcile his America first policies with the US traditional role of global leadership. The jury is out on whether he succeeded; however, the Trump doctrine reflects a pragmatic view of the UN, with its roots in the Treaty of Westphalia, as a forum in which sovereign nations advance their national interests through global cooperation in addressing common challenges and advancing shared values—“values expressed in the United Nations Charter.” In Trump’s view, the United Nations “was based on the vision that diverse nations could cooperate to protect their sovereignty, security and prosperity.”

Trump thanked the UN for its humanitarian work addressing the refugee crisis and world famines. He said the US is a compassionate nation spending billions of dollars in humanitarian assistance and supporting global health programs including  PEPFAR, the malaria initiative, the Global Health Security Agenda, and the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery. Drawing applause, he praised “the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, part of our commitment to empowering women across the globe, ” and he thanked Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon for hosting refuges, arguing that it is more humane and cost effective to support refugees close to their home countries where they can return when a political solution is found. He saluted the UN for addressing the systemic problems that cause people to flee from their homes, noting that peacekeeping missions have made “invaluable contributions in stabilizing conflicts in Africa.”  Trump thanked the Secretary General for recognizing that “the United Nations must reform” and  focus more on people and results rather than process and bureaucracy. However, Trump criticized the UN for electing States with egregious human rights records to the Human Rights Council.

There were less satisfying notes in Trump’s address. He began by bragging about the record high US stock market and military defense appropriations. And then he complained about how the US shoulders an “unfair cost burden” at the UN, financially and militarily.  At less than one quarter of one per cent of the federal budget, US contributions to the UN actually understate the US proportionate share of the world’s gross domestic product. Given the cost in blood and treasure of US military interventions abroad, the US investment in the UN’s peace and security and humanitarian work is very cost-effective.  Trump did acknowledge that if,  by reform the UN lived up to its goals, the US “investment would easily be well worth it.” Trump’s harsh attack on the Iran nuclear deal was a “gift” to the smiling Netanyahu, and notably absent was any reference to climate change and only a slight passing reference to the Ukraine. His surprising attack on socialism seemed inconsistent with his emphasis on the sovereign right of each nation to pursue its own economic and cultural course as it secures its “sovereignty, security and prosperity.” He said little about human rights. There was no mention, for example, of the Rohingya crisis.  President Trump’s speech.

President’s Trump strong endorsement of  Secretary General Guterres’ reform agenda was timely. On the issue of Peacekeeping reform, a UNA-NCA initiative, the Secretary General transmitted a Note to Member States proposing to restructure UN Peace Operations. The Secretary General has proposed a “surge in diplomacy for peace” that  requires a “more nimble, pragmatic and flexible” organizational structure at both headquarters and in the field. His proposal addresses the barriers of fragmentation and functional silos by organizational integration and changing the working culture to channel capacity and resources towards conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Specifically, he proposes to combine into a single Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs the responsibilities of the Department of Political Affairs and the Peace Building Support Office. The new Department would support the Secretary General’s diplomatic activities, manage the spectrum of engagements from early warning through peacebuilding, prioritize relationships with strategic partners and regional organizations, and support the Security Council and General Assembly.

The SG also proposes a single Department of Peace Operations with the responsibility for peacekeeping and political missions, bringing the management of all peace operations under a single department. A Standing Principals Group would be created to provide leadership for strategic, political and operational functions, and  a single political operational structure would be created under three regional Assistant Secretary Generals. To increase capacity for preventative diplomacy, a new High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation would be established. See Note from Secretary General to Member States.

At a September 18th Circle of Leadership, the Secretary General requested heads of state or governments to sign a Compact agreeing to certify that citizens who serve the UN “have not committed, or alleged to have committed, criminal offenses, including of a sexual nature, and/or violations of human rights law or international humanitarian law.” The Compact further provides for credible international investigations of both military and civilian personnel charged with such violations.

Finally, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2378 on Peacekeeping Reform on September 20, after a high level discussion led by the current chair, Ethiopia. The resolution affirmed that the prevention of conflicts is a primary responsibility of States and that peacekeeping operations should support political solutions. The Resolution endorses the Secretary General’s structural reforms described above, calls for an annual comprehensive briefing of the Security Council by the Secretary General on Peacekeeping Reform, encourages strong support for the African Union, and urges that more women be recruited for Peacekeeping Operations. Vice President Pence addressed the Council calling for an exit strategy where Peacekeeping Operations have fulfilled their purpose of have failed to do so.

The Secretary General’s organizational proposals are a first step in addressing the Peace Operations Reform proposals that have been advanced for discussion by UNA-NCA. UNA-NCA’s Peacekeeping Reform proposals include recommendations that would strengthen the capacity of UN Peacekeepers to serve important US national security objectives. Specific recommendations fall within the following categories:

·Ensuring achievable, realistic and adequately resourced UN Security Council Mandates that serve clearly defined political strategies;

·Implementation of governance reforms that streamline the UN bureaucracy and integrate peacekeeping with UN peacebuilding, human rights and humanitarian objectives, vesting overall strategic responsibility in a senior UN executive and delegating operational responsibility to the field;

·Enhance readiness and training of military and police personnel and strengthen mediation capacity;

·Hold Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) accountable for peacekeeping performance and a zero tolerance policy of sexual exploitation and abuse;

·Promote gender integration at all  levels; and

·Meet US funding obligations while ensuring efficient use of US taxpayer money by establishing effective oversight and exit strategies.

UNA-NCA Proposals for the Reform of Peace Operations can be found HERE. We have received  comments (and welcome further comments) on the paper which will be updated and revised in due course as we monitor progress on the UN’s peace and security mission—so vital to US national interest.

By Ambassador Donald T. Bliss (ret.), Past President and Co-Chair, Peace  & Security Committee
United Nations Association of the National Capital Area