Events

Getting the Job Done: Completing the Pending UN Reform Agenda

October 25, 2006 // 9:30am11:30am
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Opening Remarks: A. Edward Elmendorf, President, UNA-NCA
Moderator: David Birenbaum, Senior Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center; Former US Ambassador to the UN for UN Management and Reform.

Speaker: Jan Eliasson, President of the sixtieth session of the UN General Assembly
Speaker: Edward Luck, Director of the Center on International Organization of the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University

The Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars partnered with the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA), the UNA-USA's Council of Organizations and the Better World Campaign to host a panel discussion entitled Getting the Job Done: Completing the Pending UN Reform Agenda. The event, which took place on October 25, 2006, during the annual UN Week of intensive programs celebrating the anniversary of the entry into force of the UN Charter, brought together distinguished scholars and practitioners for a lively discussion on the topic of UN management reform.

Ed Elmendorf, President of UNA-NCA, provided opening remarks and David Birenbaum, the event moderator, introduced the featured speakers and the topic of UN Management Reform.

Jan Eliasson commenced his presentation with a review of the 2005-2006 UN reform year and the lessons learned from the process. According to Eliasson, this UN reform year made greater advancements than anticipated. Eliasson highlighted four major qualitative and quantitative achievements. First, the UN broke significant ground with the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission, effectively establishing links between the UN General Assembly (GA), the Security Council (SC) and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Second, the GA adopted the Central Emergency Respond Fund (CERF), a relief fund designated to ensure an efficient and effective response to humanitarian crises. The initial fund of 270 million US dollars is quickly on its way to the billion US dollar mark. Third, the UN succeeded in initiating a concrete and consensual strategy on counterterrorism, which effectively sends a strong message to the international community that terrorism is a global threat. Currently, the convention is ninety percent complete. Finally, Eliasson identified the Human Rights Council as the fourth major achievement. The HR Council, which replaced the Commission on Human Rights, differs from its predecessor in its ability to suspend membership in the council in the event of human rights abuses.

In discussing lessons learned, Eliasson spoke candidly of the areas in which the reform efforts fell short. Management reform, he indicated for example, has not met the expectations of the GA. He explained that it will be necessary to engender a new culture of management in order for these reforms to bear fruit. In addition, he noted that SC reform, while at the forefront of the discussion, is far from seeing any progress as the main sticking point is the issue of permanent members. In the absence of reform, the SC will continue to compromise its legitimacy.

Eliasson critiqued the underdevelopment of conflict prevention mechanisms within the UN. The UN Charter obliges member states to act on threats to international peace and security. Unfortunately, however, there is an institutional tendency to wait until the threat degenerates to full scale violent conflict before a decision to act is taken. Eliasson charged the SC with the responsibility of applying a multidimensional prevention strategy to conflict. Specifically, he referenced seven steps on a Pyramid of Prevention, a concept elaborated in the book, Developing a Culture of Conflict Prevention (2004), edited by Anders Mellbourn.

Eliasson concluded his discussion on the topic of bridge-building. Today, he reflected, there is a growing fear among the international community of an insidious Islam/West division. He suggested that the division is a result of an increasing tendency to define the world in terms of the self/other in an environment that is characterized by political agendas and surprising limitations of our own global knowledge. These limits, he indicated, will come at a price, particularly in a world where the primary issues of global concern mirror those at the national and regional levels. As a result, addressing such issues as communicable disease, immigration, poverty and organized crime will necessarily require a new international division of labor, such that states will share the burden of delivering solutions to global problems. Eliasson concluded that the international community will need to design a more holistic and comprehensive approach to implementation if the reform agenda is to be successful.

Edward Luck provided a cogent analysis of what he described as the "modest but respectable" UN reform results over the past year while identifying key recommendations for the next Secretary General.

Luck outlined eight key lessons to be drawn from the UN reform year. First, prior to embarking on reform, the UN should undertake a sober and delicate testing of the political waters. Second, the UN must be sure to calibrate its reform plans and priorities based not only on its political capacity, but also on past experiences. Third, Luck advised treating each issue on its own merit, emphasizing that it is unwise to assume that there are many positive linkages among issues. Fourth, reform initiatives must avoid big packages. Framing reform in this way exhausts everyone involved in the process and splits the actors among too many priorities. Fifth, priorities should be clear and few. The Secretary General (SG) should make choices and set priorities at the beginning of the reform effort. Sixth, the SG ought to listen to member states in order to stay in touch with the shifting politics and priorities of the GA. Seventh, Luck cautioned against the assumption that the G77 is irreconcilably opposed to management reform. Finally, Luck emphasized that the US must engage energetically with the GA on the topic of UN reform if the process is to advance in any significant way.

Building on the lessons learned, Luck presented a series of recommendations to support continuing UN reform for the incoming SG, Ban Ki-moon of the Republic of Korea. While Luck noted that the new SG will be tasked with cleaning up the unfinished business of reform, he acknowledged that fortunately, there are many good ideas which deserve attention. He identified the HR Council, the Peacebuilding Commission, management reform, and the High Level Panel, as key initiatives on which considerable progress can and should be made. More generally, Luck recommended that Ban Ki-moon continue to do what he does best: listen. Luck emphasized the importance of listening to the member states so as to identify exactly what they want from the reform agenda. Luck predicted that Ban Ki-moon will focus on a few key pieces of management reform which are in the best interest of the organization. The new SG will have to clarify boundaries and grey areas, redefine the relationship between the GA and the SG, and define the deputy SG post, a position currently without a job description.

Eliasson and Luck's presentations were followed by a brief moderated discussion between the four members on the panel. The event culminated in a question and answer session between panelists and members of the audience.

 

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