Johanna Mendelson Forman: Speech on UN Reform


Dr. Mendelson Forman is speaking today at the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area meeting. Here’s an advance look at her speech.
The drumbeat of reform at the UN has grown louder each day as the Bush administration continues it ongoing saga of having it both ways. On the one hand, the UN is a perfect scapegoat for an international system that has rejected U.S. adventurism in Iraq. On the other hand, the UN is the deus ex-machina for solving such intractable conflicts in the Sudan, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Haiti! But more than reform, the U.S. has now tied its allegiance to the international organization on a checklist of items that must be achieved in order to release desperately needed funding to keep the institution going.
John Bolton’s continued dyspepsia around UN topics only fans the flames of conservative opponents of multilateralism who see his big stick approach to UN reform as the right touch in a time of great inefficiency, corruption and malfeasance. But indeed all through the critique of UN incapacity has been the ongoing use of the Security Council to prevent military intervention in Iran, or to rally allies together to find diplomatic solutions to global issues that the U.S. cannot handle alone. And even our Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, has chosen to use the UN as a forum to solve our current crisis in Iran.

So what’s wrong with the picture? Multilateralism has gotten a bad name ever since the Bush administration came to power. It has used the “globocop” approach to settle disputes, especially in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, as a means toward getting its way in ensuring that countries who threaten the peace are knocked off the axis of evil. But in fact, rather than reduce the types of terrorism that have caused death and pain to U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians, or Afghanistan nationals, the unilateral efforts have only exacerbated the current world stage. And the U.S. and its citizens are no longer safe.
When Mark Malloch Brown offered his criticism of the current funding crisis as a symbol of deeper schisms in U.S. foreign policy vis a vis the UN, he was quickly subjected to both verbal and written abuse by the U.S. bully now operating out of Turtle Bay, John Bolton. To his credit, the Secretary-General defended his deputy, and basically launched the first real defense against a U.S. government that has chosen to ignore the need for friends and allies, and to frontally offend almost every government in the international system. At a time of global crisis, in a world where borders are no longer significant barriers against common threats, to what end does the U.S. administration see fit to leave the UN financially bankrupt? It is time for serious discussion in Congress on the role of the UN. The public still wants some form of talk shop, and the military still needs peacekeepers. So let’s get real about this institution, and end the rhetoric and begin with action. Funding the institution will not solve every problem, but sending a message that we have confidence in the process of reform would go a long way to begin a healing of the rife that has divided the U.S. from the world at a dangerous time in our history.
Johanna Mendelson Forman is a Senior Associate at CSIS and co-chair of the Real Security Program of The White House Project.


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