House panel eyes reforms in U.N.

New majority targets funding

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All U.S. contributions to the U.N., they say, should be voluntary — rather than the mandatory dues the U.N. charges its member states and then disburses itself — and tied to performance of the agency or program in question.

“I think it is a better way to fund the U.N. system in general,” said Brett D. Schaefer, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom. “When you take a look at the U.N. system, the organizations that are voluntarily funded tend to be a lot more responsive to the member-states, and so when we have a criticism or question about what they are doing, we are able to get a much more cooperative response.”

U.N. agencies funded by voluntary member contributions include the World Food Program and UNICEF.

Mr. Schaefer said the new Republican majority in the House could return the Congress to its proper role as the “bad cop to our diplomatic good cop.”

“When you take a look at Congress over the last several years, you really haven’t seen any kind of interest in taking up U.N. reform legislation,” he said. “The Congress, both the Senate and House, have only conducted a handful of oversight hearings.”

The U.S. government in recent years, he added, has “really neglected its oversight role, and I think that has been unfortunate for the United States, because we want to make sure that not only our tax dollars are used effectively at the U.N., but that our concerns are going to be given the amount of hearing that they should receive.”

But many Democrats say that the Obama administration has been smart to put an end to the dues controversy, softening its rhetoric while urging the U.N. to prove that it can fulfill the missions the world has delegated to it.

Mr. Berman and private U.N. defenders tout the role the agency has played in relief efforts such as Haiti, where more than 10,000 peacekeepers are on the ground. U.N. monitors also helped oversee recent elections in Afghanistan and Sudan, while Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates cited the agency’s help in coordinating international pressure against Iran’s nuclear program.

“That is a pretty important trifecta in terms of America’s interest — and the U.N. is on the front lines,” said Peter Yeo of the United Nations Foundation and the Better World Campaign.

Mr. Yeo contended that in the last six years, the U.N. has made “real and meaningful reforms” in its peacekeeping missions and that a decrease in funding would undermine those efforts and have real consequences for people on the ground in some of the world’s poorest and most dangerous places.

“What will happen is, fewer kids will get vaccinated, fewer people in the developing world … will be fed, and there will be fewer efforts to promote democracy and human rights,” he said.

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