- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 31, 2001

Imagine winning over the good will of the United States, Europe, countries in the Middle East and most of the emerging world all at the same time. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been relatively successful in achieving that feat, functioning as an effective uniter of nations. The White House has said it will back Mr. Annan for a second term, and that seems to be a wise decision at this time.

Mr. Annan´s positions have generally been supportive of many U.S. interests. At the same time, he has fairly championed many priorities of the emerging world, highlighting the human impact of trade sanctions, for example, and high pharmaceutical prices.

But Mr. Annan´s shortcomings are generally reflective of the weaknesses that characterize the United Nations. In balancing the needs of so many countries, some regretful errors have been made at the United Nations under Mr. Annan´s watch. Countries that are chronic human rights violators, for example, were allowed to form part of a 19-member committee that decides which human rights groups will have their U.N. consultative status renewed. Algeria, China, Cuba, Colombia and the Sudan all serve on this panel, and have held up the accreditation of many human rights groups.

Also, Mr. Annan is too apt to dispatch to U.N. peacekeepers to solve the world´s problems. The kidnapping of 500 U.N. peacekeepers in Sierra Leone in May highlights the perils of such operations, especially when poorly trained and commanded. The 8,700 peacekeepers in Sierra Leone were badly prepared, and many, who came from different countries, were unable to even communicate with each other.

It is difficult, of course, for the international community to look away while conflict rages, and member countries can decide to intervene primarily for human rights reasons. But it is important to react quickly, making rapid deployment a top priority. And there is a moral hazard associated with having peacekeepers always come to the rescue in times of turmoil. Building strong democratic institutions is the best defense against tyranny, genocide and civil war. Individuals must protect themselves by supporting and pressing for democratic initiatives in their own countries, before disaster strikes.

To be sure, Mr. Annan has championed some reforms that have helped make the United Nations more cost effective and transparent, which was necessary because the United Nations has repeatedly surpassed budgets recommended by the United States. And the organization has become a more accountable institution under Mr. Annan. A report written last year by a panel of 10 foreign policy and security experts chosen by Mr. Annan, for example, sharply criticized the U.N. peacekeeping initiative in Sierra Leone, and, among other things, rebuked the U.N. Secretariat for censoring itself and for approving missions that don´t have enough support from member countries.

There is much work still to be done at the United Nations, and Mr. Annan is probably the best candidate to head the institution at this time. Still, possible successors come to mind, including Chinese pro-democracy dissident Wei Jingsheng, Burma´s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner living under de facto house arrest, as well as Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan´s first popularly elected leader. All are brave crusaders for democracy who could eventually build on Mr. Annan´s achievements.


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