- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 4, 2004

NEW YORK — Secretary-General Kofi Annan has requested an initial $92.4 million to fortify U.N. buildings around the world, a recognition that organizational security does not meet international standards.

The money would be used primarily for structural upgrades at the headquarters building in New York, at peacekeeping missions and at U.N. tribunals in Tanzania and the Netherlands, according to U.N. officials, who say the extra-budgetary request was spurred by an Aug. 19 bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

“The most important elements relate to one-time construction activities that would strengthen structures and locations, perimeter security, walls, blastproofing and so on,” said Warren Sach, director of the Office of Program and Planning and Budget Division.

“Two-thirds of the request relates to physical structure, while the balance is for things like staffing, equipment, lighting, surveillance.”

Among the priorities are Mylar film that will keep shattered glass from flying, concrete jersey walls to route vehicles and pedestrians away from buildings, and expanded security-awareness training for staffers in the field.

The cost of security upgrades will be levied on U.N. member states, coming on top of their contributions to the United Nation’s regular budget.

The request was presented in late March to the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, which is reviewing the proposal. Its recommendations will be studied by the Secretariat and sent in May to the General Assembly’s budget committee for approval.

The $92.4 million request, the first phase of a two-stage security-improvement campaign, comes days after an independent panel found widespread negligence and incompetence in connection with the bombing of the Iraq headquarters building. Twenty-two persons died in the explosion and hundreds were wounded.

A pair of investigations into that attack found that there had been no security assessment of the environment, that the organization’s own security procedures were routinely ignored, and that offers of military protection were rejected in the belief that the United Nations could not be a target.

The blame went all the way to Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette, who offered her resignation. Although Mr. Annan refused to accept it, he fired the organization’s security coordinator and issued letters of reprimand to those heading up U.N. agencies and programs in Iraq. Two midlevel administrators were accused of “lethargy that is bordering on gross negligence.”

“We here at headquarters recognize the global security environment is changing [and] that there could be threats against our staff or installations anywhere in the world,” U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said last week. “We are beefing up security. … We are looking at all our duty stations.”

“This is a version of the United Nations responding to the Baghdad bombing the way the United States responded to [the U.S. Embassy bombings in] Nairobi and Dar es Salaam,” said Patrick Kennedy, the U.S. envoy who oversees administrative and management issues here.

He said it was clear that U.N. officials have been looking at a U.S. study conducted after terrorists attacked the U.S. Embassy and a Marine barracks in Beirut in the 1980s.

The U.N. supplemental request does not specifically address future U.N. operations in Iraq, which many diplomats expect to increase after the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority hands control to the Iraqis on June 30.

Mr. Kennedy suggested that any U.N. outpost in Iraq would likely “benefit from the penumbra of coalition protection.”

U.N. staffers and humanitarian-aid workers remain highly visible targets in several conflicts around the world. Staffers have been evacuated in recent months from chaotic areas of Afghanistan and Kosovo and are perennially harassed in Central Africa.

A second phase of the security-upgrade program will attempt to overhaul the entire U.N. security infrastructure, from the highly symbolic headquarters building in New York to isolated peacekeeping outposts in Sierra Leone and East Timor.

That will be overseen by Eric J. Boswell, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, who is expected to issue a detailed study of the needs this fall. That should cost close to $100 million, according to Mr. Sach.

The U.N. Staff Union has demanded security improvements in U.N. field missions, and insists that the organization should not return to Iraq until staff safety can be assured.

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