- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 2004

Amid congressional calls for Kofi Annan to step down as U.N. secretary general, it is easy to lose sight of a momentous opportunity to strengthen the United Nations, presented by last month’s U.S. presidential election. As President George W. Bush has said, his victory on Nov. 2 gave him “political capital” he intended to “spend.”

Where foreign relations are concerned, one of the more strategically important “capital” investment opportunities is reform of the United Nations.

There is no avoiding the fact the world needs an effective U.N. organization. The U.N. is a unique forum for international cooperation that came handy after September 11, 2001, when the U.S. needed to galvanize the international community in the fight against international terrorism. U.S. Congress acted wisely by promptly releasing the U.S. arrears to the U.N. The United Nations also embodies modern international law, and the U.S. came to the U.N. Security Council earlier this year to pass a resolution outlawing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

After an unnecessary and damaging period of hesitation, the United States also asked the U.N. for help with reconstructing Iraq. The U.N. team, led by Carina Perelli, director of the U.N. Electoral Assistance Division, is doing the critical work of preparing that country for elections in January 2005. At a press conference on Nov. 19, Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaidaie, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.N., urged the U.N. to do more and welcomed Secretary General Kofi Annan’s recent decision to increase the number of U.N. electoral assistance staff on the ground.

On Dec. 1, during his Canadian visit, President Bush committed himself to fostering a “wide international consensus among three great goals”: spreading freedom through multilateral action, fighting global terrorism, and bringing democracy to the Middle East. The most effective way for Mr. Bush to achieve such consensus is to engage the world community through the United Nations, in starting a dialogue about the common approaches to the major issues of world peace and security, such as terrorism and WMD proliferation. With purposeful guidance from the White House, the United States can also lead the U.N. reform.

It is time for Mr. Bush to appoint a coordinator for U.N. reform. The coordinator would work with the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and the U.N. secretary-general’s high-level panel on threats, challenges and change, which released its report on Dec. 1. In November 2003, Kofi Annan charged the Panel with recommending “clear and practical measures for ensuring effective collective action” to confront post-September 11 global threats. If it is really serious about making the U.N. more effective, the Bush administration must put someone in charge of monitoring implementation of the 101 recommendations in the panel’s important report.

A constructive approach to the U.N. is in order. Whatever its shortcomings, almost 60 years after its founding, in an age when global cooperation against transnational threats is a necessity rather than luxury, the United Nations plays an indispensable role in addressing the foremost challenges to world security. One reason is its universal membership makes the U.N. is a unique legitimating mechanism. Its actions and proclamations carry weight all around the world. Such a precious mechanism is worth the investment of diplomatic capital to make it more effective. The time is ripe for President Bush to recognize that.

Eugene B. Kogan is John Kenneth Galbraith Fellow at the Americans for Democratic Action Education Fund and senior political analyst at Americans for Informed Democracy.

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