- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s proposals for reforming the United Nations are the beginning of what is going to be a long and difficult process of salvaging a very flawed international institution. With the United Nations (and his leadership) under attack for corruption and mismanagement, Mr. Annan sought to take the initiative away from his critics by offering a take-it-or-leave-it series of reforms. Unfortunately, the secretary-general cannot abide the idea that the United States (and the 190 other sovereign nations that compromise the United Nations) would carefully consider his ideas, adopt the better ones and jettison the proposals they find unworkable.

Mr. Annan appears to be insisting that the U.N. member states uncritically do everything he says. “The temptation is to treat the list as an a la carte menu and select those that you especially fancy,” Mr. Annan told the General Assembly on Monday. “In this case, that approach will not work.”

Some of the proposals offered by Mr. Annan constitute necessary first steps toward making the United Nations a viable institution. But his ideas seem to fall into two main categories: ones that sound vaguely appealing, but lack essential details, and ones that will do nothing to improve things — and may actually make them worse.

For example, Mr. Annan’s proposal to create a U.N. Democracy Fund (an idea proposed by President Bush in a speech to the General Assembly six months ago) is laudable in concept. But if it is incompetently managed, it could easily turn into a political slush fund that does nothing to expand political freedom — and could actually set back a noble cause.

Badly embarrassed by the election of serial human-rights violators like Zimbabwe, Syria and China to the Human Rights Commission, Mr. Annan proposes to replace it with a smaller standing Human Rights Council, whose members would be directly elected by the General Assembly. But it is unclear how this new method of electing members would restore integrity to the commission or curb human-rights abuses.

Similarly, Mr. Annan wants governments to earmark 0.7 percent of their gross national product (a figure apparently plucked out of thin air) for development and to negotiate a treaty against nuclear terrorism and a convention against terrorism. How these ideas would actually work — and whether they would function in practice as a means to thwart U.S.-led coalitions from acting against rogue states — remains unclear.

Finally, Mr. Annan proposes to expand the Security Council. It makes sense to expand the permanent membership of the council to take account of changing international realities, like the rise of such countries as Japan and India. But it is unclear what impact his plan would have on retention of the veto in the Security Council, which remains an essential tool of U.S. diplomacy.

Mr. Annan has kicked off an important debate on reforming the United Nations. But he would be well-served to jettison the ultimata and put forward more specifics about how his proposed reforms would work.

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