- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005


By Pedro Sanjuan, Doubleday $24.95, 208 pages

If you have been holding your breath awaiting punishment of U.N. officials involved in the Iraq oil for food scandal, you will exhale upon reading this book. Punishment won’t happen any time soon, if ever.

In this lively — though sometimes depressing — memoir of the author’s years at the U.N. Secretariat, we quickly learn that corruption is endemic to the place. So are anti-Semitism, plotting by supporters of radical Islamism and lack of cost controls. Many departments seemingly report to no one. Audits are superficial and inconclusive. Whistleblowers are shipped to an internal Siberia.

In the early 1980s, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush urged U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar to install Peter Sanjuan as director of political affairs at the Secretariat. Our then-ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick, had recommended this, as there was no high-ranking American official in the U.N. apparatus to keep an eye on Soviet machinations there. As Mr. Sanjuan puts it, “I was the only American spy.”

Every “member state” of the United Nations has a quota of appointments to positions in its “international civil service.” The United States routinely takes applications from “off the street,” whereas the Soviet Union made sure its quota was filled with carefully vetted government officials (mostly KGB) who were “seconded” to the United Nations. The result: The Soviets held most second- and third-level decision-making positions in the Secretariat. They controlled the U.N. Library almost completely, using it as an intelligence-gathering resource.

When Mr. Sanjuan reported his detailed findings of espionage to Secretary-General Perez, the latter reacted with bland passivity. The Department of State wasn’t much better. Its response was that they knew all about Soviet espionage on the East River, but did not want to “destabilize” relationships there. The author contends that the root of the U.N. dysfunction was the tacit decision by the United Nations and the Soviet Union early on to let no other nation “meddle in the vital issues of the Cold War.” He says, “The road to absurdity was the only route left open for the U.N.” — becoming a place for “the neutrals and not-so-neutrals of the Third World to air their petty disputes and pretend to be involved in humanitarian causes.”

If the author sounds cynical, one can sympathize with him because of the many examples of incompetence, some so absurd they are hilarious. Building security is a joke. Contracts are let with few or no controls. Opportunities for kickbacks abound. Secretaries-general, who are supposed to be the CEOs of the organization, exert no real leadership.

Mr. Sanjuan says that the two superpowers agreed, again tacitly, that candidates for the job would “not only come from weak countries, but were certified wimps as well.” Virtually every one has talked up U.N. “reform.” The passive Mr. Perez de Cuellar gave it only lip service. His successor, Boutros Boutros Gali, however, was a dervish of activity, shuffling organizational boxes and moving offices and occupants hither and thither. The purpose was not actual reform, Mr. Sanjuan contends, but to assure a second term for Mr. Boutros Gali. It did not happen.

Which brings us to the current occupant, Kofi Annan. He was previously undersecretary-general for disarmament and peacekeeping under Mr. Boutros Gali, who asked him to straighten out the Oil for Food program in 1996, a year after it began. Mr. Annan, according to the author, turned to private-sector sources for help, including his son, Kojo and Kojo’s friend, Leo Mugabe, nephew of Zimbabwe’s despot president, Robert Mugabe. The author takes us through the maze of the oil for food program, and the suspicious role of Benon Sevan, chosen by Mr. Annan to head it. On reading this account it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Kofi Annan’s protestations of ignorance about shady goings-on are very thin.

Alas, Mr. Sanjuan devotes only a few pages to reforms needed to put the U.N. Secretariat on a track of transparency and efficiency. He outlines 10 such reforms for us. All are sensible; however, he gives us neither a prescription for achieving them, nor does he predict the odds of success (perhaps slim, given the vested interest of many members in the status quo).

Inasmuch as the United States pays approximately 25 percent to 30 percent of the U.N.budget, Congress’ periodic threats to reduce that share might be productive if paired with insistence upon enactment of the reforms Mr. Sanjuan puts forth.

Peter Hannaford is senior counselor to the Committee on the Present Danger.

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