Tuesday, February 8, 2005

As it approaches its 60th anniversary, the United Nations faces extraordinary challenges to its relevance and effectiveness. The genocide in Darfur, Sudan, the evidence of corruption in the Oil-for-Food Program in Iraq and reports of crimes perpetrated by peacekeepers against innocent civilians in the Congo have cast doubt on the ability of the United Nations to fulfill the high purposes for which it was created. The United Nations needs reform and reinvigoration. Otherwise, it risks declining credibility. Its future and the future of collective international efforts to deal with the challenges of the new century are at stake.

All Americans should be concerned with this situation. The goals enshrined in the U.N. Charter — particularly those regarding international peace and security, and the promotion of respect for fundamental human rights — have never been more significant. The challenges facing the United States and other nations of the world are becoming more acute and dangerous. There is an urgent need for an international organization that is credible and effective, one that can work together with national governments in dealing with concrete problems of terrorism and nuclear proliferation, human rights violations and genocide, preventing conflicts and stabilizing post-conflict societies, responding to natural disasters and controlling the spread of infectious diseases, and fostering economic development and reducing poverty. Lives, not simply policies, are at stake.

If we are to see the United Nations recover from its present difficulties, American leadership will be indispensable in effecting change. We are personally committed to helping the United States and the United Nations make the right choices at this crossroads. That is why we have agreed to co-chair a task force authorized by Congress to explore approaches to strengthening the United Nations.

This task force, organized by the U.S. Institute of Peace, has been directed by Congress, at the behest of Rep. Frank Wolf, chairman of the House Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations Subcommittee, to find ways to help the United Nations to realize more fully the purposes of its charter.

How will our task force differ from the many other past and current studies and proposals for U.N. reform? We believe that our efforts will be distinctive in at least six respects. First, we will focus on the United Nations from the perspective of American interests and American responsibilities, not on the basis of an abstract notion of international community or of the concerns of other countries. Second, our study will be based on the results of fact-finding missions and assessments of U.N. activities in the field, not just in New York and Geneva. Third, we intend to produce by June of this year a realistic, actionable plan for U.S. actions to help strengthen the United Nations. Fourth, our task force is composed of a bipartisan group of leading Americans who will bring expertise not only from politics and government, but also from the military, business and academia.

Fifth, as directed by the legislative report language, the task force is to be supported by experts drawn from six of the nation’s leading public policy organizations: the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution. These institutions represent not only great depth of knowledge, but also span an ideological and political spectrum. Consensus forged from diversity of views will be hard won, but the results would represent more durable policy options. Finally, the task force will draw on the insights of a broad range of experts and advocacy organizations that seek to strengthen the United Nations.

On June 26, the United Nations will mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of its charter in San Francisco. The time has come for the United Nations to embrace change and reconfirm its place in today’s transformed international system. The charter’s words may be as relevant as they were 60 years ago, but the organization is struggling to adapt its high ideals to a world now populated by almost four times as many nation-states than at the time of its creation, including many that are weak or failing. Today’s world is being integrated by economic trends, yet torn apart by ethnic and religious differences. Four decades ago, nuclear power was monopolized by a handful of major powers. Today, weapons of mass destruction have proliferated and may well fall into the hands of extremist sub-national groups.

Just as the United States took the lead in forging the consensus that led to the creation of the United Nations in the aftermath of World War II, we believe the United States, in its own interests, must lead the organization toward greater relevance and capability in this new era. That will be the guiding purpose of our task force.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell co-chair the Task Force on the United Nations recently mandated by Congress.

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