United Nations

Compromise needed to achieve UN reform

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 August, 2005, 12:00am

American ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton has been far from idle since his controversial appointment early this month. And he has given other member nations plenty to think about. Sadly, he has not dispelled doubts about the strength of Washington's commitment to the world body and a multilateral approach to resolving conflict.

Less than three weeks before a summit of world leaders aimed at reforming the UN to face the challenges of the 21st century, Mr Bolton has proposed more than 500 amendments to the 39-page working document endorsed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The changes reduce it to three pages and amount to tearing it up and starting again.

They begin on page one with the list of ideals such as freedom, equality and the rule of law. The United States, which refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol to combat global warming, wants to delete 'respect for nature'. Other changes would delete the declaration that force should be the last resort for dealing with security threats and water down references to the millennium development goals, a strategy drawn up at the beginning of this century to combat poverty.

The US has long criticised the UN for being ineffective in dealing with global security and armed conflict. President George W. Bush's choice of Mr Bolton, a scathing critic of UN bureaucracy, and the manner of his appointment - during a congressional recess and without Senate approval - highlighted the uneasy relationship. This hit an all-time low when the US led the invasion of Iraq without the support of the Security Council.

There is no doubt that sweeping reforms are needed to save the UN from irrelevance. Not surprisingly, the appointment of Mr Bolton was seen as a blow to hopes of a less divisive approach from Washington.

However, if his plain-speaking, crash-through approach succeeds in focusing the minds of world leaders and diplomats on addressing necessary reform, that may not be a bad thing. Mr Annan has already identified urgent issues - including the need for broad international consensus on the definition of terrorism and the use of pre-emptive military force, and an overhaul of the decision-making Security Council. They are just two areas where lack of agreement has eroded the UN's authority.

The US should be prepared to compromise. Indeed, compromise will be essential if the UN is ever to be able to fulfil its prime mandate of preventing conflict.

It would also lay concerns to rest if the Bush administration were to reaffirm a commitment to the original grand vision of the UN. That means accepting the principle that the multilateral approach to dealing with conflict is the only moral - and effective - way to achieve a more secure world.