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Western Press Review: Politics Behind Proposed UN Reforms

By Ron Synovitz and Dora Slaba

Prague, 18 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Press commentary today focuses on the proposals made yesterday by United Nations Chief Kofi Annan to restructure the international organization.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Restructuring will streamline cumbersome arrangements

A news analysis today by Barbara Crossette examines details of Annan's proposals. Crossette says Annan "intends to sweep away a U.N. management system accrued over more than half a century and significantly restructure the organization's administration from the top down." Crossette writes: "Gone would be the cumbersome arrangement under which more than two dozen fiefdoms within the secretariat and the organization's autonomous agencies all had direct access to the secretary-general. In its place would be a cabinet of fewer than a dozen top officials with enhanced powers in major areas of activity."

She says, "Mr Annan is gambling that his plan has enough streamlining and cost-cutting to pacify the U.S. Congress and yet pays adequate attention to the demands of poor nations that could use their majority to block changes that many believe have been forced on the organization by industrial countries."

Crossette says that Annan is thought to have "a reservoir of good will to drawn on" within the United Nations. But, she says: "He will be judged by how firm he can be in making appointments, cutting into bureaucratic empires and fending off pressures from governments demanding jobs." Crossette predicts that several disputes over proposals that require ratification by the 185-member General Assembly. One is the appointment of a deputy secretary-general.

She says: "Another is the plan to create a revolving fund to carry the organization through financial problems like the one caused by Washington's refusal to pay its dues. Such a fund would rob (the U.S.) Congress of some of its power to hold the organization for ransom." Crossette also notes that "most diplomatic missions and interested groups around the United States were seeing the completed plan for the first time (yesterday), since it has been written and rewritten many times over in the last week or two, amid gathering gloom in many quarters that the UN bureaucracy was watering down the proposal."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Efficiency is not subject of reform argument

The newspaper also offers an editorial on the topic of UN reform today. The newspaper says if the purpose of reform "were merely to make the world body a more efficient conveyor of the diplomatic, peacekeeping, developmental and other services it provides, then the argument would have been wrapped up years ago. In budget and management, the United Nations has been worked over before, and the changes now recommended by the secretary-general. . . take the organization further along, although they do not meet all the benchmarks set unilaterally by the U.S. Congress. But of course efficiency is not what the argument has been all about. The real issue goes to the symbolic role that the United States plays in the world. The United States is the single superpower, the most modern as well as the most powerful country, the one more than any other with deep interests in what goes on practically everywhere in the world." The newspaper concludes: "No doubt the table of organization proposed by Mr Annan could be further revised. No doubt some additional jobs could be closed down without serious harm to the organization. It is fair to put the United Nations' internal procedures to additional tests, even painful ones. But it is not fair for the U.S. Congress simply to demand that the U.N. secretary general impose changes, such as reducing the American share of the budget or crediting the United States for money it has spent on its own to support peacekeeping."

It says: "Mr Annan's proposals may not be the last word, but they provide a reasonable basis for early American resumption of a full role in serving its interests and accepting its obligations at the United Nations."

FINANCIAL TIMES OF LONDON: Reforms worth, but disappointingly modest

An editorial on UN reforms begins by noting that Annan "owes his position" as UN secretary-general to the United States. The newspaper said: "Much was expected of the reform package." It said: "It turns out to be worthy, but disappointingly modest," and said, "Mr Annan's plan to put all UN funds and programs with development operation in a single group is a step in the right direction -- but not radical enough. There should be a single agency for sustainable development, bringing together economic and environmental programs."

The Financial Times concluded: "Congress's distrust of UN and, indeed, of international bodies in general, reflects a feeling that they do not reflect the reality of American power. Congress sees no reason why the U.S. should tie itself down by pretending that other states. . . are its equals. Yet the United States cannot escape the need for certain global issues to be managed multilaterally, especially given its eagerness to make others pay a larger share of the costs. President George Bush's new world order evaporated too quickly after the Gulf war. The U.S. needs to rediscover an international sense of mission in time for the millennium."

THE GUARDIAN: Current council is relic of the past

Mark Tran has a news analysis from UN headquarters in New York in today's edition of the British newspaper. It focuses on yesterday's announcement by President Bill Clinton's administration that it supports the enlargement of the UN Security Council from five to 10 permanent members. Significantly, Tran notes, this is the first time the US has agreed to the idea of three Security Council seats for developing countries. The other two seats would be taken by Japan and Germany. But, Tran says, the Non-Aligned Movement will be less pleased with Washington's firmness on the size of an expanded council.

He writes: "Britain and the US do not want the council to expand beyond 21 members from the present 15 - five permanent members and 10 rotating seats." He says: "The two countries fear that a large council will become unwieldy and dilute their power. The council dictates most of the UN's political agenda and is the only UN body that can authorize the use of military force - most notably against Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990." Tran concludes by saying: "In its current form, the council is a relic of the past, unchanged since the mid-1960s when the number of non-permanent members was increased from six to 10. The exclusion of Germany and Japan has long been an anomaly, while the absence of developing countries opens the council to accusations that it is a rich man's club."

BASLER ZEITUNG: Weakness will be coordination among countries

An editorial points out that the directors of the UN's three most important development organizations (UNDP, WFO and UNICEF) are all Americans. The editorial says: "Obviously it is going to be very difficult to find a common denominator for the never ending complicated problems. Annan's program only makes an offer to coordinate. The insider knows it cannot be prescribed. The weakness of the program does not lie in the reform, but in delegating it to those where it can be reinforced -- the member countries, especially the USA, and to the heads of the individual organizations themselves."

DRESDNER NEUESTE NACHRICHTEN: Reforms will cause little change

An editorial complains that Annan "has misplaced his regard for the interests of special organizations." The newspaper says: "Even if Annan's welcomed proposals meet with the blessing of the General Assembly, little will change about the way the UN functions. In his cautious tactics, Annan wanted, as much as possible, to prevent opposition within the UN system and the risk of political suicide. But the risk continues to be a threat from other areas. Otherwise, the program does not nearly comply with America's demands for massive cuts in expenses and personnel. The United States is not easing up on its financial pressure."

DIE WELT: Reform of organizations immobility is ambitious

An opinion piece says that official praise of Annan's proposals has been "almost overwhelming." Gunsche writes: "Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel praises Annan, saying he has placed himself at the head of the reform movement. The EU speaks of far-reaching reforms and great satisfaction with Annan's work. Nor is the Secretary General sparing in his self-praise. In submitting his proposal, Annan called it the most comprehensive reform work in the UN's 52-year history." But, Gunsche says Annan's proposals are "not such a lucky stroke." In Gunsche's view, Annan is "way behind the reform group." Gunsche says: "It is surely not a courageous thrust by the Secretary General, for he bases his proposals on the feasible. Measured against the proven immobility of this world organization in matters of reform, Annan's goals are ambitious. Whether Annan has succeeded in formulating the achievable will become apparent in September when the 185 General Assembly members have the floor." Gunsche concludes that: "The reactions so far - especially from the US Congress - are not encouraging. There is a great danger that this timorous attempt to break the encrusted UN structures will become diluted and dissipate in talk."