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UN: New Secretary-General Pushes Ahead With Reforms

UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon (file photo) (official site) UNITED NATIONS, March 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations General Assembly has endorsed major reform proposals that were put forward by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he took office earlier this year.

The first two steps are the designation of a High Representative for Disarmament Affairs and the restructuring of peacekeeping operations to provide better planning, faster deployment, and a more responsive process.

The proposals -- adopted by the General Assembly on March 15 -- are seen as a welcome beginning, but UN member states expect more reform initiatives from Ban.

"Security Council reform is one of the most important and sensitive issues of our organization," Ban said.

The solid support Ban Ki-moon received in the UN General Assembly has boosted his image as an unassuming, but efficient administrator, well-versed in the UN decision-making process.

A Reform Agenda

Two and a half months after taking over the top UN job, the soft-speaking Ban presents a stark contrast to the flamboyant, witty personality of his predecessor, Kofi Annan.

Having received the green light for his reform proposals, Ban is now obligated to present a detailed plan to the 192-member world body.

"With the adoption of these two framework resolutions on reforms of disarmament and peacekeeping operations, I am confident that we can work together to make this organization much more efficient and effective in managing the peace and security of the international community," Ban told the General Assembly.

Ban said rapidly growing demand makes it necessary to reform UN peacekeeping operations. The number of UN peacekeeping personnel in the field is at all-time high of 100,000 and is expected to increase this year.

Under existing guidelines, the UN should be able each year to initiate one new multitasking peacekeeping mission and also to maintain three large peacekeeping operations simultaneously in different parts of the world.

However, just the past 36 months have seen an expansion of nine field missions, with three additional missions currently in active start-up. Ban said that in just one year the number of the UN peacekeeping personnel could increase by 40 percent.

The newly established office of disarmament affairs will be lead by a high representative with the rank of undersecretary-general.

Moving Forward On Wider Reforms

During the General Assembly endorsement procedure, representatives of at least two dozen member states took the floor to welcome the resolutions, with many calling the action a vote of confidence in Ban. From the very beginning of his tenure Ban has said that he will work to improve the strained relationship between UN member states and the secretariat.

"One of my priorities is to restore trust and mutual confidence between member states and secretariat, as well as [among] member states," Ban said. "And through these very transparent consultations I think I am also committed to continue my job as a secretary-general in a very transparent and cooperative manner with the member states."

The current UN management system is viewed as bureaucratically bloated, inefficient, and prone to corruption. High-level corruption investigations involving a number of UN-contracted companies and officials revealed that billions of dollars have been wasted within the so called oil-for-food program carried out by the UN during the years of sanctions against former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

While the two reform proposals endorsed reflect Ban's determination to continue in his predecessor's footsteps, the secretary-general has yet to address the more pressing reform of the UN financial-management and procurement process.

Discussing Security Council reform, Ban acknowledged that despite more than 10 years of intentions and efforts, little or nothing has been achieved.

"Security Council reform is one of the most important and sensitive issues of our organization," Ban said. "Considering the dramatic changes in political scene, it is necessary that Security Council be expanded and reformed."

In the final year of his tenure, Annan repeatedly has said the current structure of the Security Council, where the five permanent veto-holding world powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- largely decide issues among themselves, reflects the realities at the end of the World War II, but not of the 21st century.

Several proposals have been put forward with calls to increase the total number of council members from 15 to 24 and to include up to four new permanent members, but without veto power. None of the proposals have moved beyond the initial stages.