In an NY Times op-ed, political scientist Ruth Wedgwood suggests that “outside competition” may be the key to prompting institutional reform at the U.N. Wedgwood proposes that member states might consider using regional organizations (such as Nato) and non-U.N. conventions (such as the Cybercrime Convention) as transnational means of achieving common objectives, the purpose being to prompt the U.N. to perform better (via meaningful reforms) or face irrelevancy.
Wedgwood provides a piercing analysis of the U.N.’s current problems: “Even after the exposure of corruption in the oil-for-food program, criminal investigations of the procurement process, reports by a ‘high-level panel’ and a bipartisan commission, and a summit meeting of heads of state, there still seems to be no momentum for change at the United Nations. Mr. Annan has simply not swayed the General Assembly with his public pronouncement that ‘good management is in the interests of everyone.’”
Wedgwood continues, “The urgency of United Nations reform is easy to diagnose. When resources are scarce for peacekeeping, health and development, it is deadly to keep spinning gold into hay on redundant jobs and expired mandates… The organization’s important work in human rights becomes satiric when its human rights commission includes gross abusers like Cuba and Zimbabwe… Smug reliance on an aging brand name is a real danger in any organization; this is no less true for the United Nations than for corporate behemoths like General Motors. ‘We are acting for the world community,’ is the mantra in Turtle Bay, ‘so we must be O.K.’ At one time that might have been enough. But it is no longer 1945. There are countless regional and transnational organizations that set standards, send peacekeepers and monitor human rights [e.g., the OSCE, the OAS and the AU]… A resort to outside competition is made necessary by the sclerosis of reform inside the United Nations.”
Shashi Tharoor (the USG for Communications and Public Information) wrote, by way of response, in a letter to the NYT editor:
“Ruth Wedgwood argues that United Nations reform would benefit from a jolt to the organization’s ‘monopoly’ under the guise of ‘competitive multilateralism.’
In fact, Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter provides for ‘regional arrangements or agencies’ to deal with ‘matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security.’ Organizations like the European Union and the African Union do already handle many political, security, economic and human rights issues that affect their members.
In an increasingly complex world, the United Nations welcomes this form of burden-sharing. But none of these agencies can seriously compete with the United Nations as a source of universal legitimacy, or even as an organizer and coordinator of global peacekeeping, peace building and humanitarian relief.
NATO, for instance, is now playing a valuable role in Afghanistan, but neither it nor the African Union – even less the fledgling Community of Democracies – could contemplate taking over the eight peacekeeping missions that the United Nations currently has deployed in Africa.
Certainly the United States should support other multilateral organizations. But it must also persevere in its efforts to build consensus within the United Nations to enact the ambitious reform agenda proposed by the secretary general and endorsed by all world leaders at last September’s summit meeting. ”