Yet another report is due this week evaluating the performance of the United Nations, the international body plagued by scandal over the misuse of funds related to the Iraq oil-for-food program, which was designed to provide humanitarian assistance during the U.N.’s economic sanctions against the former Saddam Hussein regime.
Instead, the program diverted billions of dollars to influential businesses, one of whom employed Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s son, Kojo Annan. Kofi Annan has denied any knowledge of his son’s enrichment from the program, but a new memo released by a contractor suggests a link, according to a report in The New York Times.
A previous U.N.-sponsored report on the scandal cleared Kofi Annan, although it criticized mismanagement at the agency. But critics have called the report, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, a whitewash.
The oil-for-food scandal is the least of the U.N.’s problems.
Now, “A congressionally mandated panel will report this week that the United Nations suffers from poor management, ‘dismal’ staff morale and lack of accountability and professional ethics,” reported the New York Times in a news story on Monday. The Times reports that seven investigations are ongoing of U.N. activities, including by Congress and the U.S. Justice Department.
The United Nations can investigate itself all day long, as can Congress and the federal government, but it’s unlikely that any reforms of real substance will take place in an encrusted bureaucracy that has little accountability, too much money and a structure that gives totalitarian and authoritarian regimes as much credibility as democratic ones.
Secretary-General Annan, who is either corrupt or incompetent, depending upon which study one believes, even has a set of his own proposed reforms. These include expanding the Security Council to include other members and creating a peace-building commission that sounds perilously close to a U.N. standing army at the ready to intervene in international conflicts.
The congressional report criticizes the organization for failing to act during genocide. A grisly article in the Los Angeles Times magazine details the horrific slaughter in Rwanda in the mid-1990s, and notes that “there had been a U.N. peacekeeping force in Rwanda.” It did nothing, slaughter ensued, and the leader of that force “was found six years later on a park bench in Canada, blind-drunk, screaming for someone to kill him.”
What use is the United Nations if it could not even respond effectively to that crisis?
Reforming the United Nations is like reforming the federal bureaucracy or reforming human nature. Everyone has an idea about what should be done, but the subject is not fixable. Large, bureaucratic, unaccountable agencies, run on tax dollars and mired in competing agendas and unclear values, cannot fix the world’s problems.
“Real change may now be possible without resorting to the stick of U.S. financial withholding,” said the congressional report, in a note of unrealistic optimism. It has it exactly wrong. Only the withdrawal of funding will fix the United Nations. Why give more to an organization so unwieldy, corrupt and counterproductive?