8 September 2005 Edition

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The World Today - US blocks UN reform

At the end of August, delegations representing the 191 member states of the United Nations initiated final negotiations to put together a framework document on the possible reforms to be faced by this organisation and that will be discussed by the UN Assembly General in the next few days. For the last six months, there have been proposals and contacts but, when the process is reaching its final stages, the United States, via its new UN ambassador, John Bolton, is doing its utmost to subvert the negotiation process.

At the end of last month, US daily the Washington Post published a secret document detailing George W Bush's administration plans for the UN. On the basis of the document the worst fears of many working in the field of sustainable development have been confirmed: the current US administration is looking for the UN to become another tool of its international policies.

Bolton put forward 750 amendments to a draft document agreed after six months of debate and negotiation which was ready to be debated and signed by presidents and prime ministers during the UN summit in September. Now, the Bush administration wants to eliminate any reference to development, environment protection, poverty eradication, children mortality and AIDS. It also aims to eliminate any reference to the UN Millennium Development Goals, the International Criminal Court and a clause that calls on the five permanent members of the Security Council not to use their veto against actions aimed at stopping genocide, war crimes or ethnic cleansing.

On the other hand, the US proposals want to facilitate the use of force to solve conflict and the US administration's so-called "War on Terror". Although the Bush administration agrees to the need for major controls when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, it opposes the paragraphs in the draft calling on countries to observe the nuclear testing moratorium and to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military or civilian purposes.

So, the arrival of the newly-elected Bolton to the UN headquarters has fulfilled expectations. For a start, it is important to remember the opposition that Bush's nomination of Bolton for the UN position inspired in the US Congress. Hostility to his presence as representative of the US administration in the UN was widespread — including Democrats and Republican representatives. It was so strong that Bush had to use his office's prerogative to elect him to the position without Congressional support.

Bolton was opposed on the basis of previous public statements in relation to the UN. In a 1994 Global Structures Convocation hosted by the World Federalist Association (now Citizens for Global Solutions), he stated: "There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States."

He also stated that "the Secretariat building in New York has 38 storeys. If it lost ten storeys, it wouldn't make a bit of difference." His imposed nomination was received with dismay in many international quarters. However, political analysts suggest that his line of thinking coincides very much with the position of President Bush when it comes to the role of the UN in international affairs.

However, the UN needs, today more than ever, to redefine and reinforce its presence and role. The possibility of a strong UN, that successive US administrations lack of support have weakened, comes to the fore in situations like the devastation in New Orleans. It took a Force 4 hurricane to bring "the only remaining superpower" to its knees and the Bush administration had to turn to the international community for assistance -- while ignoring an offer from Cuban President Fidel Castro to send doctors to help the overstretched US health services.

Hopefully, the enormity of the dreadful events in New Orleans may bring home to the Bush government the situation that less developed countries suffer day after day. Because poverty, illness, natural disasters and pollution are the price that the poorest countries pay to maintain our economies.

It remains to be seen whether the UN reforms will give the organisation the legitimacy and strength to become the kind of independent organisation it needs to be. The UN needs to focus on the clear objectives adopted by the organisation back in the Millennium Summit in 2000, when the member states agreed on the need to focus their activities for the next 15 years on fighting poverty.

However, the US administration is seeking only bureaucratic reform and remains focused on reforms that will facilitate free-trade not fair-trade policies and the use of debt relief and aid as a way to forward the economic and military interests of the US with regard to developing countries.


Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger — halve the number of people living on one dollar a day and who suffer from hunger.

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women — equal access to primary and post-primary education for girls.

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

Goal 5: Improve maternal health

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability — reduce by half those without access to safe water.

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development — more aid, more debt relief, access to essential drugs, good governance.

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