A Million Little Pieces (NADER MOUSAVIZADEH, 9/24/05, NY Times)

THE United Nations summit meeting last week should be the last of its kind. It allowed world leaders, once again, to over-promise and under-deliver on behalf of an organization that few of them genuinely wish to equip for success. With the failure of its member states to agree on meaningful reform – even after Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq and the oil-for-food scandal – it is time for a new approach.

The central, governing structures of the United Nations – the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Secretariat – have each in their own dismal way been allowed to decay to the point where they arguably do more harm than good to the very causes they were founded to serve. They should be dissolved, and their legislative responsibilities transferred to the governing bodies of the United Nations agencies that have demonstrated a capacity to deliver, decade after decade, on the world body’s founding ideals – agencies like the High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Development Program and the World Food Program. From coordinating the global relief effort in the aftermath of the tsunami to providing shelter for refugees from southern Sudan and shepherding East Timor to independence, the staff of these frontline organizations have brought meaningful, measurable progress to millions around the world.

On their own, most, if not all, of the major United Nations agencies would stand a fair chance of earning the legitimacy, support and resources necessary to succeed. The United Nations Development Program is already financed by voluntary contributions. Its board is made up of donors and recipient countries – all with a powerful common incentive to sustain an organization that can fight poverty efficiently. Taking one step further toward the model of, say, the World Health Organization (which operates independent of United Nations governing structures, though it is part of the United Nations family) need not disrupt its operations nor damage its finances. To the contrary: freed from the management rules and practices still imposed by the General Assembly, the Development Program would be even more able to attract the right people and improve the lives of the poor.

Each of the United Nations funds and programs could be reconstituted on this stand-alone model: financed by voluntary contributions; governed by a board composed of shareholders with an interest in results, and not just process; and staffed by men and women, hired on the basis of merit, who are given the resources to make a difference. Accountability, transparency – and, ultimately, success – would have a far greater chance of flowing from such a model than from the present one.

The central problem of the UN/League of Nations has always been the delusion that some such central institution can/will eventually form the basis of world governance.

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