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United Nations Reform: U.S. Policy and International Perspectives

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Since its establishment in 1945, the United Nations has been in a constant state of transition as various international stakeholders seek ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the U.N. system. Recently, controversies such as the Iraq OilFor-Food Program, allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers, and instances of waste, fraud and abuse by U.N. staff, have focused renewed attention on the need for change and improvement of the United Nations. Many in the international community, including the United States, have increased pressure on U.N. member states to implement substantive reforms. The 110th Congress may continue to focus on U.N. reform as it considers appropriate levels of U.S. funding to the United Nations and monitors the progress and implementation of ongoing and previouslyapproved reform measures.

In September 2005, heads of U.N. member states met for the World Summit at U.N. Headquarters in New York to discuss strengthening the United Nations through institutional reform. The resulting Summit Outcome Document laid the groundwork for a series of reforms that included establishing a Peacebuilding Commission, creating a new Human Rights Council, and strengthening the U.N. Security Council. Member states also agreed to Secretariat and management reforms including improving internal U.N. oversight capacity, establishing a U.N. ethics office, enhancing U.N. whistle-blower protection, and reviewing all U.N. mandates five years or older.

Since the World Summit, U.N. member states have worked toward implementing these reforms with varied degrees of success. Some reforms, such as the creation of the Human Rights Council and the Peacebuilding Commission, have already occurred or are ongoing. Other reforms, such as the U.N. Security Council enlargement, have stalled or not been addressed. U.N. member states disagree on whether some proposed reforms are necessary, as well as how to most effectively implement previously agreed-to reforms. Developed countries support delegating more power to the Secretary-General to implement management reforms, for example, whereas developing countries fear that giving the Secretary-General more authority may undermine the power of the U.N. General Assembly and therefore the influence of individual countries.

Congress has maintained a significant interest in the overall effectiveness of the United Nations. It is particularly interested in U.N. Secretariat and management reform, with a focus on enhanced accountability and internal oversight. In the past, Congress has enacted legislation that links U.S. funding of the United Nations to specific U.N. reform benchmarks. Opponents of this strategy argue that tying U.S. funding to U.N. reform may negatively impact diplomatic relations and could hinder the United States' ability to conduct foreign policy. Supporters contend that the United Nations has been slow to implement reforms and that linking payment of U.S. assessments to progress on U.N. reform is the most effective way to motivate member states to efficiently pursue comprehensive reform. This report will be updated as policy changes or congressional actions warrant.