Global Policy Forum

Renewing the United Nations


A Critical Assessment of the Secretary-General's "Track Two" Reform Program

By Jeffrey Laurenti

United Nations Association of the USA

The following commentary on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's "Track Two" reform initiatives announced on July 16, 1997 was prepared by UNA-USA's Executive Director for Policy Studies, Jeffrey Laurenti. "Track One" reforms of Mr. Annan's "two-track" reform program entailing immediate managerial changes in areas within the Secretary-General's authority was issued in March. An assessment of those earlier proposals is available elsewhere at this site. The full text of the Secretary-General's statement and further details about U.N. reform efforts can be accessesed at

The proposals of Secretary-General Kofi Annan for "renewing" the United Nations are, in their way, even more far-reaching for the U.N. system than was the program for "reinventing" the United States government that Vice President Albert Gore presented on behalf of the Clinton administration in 1993. Not only does the Annan plan cover streamlining of the U.N. Secretariat that as the U.N.'s chief administrative officer he can put into effect directly; it proposes reforms to the U.N.'s political bodies to realign agencies and to restructure member states' own oversight of United Nations. activities. Within the constraints of political reality, the Annan program achieves major consolidation and streamlining of U.N. administration and bodies and enhances accountability by rationalizing reporting lines.

Like the U.S. administration's "reinvention" program, the Secretary-General's initiatives are mind-numbing in their administrative detail. But they make a larger statement about the purposes of United Nations reform that stands in quiet but clear contrast to the demands from Washington that the United Nations do less. For Kofi Annan, as for nearly all 185 member states, the purpose of reform is to increase the U.N.'s capacity to act within existing resources. He conspicuously does not address the menu of demands U.S. senators would attach as conditions on payment of dues; he will not, for instance, keep 5 percent of staff positions vacant, nor urge reductions in U.S. assessments.

Annan's proposals for increased U.N. roles in arms regulation and control of cross-border crime, and those for a strengthened rapid reaction capability for controlling conflicts and for ending the U.N.'s dependence on military officers lent by (and reporting back to) individual member states, illustrate his larger purpose-a stronger, more effective United Nations. So does Annan's reiteration, in his letter transmitting the report to the General Assembly, that his "net efficiency savings...should be made available to the Organization's highest priority, alleviating poverty and enhancing the prospects of developing countries."

That said, it must be noted that the Secretary-General's program defers specific measures in a number of areas to future dates, and he is reluctant to make recommendations about the composition of such political organs as the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council. Annan does not see it as his role to tilt at political windmills. In some places, caution-perhaps reinforced by some early negative reaction in a few capitals-has led the Secretary-General to scale back some dramatic proposals that he had reportedly been considering. Some proposals seem quite modest-intended to take cognizance of an issue more than to suggest a concrete action to take. But much in this report is real and substantive. On balance, it makes for the most comprehensive and considered rethinking of the structure of a worldwide organization that has grown by fits and starts over a half century, and for the boldest initiatives to reenergize the spirit and performance of the Secretariat that serves it.

After a summary overview, this commentary assesses each of Annan's reform actions and recommendations.

I. Overview

1. Leadership and Management. In his most significant administrative rationalization, the Secretary-General will replace the dozens of departments, units, and agencies that nominally report directly to him with a leadership structure organized around five main sectors: (1) peace and security1 ; (2) humanitarian affairs2 ; (3) economic and social affairs3 ; (4) development assistance4 ; and (5) human rights. In the first four of these, the heads of the departments and agencies concerned are grouped together in "executive committees," with one agency head designated the convenor. That convenor will sit as part of the Secretary-General's "Senior Management Group"-effectively, Annan's Cabinet.

2. Structural streamlining. In addition to focusing the reporting lines among co-equal agencies and departments, Annan has consolidated a number of separate entities, most notably in the Secretariat departments dealing with economic and social affairs and in U.N. human rights operations5. The offices of separate U.N. agencies in every country of the developing world will be consolidated into a single "U.N. House" under a single U.N. Representative accredited to that nation's government6. Annan expects senior officials to take more decision-making responsibility rather than buck every issue to the top for clearance7--the traditional reflex for self-protection by risk-averse international civil servants. These are major reform steps.

3. Increased managerial efficiency. The Secretary-General reiterates the direction he announced in his first set of reform proposals in March to reduce substantially administrative overhead and to infuse a new vitality--and a new accountability--into an often rigidly bureaucratized and aging U.N. workforce8. He documents the many efficiency projects already underway.

II. Specific Actions and Recommendations, by the numbers

The Secretary-General's report distinguishes between Actions, which are within his power as the U.N.'s chief administrative officer to effectuate by decree, and Recommendations, which he presents to the bodies--almost always bodies of member states--that have the authority to take the recommended steps. We present them here in the order in which his report presents them.

Action 1. Establish Senior Management Group. This recommendation-in effect, constituting a management and reform "Cabinet" among the U.N.'s senior-level officials--is evidence that the Secretary-General wants to keep his team focused on "leading the process of change and instituting sound management throughout the Secretariat." It will include the convenors of the four sectoral committees and the head of the now unified fifth sector (human rights), as well as the heads of the U.N.'s key administrative units (e.g., management and oversight services), and possibly a few others. This restructuring initiative harkens back to a recommendation of UNA-USA's U.N. Management and Decision-making Project, chaired by Elliot Richardson, in its 1987 Successor Vision report, which called for the Secretary-General to create and chair "a small Management Committee" in order to "establish a coherent administrative structure of manageable proportions."

Action 2. Strategic Planning Unit. The proposal for creating a high-quality information and research unit reporting directly to the Secretary-General is a useful one, analogous to (but of course far smaller in size than) the elaborate policy planning staffs in the U.S. State Department, Defense Department, and White House. The report does not make clear whether existing U.N. staff will be transferred from other functions to do this strategic planning.

Recommendation 1. Deputy Secretary-General. American officials have been pushing for establishment of a Deputy Secretary-General, supposedly dedicated to management; developing countries have sought establishment of such a position to be focused on development. Annan is motivated by a desire to clear his calendar of many ceremonial duties and lower-priority meetings, and by his sense that inter-sectoral cooperation often only works when someone at the top calls the relevant departments together-and he cannot do it all. Annan hopes the General Assembly will establish the post and allow him to appoint the Deputy Secretary-General to serve at his pleasure. While that is the best guarantee of an alter ego and a loyal collaborator, it is less likely to draw the independent political personality who can give the post the desired stature. Moreover, there is some debate over whether a new high-salaried post with little substantive responsibility is an urgent reform priority. The General Assembly may find the job description-namely, taking on whatever tasks the Secretary-General chooses ad hoc to delegate in hope of "achieving intersectoral and interinstitutional coherence"-fairly thin.

Recommendation 2. General Assembly sessions. Some of the suggestions advanced here appear inspired by Washington's current hostility to global conferences--like those held in recent years on environment, human rights, population, and women-that draw throngs of citizen groups and high-level delegations from national capitals. But the effort to relocate the debate on such issues in the General Assembly on a routine basis seems unpromising. The Economic and Social Council already has instituted "a special high-level, one-week segment," the same as the Secretary-General proposes for the General Assembly here, and it draws little serious attention. The General Assembly has gone through a long and tedious reform debate over the past two years, and found little merit in suggestions for forcing its agenda into pre-set "themes" and "priority areas"--another of the Secretary-General's recommendations.

Recommendation 3. Rapid reaction capacity. Peace operations are an area that Annan (as a former under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations) knows particularly well, and his recommendations here-on information-sharing, rapid reaction capability, and a model status-of- forces agreement that would be operative until amended by agreement with the government where a peacekeeping force is sent-will all make for more effective peacekeeping responses.

Action 3. "Gratis" military officers. Annan makes a bold proposal in vowing to end the U.N.'s dependence on military officers sent by individual national governments to support the U.N.'s peacekeeping situation center (though he avoids setting a deadline). Over half of all the professional staff in the U.N.'s peacekeeping department are seconded military personnel, and virtually all the military are. There are widespread concerns that these "gratis" officers--aid by and answerable to their own armed forces, not the U.N.--may at times press national agendas rather than the international community's. Their frequent rotation means that the indispensable linkages in peacekeeping missions between military staff and civilian programs have to be constantly relearned. Annan will have to generate enough administrative savings elsewhere if he is to be able to recruit military advisers on a genuinely "international" basis.

Action 4. Special Representative. Some peacekeeping operations have been roiled by frictions in the field among many different U.N. programs (e.g., for refugees, food aid, election monitoring, human rights education, police training, etc.) that all report back to their own agency. Annan hopes to deal with the confusion by this directive establishing the clear supremacy of his Special Representative over all activities in the U.N.'s name.

Action 5. Post-conflict peace building. This useful initiative designates the Department of Political Affairs as focal point for post-conflict peace-building activities, creating a clear center of responsibility in an area where there have been some political turf battles in the past. The agencies cited as cooperating in peace building programs--from the High Commissioners for Refugees and Human Rights to the U.N. Development Program and World Bank--all enjoy varying degrees of independence from the Secretary-General's administrative direction, so the success of this "focal point" may still depend on cooperation rather than command. Recognizing that some of these agencies may bridle at being reined in, Annan specifies that this arrangement is operative only to "the point at which the emphasis on a peace-building role will give way to full-fledged reconstruction and development activities."

Action 6. Disarmament. The Secretary-General proposes a major transformation of the U.N.'s activities in the arena of arms reductions, and points a dramatically different direction from his predecessor. Boutros Boutros-Ghali had stripped the U.N.'s disarmament programs of department rank in his first reform sweep in 1992, arguing that the recent wave of nuclear arms reduction agreements between East and West proved that the impetus for disarmament was elsewhere. In contrast, Annan describes the new arms control agenda as essentially multilateral, not bilateral, citing land mines, leakage of nuclear weapons technology, flows of conventional weapons and small arms, weapons trafficking by criminal and terrorist syndicates. He upgrades the function to full department status again, removing it from Political Affairs.

This is potentially of considerable significance, as nations are entrusting regulation of different categories of weapons to scattered independent agencies, with no coordinating center nor focal point for Security Council review of violations posing potential security threats. However, while Annan's exposition implies a need to reorient the existing unit from churning out newsletters of interest mainly to advocacy groups and servicing long-winded meetings of intergovernmental bodies, he does not call for a staff shakeup to bring in the specialized expertise that might be needed to undertake new, technically expert responsibilities. If he keeps the existing tasks and staff competencies, the upgrade would not seem justifiable. This reticence may be attributable to a fear of arousing suspicions among prickly developing countries that U.N. disarmament efforts may actually be turned "against" them instead of staying focused on nuclear disarmament by the major powers--or it may simply reflect a very late decision by the Secretary-General to endorse this reorganization plan, too late to fill in the full scope of responsibilities.

Recommendation 4. Disarmament deliberations. The report urges the General Assembly to "review" the work of the Disarmament Commission and the Assembly's own First Committee. Many have called openly for outright abolition of the Disarmament Commission as a repetitive intergovernmental talk shop, but the Secretary-General declined to offer his own views on the subject.

Recommendation 5. Economic and Social Council. Many necromancers have sought to summon the Economic and Social Council (EcoSoc) back to life over the past few decades, but its inherent problems of a weak mandate over specialized agencies and--most of all--an unwieldy size have frustrated all efforts to give it meaningful life. The thought that ranking government ministers from major developed countries might see EcoSoc with its 54 members as a genuine policymaking forum worth attending always has seemed illusory, but developing countries have adamantly resisted efforts to create a more manageable subgroup that could function at a serious level. Having seen ambitious proposals for EcoSoc reform fail in the past, the Secretary-General makes no such recommendations here, and simply calls for more flexibility in the Council's meeting schedule. He makes a useful suggestion for replacing the Council's Committee on Development Planning with ad hoc panels of experts (assuming they will indeed be experts rather than [re]tired diplomats). His proposal for a trust fund to finance participation in these meetings of ministers from the least developed countries may find willing donors in Scandinavia, and it would undoubtedly be nice if those countries' Cabinet officials rather than just their U.N. ambassadors could attend, but it is probably not the absence of ministers from such countries that is EcoSoc's fundamental problem.

Recommendation 6. Subsidiary bodies. The Secretary-General makes useful proposals to fold a number of distinct committees and commissions into larger intergovernmental panels, such as the consolidation of the energy and natural resources panels into the Commission on Sustainable Development. The proposal to merge the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice with that on Narcotic Drugs may encounter resistance from those who view the drug problem as a public health issue more than a law enforcement issue.

Recommendation 7. Regional commissions. Several of the regional economic commissions have drawn considerable criticism in some Western circles, which has spurred some improvements--not their abolition. The Secretary-General makes no specific recommendation for further action beyond calling for EcoSoc to review their "competencies" and appropriate division of labor with global bodies.

Action 7. Economic policy staffing. The Secretary-General evidently would apply some of the "development dividend" from administrative savings toward creating a substantive secretariat staff for the Economic and Social Council. This begs the question of whether the Council, as currently configured, is able to make good use of quality professional staff with economic expertise; it almost certainly is not.

Action 8. Crime and drugs. The plan will group crime, drugs, and terrorism in a single office in Vienna, headed by newly appointed Piero Arlacchi, the anti-Mafia prosecutor from Italy. An existing division on crime prevention will be upgraded in bureaucratic rank to a "center," and the report vows (without specifics) to "enhance" capabilities "to deal with international terrorism... money-laundering and trafficking in women and children."

Action 9. Development Group. The Secretary-General will require the three semiautonomous development-related funds--the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), and the U.N. Development Program (UNDP)--to be linked as the U.N. Development Group, with the three agencies' heads constituting an Executive Committee chaired by the UNDP administrator (currently an American, Gus Speth). (Because the International Fund for Agricultural Development enjoys the separate status of a specialized agency, it cannot be required to join the Group, though the report requests its "closest possible association.") As part of the overall effort to bring agencies with somewhat related missions into closer cooperation and to streamline the reporting to the Secretary-General, this directive is a signal step. Certainly the three funds need to coordinate activities, both at the policy level in New York and at the operational level in recipient countries, in order to minimize overlap. Since they all get the bulk of their funding from voluntary contributions by individual member governments, these funds have as much autonomy and leverage as their donors are prepared to allow.

The administrator of UNDP will represent the three program funds of the Development Group in the Secretary-General's "Cabinet." This is unwelcome to at least one of the other agencies affected, and there was negative reaction in Washington to earlier proposals that UNICEF's advocates feared might jeopardize the Children's Fund's distinct identity through close integration with the other agencies.

Action 10. In-country programs. The Secretary-General's plan to have programs of assistance in each country formulated and presented under a single U.N. "framework" is a major step for rationalizing U.N. development assistance. UNICEF, UNDP, and UNFPA funds would be separately identified, but integrated into one overall program of assistance for each country. The decision to put the Resident Coordinator in each developing country in charge of the local offices of all the U.N. agencies (including any U.N. information center), to bring them all into a single building (named "U.N. House"), and formally to accredit to the head of Government the Resident Coordinator as the U.N. representative, is a very real operational streamlining. It may not always be easy to pull scattered agencies physically together in a single suitable headquarters, but the intent is clear: to run the U.N. operations along lines similar to the "country teams" of multiple American agencies in U.S. embassies.

Recommendation 8. Integrate governing boards. The Secretary-General acknowledges that the most effective means for producing coordinated action by the separate development- oriented programs is through integration of their oversight by member states. Some reformers (like UNA-USA itself in its Successor Vision report) have called for UNICEF, UNDP, and UNFPA to report to a single governing council. After UNICEF partisans inspired some growls from Washington and other Western capitals, the Secretary-General recoiled from so bold a proposal. Instead, he prefers to "invite" member states to consider holding meetings of the agencies' existing (separate) executive boards either jointly or back-to-back, so that those countries serving on their governing councils simultaneously can view the operations of the several agencies synoptically.

Action 11. Core resources for development. Countering recent trends in Washington and some other wealthy capitals, Annan insists that "Resources for development need to be restored as rapidly as possible and made more predictable," and calls for "an overall increase in [overseas development assistance] based upon agreed global targets." Some cynics assume this is simply window-dressing to reassure developing countries--suspicious that Annan has sold out to American conservatives--that he is still on their side; the Secretary-General certainly knows that Washington is determined to reduce, not increase, its investment in development aid, which some American critics consider of doubtful efficacy.

Annan sees three sources of development funding--"voluntary, negotiated and private"--and notes that the dependence on voluntary contributions, pledged afresh each year, creates volatile, unpredictable funding streams that are a "serious challenge to the smooth and effective functioning of development operations." Negotiated pledges are rare but not unheard of in the U.N. system; those on the periodic replenishments of the International Fund for Agricultural Development may represent one model. (It is, to be sure, a somewhat discouraging model, with wrangling over each contributor's rightful share sometimes dragging out over years, and the installments still not always being paid; there is growing discussion of alleged merits in converting IFAD funding to a straight- out assessment.) Annan calls for "core resources" to be pledged in multi-year installments, and proposes to hold states accountable to meeting agreed program targets in their contributions. This he calls "burden-sharing," attempting to draw to the development funding issue the same mantra so popular in Washington for demanding greater contributions from its partners in the military field.

Annan gives no details on how "burden-sharing" for development would be arranged, but promises to submit such a plan in the unspecified future. He vows to establish an Office for Development Financing--one of the few tasks specifically to be entrusted to the proposed Deputy Secretary-General. It is not clear what such a unit can do to shake loose more funds for development from tight-fisted Western governments.

Recommendation 9. Multi-year voluntary contributions. The Secretary-General recommends that member states adopt "a new system of core resources" that would draw on both traditional voluntary contributions and negotiated pledges, with multi-year commitments. Some states may wish to make multi-year commitments to fund U.N. agency programs, but it is unlikely that the United States would choose to make such commitments--or, given Washington's annual appropriation cycle, be able to keep them.

Action 12. UNEP and Habitat. This is, in fact, not an action, but a promise of future action: The Secretary-General plans to "develop new measures" to restructure and, allegedly, strengthen the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) and the Center for Human Settlements ("Habitat"), both currently headquartered in Nairobi. Annan affirms UNEP's importance as "the environmental agency of the world community," and sets as his objective its enjoying a commensurate "status, strength and access to resources." He makes no statement about the work or even the role of Habitat, which suggests Annan and his advisers haven't yet formulated their position about it.

Recommendation 10. Advisory board on sustainable development. The Secretary- General urges member states to abolish the advisory board on sustainable development, which has complemented the work of the intergovernmental Commission on Sustainable Development. This is a useful housekeeping consolidation.

Action 13. Humanitarian relief. This shakeup of the U.N.'s humanitarian relief agencies is one of the major Secretariat reforms in Annan's package. The Department of Humanitarian Affairs--created by Boutros Boutros-Ghali to coordinate the U.N. and nongovernmental agencies providing humanitarian relief--is "abolished," but its functions aren't. The department's core function of orchestrating concerted action among autonomous--and independently funded--agencies will continue in the person of the Emergency Relief Coordinator (who, like all the heads of the department since its creation, will still be an Under-Secretary-General). Annan hives off the operational roles that a department frustrated by the thankless job of trying to "coordinate" more powerful agencies had assumed in the hope of earning itself more bureaucratic weight, and he transfers them to agencies like UNDP. Annan's criticisms of the Department's uneven performance shine through even the opaquely neutral language of U.N. bureaucracy ("undertaken some operational activities in a limited and ad hoc manner"; not "adequately equipped with capacities and expertise"; "diluted the importance of...core functions").

The largest U.N. humanitarian relief agencies are the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Program. In fact, the Secretary-General had explored making the High Commissioner the system-wide Emergency Relief Coordinator. Interestingly, it was leading humanitarian nongovernmental organizations that tipped the balance against putting UNHCR in charge. They argued that, in this field, no specialized operating agency could fairly be expected to see the big picture. Moreover, while the current High Commissioner, Sadako Ogata, generally draws rave reviews, one should not base institutional structures on personalities; and UNHCR is based in Geneva, while the Coordinator needs to champion humanitarian issues "with political organs, notably the Security Council," that are in New York.

The Coordinator, however, will have only a small office and virtually no staff of his own. "The Emergency Relief Coordinator will benefit from well-qualified senior staff seconded by the IASC [Inter-Agency Standing Committee] members," declares Annan. The IASC will have a smaller steering committee with "a rapid response capacity based on coherent policy"--a committee composed of UNHCR, the World Food Program, UNICEF, UNDP, the International Red Cross, and one representative of nongovernmental organizations providing humanitarian relief.

Recommendation 11. Succeeding DHA. The Secretary-General proposes that the General Assembly rename the Emergency Relief Coordinator as the "U.N. Humanitarian Assistance Coordinator," and that it transfer the current Department's responsibilities for dealing with natural disasters to UNDP. He proposes the Economic and Social Council devote one of its issues segments to humanitarian affairs--which, given the inherent weakness of the unwieldy Council, may well prove one of the least useful recommendations in the report.

Action 14. Human rights reorganization. Already announced, the consolidation of the Center for Human Rights with the office of the High Commissioner is a major gain for efficiency and accountability and, without a doubt, will substantially strengthen the U.N. human rights machinery. Under Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the head of the Center did not report to the High Commissioner (and indeed skirmished with him constantly), meaning that the U.N. system's most visible advocate for human rights had no authority over its operations. The result, Annan correctly says, was "hindered performance, diminished...impact," and "a lack of appropriate coordination." Annan has transferred to another department safely in New York the individual who as Center director had warred with the first High Commissioner, has placed the Center directly under the control of the High Commissioner, and has appointed to the top post the high-profile and highly esteemed Irish president Mary Robinson.

Action 15. Human rights technical support. A number of trust funds have evolved that finance technical assistance for education and training of law enforcement officers, promotion of democratic governance, reform of judicial systems, and protection of children's rights. These are scattered among various U.N. departments and agencies. The Secretary-General is directing the Human Rights High Commissioner to assess the human rights-related work undertaken elsewhere in the Secretariat. Addressing the complaint that the location of the human rights program in Geneva removes it from the political loop, he also vows to "upgrade" the New York office of the High Commissioner.

Action 16. Human rights coordination. Annan notes the plethora of human rights treaty monitoring committees and the working groups, rapporteurs, and other special procedures that have flowered under the Human Rights Commission, worrying that "there is a risk of dispersion and lack of consistency" and asserting that this fragmentation and "the subsequent burden of reporting obligations have strained the resources of the Secretariat." Rather than make hasty recommendations of his own, he charges Ms. Robinson with the task of developing recommendations to "streamline and rationalize" this machinery.

Action 17. Civil society. In one of the more reflective passages of his report, Annan underscores the importance of "civil society" both within nations and globally, as transnational citizen activism grows through nongovernmental organizations . (He also notes the growth of international crime--what is preciously labeled "uncivil society".) Annan will require all Secretariat units to designate a contact point for NGOs, and commits to creating a U.N. "enterprise liaison service" for dialogue with the business community.

Recommendation 12. Credit fund. The Secretary-General graphically documents the drastic worsening of the U.N.'s financial situation since 1995, when U.S. nonpayment of assessed obligations resumed in earnest. Annan notes that the application of Article 19 (deprivation of a delinquent's vote) is "too lenient" and "has not proven to be the deterrent that it was meant to be." He "challenges Member States to put forward ideas to induce delinquent Member States to pay and restore the financial solvency of this Organization." Annan's own proposal, however, seems fairly tame-it includes no toughening of the application of Article 19, for example, and no interest charges on delinquencies--and it is unlikely to affect the political dynamic of Member State defaults. Rather, as soon as governments are 3 months' past due in their payments, Annan would ask them to certify as to when they actually intend to pay, and then take their certification as security to borrow from a Revolving Credit Fund, to be repaid as each delinquent state pays its arrears. The plan assumes a good-faith intention by delinquent governments actually to meet their assessment, and also assumes that those governments will bother to send a certified reply at all. It also depends on the willingness of member states to provide the initial $1 billion to capitalize the fund; large delinquents are unlikely to be cooperative in making payments to the fund. None of these preconditions for the proposal is likely to materialize.

Action 18. Staff management. Annan devotes considerable attention to managerial reform, "seeking to enhance the services that are provided by the Organization and, at the same time, reducing overhead costs." He notes some fundamental structural problems--in particular, the average age of U.N. staff is now 49, and fewer than 5 percent are under 35 (a consequence of the hiring restrictions imposed since the U.S. first triggered the financial crisis in the mid-1980s); nearly half the professional staff is due to retire over the coming decade. Annan says implementation of a "fundamental review"--led by Under-Secretary-General Joseph Connor--will be in place by the start of 1998, "strengthening recruitment and placement policies, provide career growth for serving staff, to bring in needed skills and to make significant progress on geographical and gender representation."

In this regard, Annan sets a specific goal of having someone from every member state "represented" in the U.N. staff by 1999. A number of poor or tiny states "have" no one in the Secretariat-but it is not clear that such "representation" of, say, Andorra or Sí£o Tomé e Prí­ncipe or Vanuatu will make much contribution to the Secretariat's effectiveness, or that it needs to be a major "reform" priority. Of broader interest, perhaps, is his vow to make "significant progress on realizing the gender goals of the Organization" by 1999 as well.

The Secretary-General's overarching objective in personnel management reform is, in his words, "encouraging enhanced performance, through rewards and recognition, measures for dealing with substandard performance, and accountability for results." This section of his report promises far-reaching revitalization of the Secretariat, and so far Annan has given every sign of putting confidence--and authority--in Connor's hands to follow through. A lengthy appendix details the 600 efficiency projects Connor already has underway, which Secretariat officials say are already beginning to produce signs of change in the U.N.'s bureaucratic "culture" at the "micro" level.

Action 19. Staff training. Annan is reallocating $15 million already budgeted to establish a one-time "training and redeployment" program to "assist staff" whose current positions are lost through reform measures.

Action 20. Senior appointments. Annan says he will seek advice from an informal group of independent advisers on top-level appointments. This is a quite modest initiative; by comparison, UNA-USA's Successor Vision report on U.N. management reform had urged the Secretary-General to create a high-level, independent search and review committee to provide a short list of candidates for all senior positions of D-2 grade and above.

Recommendation 13. International Civil Service Commission. The Secretary-General observes that the International Civil Service Commission sets the standards and conditions of service, including compensation scales, throughout the U.N. system. The report makes no critique of the Commission's operation (though senior Secretariat officials privately castigate it as technically incompetent); Annan simply calls on the General Assembly to review its mandate, its membership, and its functioning. UNA-USA's Successor Vision, noting that governments' propensity to nominate aging foreign service officers for election to the Commission with scant attention to expertise in personnel management, recommended that ICSC commissioners "should be required to have substantial experience in the area of personnel management in the public or private sector."

Recommendation 14. Code of Conduct. Annan says that a "new Code of Conduct has been agreed," which he will submit to this fall's General Assembly for approval. The Code, which reportedly includes conflict-of-interest provisions that Americans have urged for several years, would become a part of U.N. staff regulations and rules. While a final judgment must await the text, this would seem to be a major advance on the ethics front.

Action 21. Administrative savings. The Secretary-General reiterates the pledge in his March reform announcement that central administrative and support offices will be given specific targets to effect savings in administrative overhead that would be allocated to a special Development Account. This is spun as a "dividend for development" that he expects to reach $100 million a year by the beginning of the millennium. At the moment, the plan is still more promise than action, but one on which action is crucial if Annan is to generate the funds for implementation of many of his other reform initiatives. The opportunity is there: the decentralized U.N. system has spawned one personnel officer for every 35 U.N. employees; the ratio in many national governments is 1:130.

Recommendation 15. Dividend fund. Annan asks member states to authorize his special development account to which administrative savings will be credited.

Action 22. Management reviews. The Secretary-General promises to demand more management reviews from departments on an ongoing basis, with particular reference to the regular budget process.

Action 23. Delegation. Without specifying them, the Secretary-General says he "will take steps" to delegate authority and full accountability to line managers. This is a marked departure from his predecessor's attitude toward even his top-rank department heads, to whom he was reluctant to delegate policymaking authority in the conviction that it was he, not they, who was accountable to the member states.

Action 24. Simplify rules. It is hard to quarrel with a vow to "review" and "rationalize" the issuance of rules, but it is also hard to see it as a major advance.

Action 25. Timeline. The plan calls for the promised simplification of procurement and staff management "processes" to be completed by the end of this year. A similar streamlining of financial processes is due by the end of next year.

Recommendation 16. Budget process. Annan urges the General Assembly to "review the existing arrangements" for budget-making to effect a shift toward "accountability for results." So-called results-based budgeting has been adopted by a number of governments, though its presumably salutary impact has not been credibly documented as necessarily a source of savings.

Action 26. U.N. agency common services. Annan proposes to consolidate, as far as possible, the services that the various U.N. agencies could more efficiently receive in common--procurement, telecommunications, personnel and medical services, payroll services, and the like. He envisions some savings through economies of scale and "selective outsourcing."

Action 27. Virtual U.N. The Secretary-General will expand the U.N.'s presence on the Internet and seeks "adequate infrastructure and investment to support staff members and services to Member States."

Action 28. U.N. system management. Annan vows to consult with the Administrative Committee on Coordination--i.e., with the heads of the independent, specialized organizations within the U.N. family of agencies--to introduce "issue management methods" among the independent agencies. He urges "issue management networks," so that a single agency would take the lead on an issue of cross-sectoral impact while the others active in the field contribute to the overall planning and priorities and undertake the implementation of their side of the issue.

Action 29. U.N. research institutes. The Secretary-General acknowledges that the United Nations University and various specialized research institutes are "largely underutilized by the United Nations community," notes that their reliance on a thin diet of voluntary contributions leaves them in chronic financial crisis and thus "find it difficult to maintain a consistent output," and tactfully questions the quality of the research and other activities that some unnamed institutes undertake. Without specifying them, Annan vows to initiate measures to coordinate their activities and to demand greater relevance in their output.

III. "The Road Ahead"

Many of the measures described in the Secretary-General's report "can and will be implemented immediately," he insists; even those that require decisions by U.N. member states could all be undertaken by century's end. But Annan also offers proposals that go beyond this time frame, arguing that they will help position the United Nations "for the services that will be demanded of it in the twenty-first century." These are, inevitably, rather more visionary sketches that have less of the concrete practicality of his 29 actions and 16 recommendations to member states.

. "A new concept of trusteeship." Annan embraces an idea that has been a particular favorite of one of his reform advisers, Maurice Strong, and endorsed by a number of commissions studying global governance: conversion of the virtually defunct Trusteeship Council into "the forum through which Member States exercise their collective trusteeship for the integrity of the global environment and common areas such as the oceans, atmosphere and outer space." The proposal arouses skepticism even among advocates of vigorous action on behalf of the global environment and those who subscribe to a sense of the "common heritage of mankind" (and the notion of common areas can still inspire fierce ideological resistance in some quarters, as the protracted political struggle in the United States over the Law of the Sea suggests). The usual argument is that, by filling the shell of a Charter organ, the environmental cause would gain salience in the U.N. system. But the U.N. Charter charged the Trusteeship Council specifically with overseeing the administration of "trust territories," with the Council's membership is defined accordingly; if a Charter amendment is needed anyway, one may as well create a body tailored to the need. Moreover, the attention the U.N. system pays to a political body is a reflection on media attention to the issue, not to the body's status in the Charter. All in all, this proposal seems like a slow starter.

. "The United Nations system." Given the highly decentralized nature of the U.N. family of agencies, Annan has emphasized the importance "a much greater degree of concerted will and coordinated action" throughout the system (see Action 28 above). But the Secretary-General insists that the "system" has fundamental weaknesses that member states need to correct. He calls on them to create a Special Commission, at the ministerial level, to propose changes to the charters of the U.N. and specialized agencies to strengthen the U.N. system "as a system." More concretely, he observes a major gap in the system--the lack of an agency with responsibility "for dealing comprehensively with the energy sector, for example, or with technology." He suggests that these could be included within the mandate of the embattled U.N. Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), "the future of which is uncertain despite the fact that it has recently effected some impressive reforms and cost reductions."

. International criminal court. The Secretary-General endorses the creation of an international criminal court at the treaty conference that will meet in Rome in June 1998.

. Millennium assembly. The Secretary-General hopes that the ideas he advances here on "the road ahead" could draw attention at a "Millennium" summit-level meeting of the General Assembly in 2000. At such a session, he writes, "heads of Government could come together to articulate their vision of prospects and challenges for the new millennium and agree on a process for fundamental review of the role of the United Nations." (This was, of course, what many had hoped would come out of the first General Assembly summit at the U.N.'s 50th anniversary in 1995.) Annan's suggestion that nongovernmental organizations hold a companion "People's Millennium Assembly," perhaps along the lines of the parallel NGO meetings held in tandem with various international conferences, may draw even less official interest, given the lack of a focused agenda.

1The Department of Political Affairs will convene this executive committee, which includes the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and of Disarmament and Arms Regulation.

2Chaired by the Emergency Relief Coordinator, this executive committee includes the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Program, and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. See commentary on Action 13 and Recommendation 11, below.

3This executive committee will be chaired by the Secretariat's consolidated Department of Economic and Social Affairs and include the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, the U.N. Environment Program, the U.N. Center on Human Settlements, the U.N. regional economic commissions, the newly integrated Office of Drug Policy and Crime Prevention, and U.N. University.

4The Development Group includes the U.N. Development Program, UNICEF, and the U.N. population Fund. See commentary on Action 9 and Recommendation 8.

5 See Actions 14-16.

6 See Action 10.

7 See Action 23.

8 See Action 18.

More Information on UN Reform
More Information on Secretary General Kofi Annan's Reform Agenda


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