Global Policy Forum

UN Chief Moves to Restructure World Body


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
January 23, 2007

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has taken the initial step towards a significant restructuring of the United Nations Secretariat by realigning the organisation's peacekeeping operations and bringing disarmament directly under his wing.

The existing Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is to be split into two: a Department of Peace Operations and a Department of Field Support, both of which will be headed by an under-secretary-general, the third highest ranking post in the organisation.

But a more controversial proposal is to reconstitute the existing Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA) as a separate office in the U.N. Secretariat. The new office, which is currently headed by an under-secretary-general, is to be brought under a Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Disarmament Affairs. Although the proposed new SRSG will report directly to Ban, there is no indication whether he will have the rank of an under-secretary-general or whether the post will be downgraded to that of an assistant secretary-general. The creation of a SRSG is being justified on the ground that the secretary-general wants to keep disarmament "closer to him" as he considers it an important issue.

But several delegations, representing the 116-member Non-Aligned Movement, have already warned that the appointment of a SRSG could be construed as a downgrading of DDA -- especially given the generally ad hoc manner in which SRSG's are usually appointed. The restructuring proposals are laid out in two Secretariat "non-papers" provided this week to various political and regional groups at the United Nations.

An ambassador from the non-aligned group of countries told IPS that "the non-papers were still vague on details and on reporting lines". "For example, to whom would the two new arms of the DPKO report to, and which arm would have precedence?" he asked. "And what is the reason for an SRSG for disarmament -- and why not keep things as they are?"

After the non-papers were presented by the U.N. Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar to delegates this week, Non-Aligned Movement members told him to "re-work the paper" to address more specifically the concerns raised at the meeting. "What is not clear," said another diplomat, "is whether Ban's office expects us to merely take note of the non-papers (thereby authorising him to go ahead with his re-structuring plans) or whether his office is prepared to discuss and make changes, as requested."

Although the secretary-general has the power to appoint his own staff and make administrative decisions in his capacity as the chief administrative officer, he has to get the approval of the 192-member General Assembly for any restructuring of the Secretariat.

Justifying the proposed split in DPKO, the non-papers say the United Nations is experiencing a sustained, extraordinary period of growth in peacekeeping activities in the field. "While the current figure of field-based peacekeeping personnel is now just under 100,000, maintaining this presence requires that the DPKO actually manage roughly twice that number on an annual basis, given the constant rate of troop/police rotations, personnel transfers, and new mission requirements that must be taken into account."

The past 36 months alone have seen the start-up or expansion of nine field missions, with three missions currently in start-up or expansion. Currently, DPKO oversees 18 active peacekeeping missions in the field. According to the non-papers, peacekeeping under the aegis of the United Nations is an activity that relies heavily on coherent and clearly articulated structures, management systems and work processes in order to mount, sustain and oversee multiple complex operations.

"The nature of the challenge is far more than a quantitative one. Qualitatively, many of the newer peacekeeping missions operate at extreme levels of sensitivity, visibility and risk, with complex mandates to assist state-restoration and state-building processes after decades of conflict, in remote, austere and increasingly quite dangerous environments-- sometimes with factions outside the peace process totally hostile to a U.N. presence."

Without restructuring, the non-papers say, the risk of inefficiency, ineffectiveness or abuse is greatly increased. As the United Nations enters the fourth successive year of a sustained "surge" in peace operations in the field, the notion of putting off reform has become untenable, the Secretariat argues.

Justifying the reconstitution of the DDA, the non-papers say the restructured office "will continue to promote and support multilateral efforts on disarmament, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear weapons, including in the context of global efforts against terrorism."

Still, several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and peace activists have launched a campaign against the dismantling of the existing DDA. Last week, John Burroughs, executive director of the New York-based Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy, said: "This is the wrong move for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to make and would be an inauspicious start to his term." The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, which has launched a project called "Reaching Critical Will", is already spearheading an NGO campaign to stop the dismantling of DDA.

"Several countries have a shameful record on disarmament and would like to see the department and its institutional memory and activity downgraded," says a statement on its website.



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