Global Policy Forum

Secretary General Kofi Annan's Reform Agenda - 1997 to 2006

Secretary General Kofi Annan
Picture Credit: United Nations

Just six months after taking office as Secretary General in January 1997, Kofi Annan announced his plan for United Nations reform. He set out an agenda of better management and coordination across the entire UN system, as well as stronger human rights promotion and peacekeeping operations. In 2002, Annan announced further reforms, coinciding with the beginning of his second term. These proposals took up earlier technocratic themes, including enhanced coordination of the organizations in the UN system and greater "focus" in the UN's work.

Over the years, Annan's priorities have reflected financial and political pressure from Washington amid a deep crisis in UN funding. In such a cash-starved setting, reforms tended to reshuffle resources and bleed important programs to serve ever-new priorities. The results brought some modern management into a cumbersome bureaucracy, but they also made the UN more conservative and less democratic, by shaping it to a neoliberal, security-driven US agenda.

In March 2005, Annan presented his most comprehensive reform and policy agenda to date. His report "In Larger Freedom" addressed issues such as terrorism, financing for development, enlarging the Security Council and replacing the Human Rights Commission. Annan wanted states to adopt all proposals as a package and urged delegations to come to consensus in time for the Millennium+5 Summit, before the 60th session of the General Assembly in September 2005. Instead, after several months of negotiation, the United States demanded hundreds of line-by-line revisions just three weeks before the Summit. As a result, other states proposed new amendments of their own and the negotiating consensus unraveled. Eventually, when world leaders assembled in New York, the text had been reduced to a set of vague generalities. After the Summit, observers wondered about the future of multilateralism in the face of US hostility. But the debate continues over how the UN should be reformed and with what goals for the future.

Annan's latest effort revolved around management reform. He released in March 2006 his report, "Investing in the United Nations" which met with controversy from UN staffers and many member states. Proposals included outsourcing and new authority for the Secretary General to shift budgets and close programs without consulting the General Assembly. Many observers argued that Annan's agenda had been set by the US.


Key Documents | UN Documents | Articles and Reports

GPF Perspectives

This Global Policy Forum and Friedrich Ebert Foundation Briefing Paper examines Secretary General Kofi Annan's UN reform agenda and notes that "for some, the initiatives are not sufficiently far-reaching, [yet] others view them as too radical and unsuitable to implement politically." The paper criticizes Annan for his weak stance on alternative development financing, including global taxes on currency transactions. It also draws attention to the need for greater civil society participation in the preparations for the Millennium+5 Summit in September 2005.

UN Documents

Investing in the United Nations: for a Stronger Organization Worldwide (March 7, 2006)

In this Report of the Secretary General, Kofi Annan lays out the Secretariat's plans for UN management reform. Due to "dramatic operational expansion" in a wide range of areas, such as peacekeeping, Annan believes that a "radical overhaul" of the UN Secretariat is required. The report contains 23 proposals including development of staff skills, information technology, and budget and finance. The report also includes controversial schemes for staff buyout and outsourcing of labor.

Report of the Secretary General on Management Reform (November 28, 2005)

Since the Millennium+5 Summit, Secretary General Kofi Annan has focused heavily on Secretariat reform, often after pressure to do so from powerful countries like the US. In this report to the General Assembly, Annan lays out his plans for reform, including establishing a new UN ethics office. The office would have external oversight and auditing, and is intended to address perceptions of unethical behavior at the UN following the oil-for-food report, and the results of a UN staff survey.

Secretary General Kofi Annan's Address to the World Summit (September 14, 2005)

In his speech to the heads of state present at the Millennium+5 Summit, Secretary General Kofi Annan discussed the rhetoric surrounding the UN reform process. Referring to his own 2003 speech, Annan clarified his use of the term "fork in the road," maintaining that his statement in no way referred to an "existential crisis" at the UN. In Annan's view, the threat that "states of all kinds might increasingly resort to self-help, leading to a proliferation of ad hoc responses that would be divisive, destabilizing, and dangerous" resulted in allowing "posturing to get in the way of results" in the Summit outcome document.

United We Stand (June 24, 2005)

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan evaluates two prominent US documents on UN reform: the Henry J. Hyde bill and the report of the bipartisan Task Force. Deeming some of their measures to be "disastrously counterproductive", Annan expresses differences in methods and context for reform and stresses the need for cooperation between member states.

Explanatory Note of the Secretary General: Peacebuilding Commission (April 17, 2005)

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan provides a detailed description of his proposed Peacebuilding Commission outlined in the "In Larger Freedom" report of March 2005. Annan discusses the functions, financing and structure of the Commission. He recommends that the new body stand between the Security Council and ECOSOC, and be composed of a small "sub-set" of Security Council and ECOSOC members, as well as major donors and some leading troop contributors.

General Assembly Debate on a 'In Larger Freedom' (April 6-8, 2005)

The following UN press releases detail the General Assembly plenary debates on the Secretary General's report "In Larger Freedom." During the three-day session to review the report, the General Assembly heard the views of 83 countries on topics ranging from foreign debt and terrorism to Security Council expansion. (United Nations)

(April 6, 2005) (April 7, 2005) (April 8, 2005)

In Larger Freedom – Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All (March 21, 2005)

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's report to the General Assembly follows on from proposals of the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change and the Millennium Project. In dealing with the advancement of development, debt relief, security and human rights, "In Larger Freedom" also sets out a sweeping UN reform agenda that includes enlarging the Security Council, replacing the Human Rights Commission and overhauling the Secretariat. Heads of states will consider Annan's recommendations at a high level summit in September 2005. (United Nations)
In his 2004 report on the progress of the Millennium Development Goals, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan looks towards the High Level Plenary Meeting at the Sixtieth Session of the General Assembly in 2005, which he sees as an opportunity to rejuvenate states' commitment to development and UN reform. (United Nations)

Report on the Implementation of the Millennium Declaration (September 2003)

In his annual report on the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, the UN Secretary General urges world leaders to rethink the United Nations in light of new global challenges such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Strengthening the UN: An Agenda for Further Change (September 9, 2002)

In this report, the Secretary General builds on recent systematic reforms which will allow the UN to respond more efficiently and effectively to the evolving needs of the international community

We the Peoples: The Role of the UN in the 21st Century (April 3, 2000)

The Secretary General's Millenium report with his comments and suggestions for the role of the UN in the 21st century. Quick link to the Chapter on the Millennium Summit (pdf file).

Speech to the Millennium General Assembly (September 12, 2000)

The SG acknowledges that after last week's monumental Millennium Summit, the General Assembly may seem an anticlimax. But UN Chief Kofi Annan asks member states to "roll up their sleeves" and to implement their bold pledges to the UN and the world.

Press Conference by Secretary General Kofi Annan at Headquarters on the Global Compact (July 26, 2000)

Kofi anwers some very delicate questions about the Global Compact.

World Needs to Have United States, United Nations Working Well Together Says Secretary General, in Remarks to John Quincy Adams Society (May 25, 2000)

Noting that states cannot provide all of the financial assistance the UN needs, Kofi Annan discusses the necessity of a partnership between the private sector and the UN. Yet, he also stresses the importance of international standards for business practices, as "economic rights and social responsibilities are two sides of the same coin."

Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform (July 14, 1997)

Secretary General's Report (A/51/950).

Articles and Reports

2007 |2006 | 2005 | Archives


Annan Leaves A Mixed Legacy (January 2, 2007)

This Inter Press Service article discusses the complex legacy left by Kofi Annan, whose ten-year term as the highest ranking official at the United Nations ended on December 31, 2006. The former UN chief weathered harsh criticism – especially over the "oil-for-food" scandal – from mostly conservative US politicians who often sought to discredit the organization. Global Policy Forum's Executive Director James Paul says that "for all his faults, [Annan] should be seen as a strong Secretary General who served the United Nations well."


UN Chief Challenged at Contentious Meeting (March 8, 2006)

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's speech detailing his plan for management reform was met with criticism by UN staffers. The staff opposes proposals relating to lay-offs and appointments, specifically targeting Annan's desire to grant more "formal authority" to the Deputy Secretary General (DSG). The General Assembly created the DSG position and diplomats argue that Annan lacks the power to alter the DSG's role. Commentators state that under pressure from Washington, Annan has been trying to "strong arm the General Assembly" and turn the post of Secretary General into that of a corporate CEO. (Inter Press Service)


UN Chief Denies Making a "Grab for Power" (November 22, 2005)

Secretary General Kofi Annan responded to developing countries' allegations that the UN Secretariat is becoming a pawn of the US. Secretary General Annan assured UN member states that the General Assembly and its committees will retain their importance, even if Annan's management reform plans, which are heavily endorsed by Washington, are realized. (Inter Press Service)

Developing Nations Blast UN for Appeasing US (October 10, 2005)

The Group of 77 sent a critical letter to Secretary General Kofi Annan, stating their disagreement with activities of UN Secretariat officials. Although the letter did not name individuals, the G77 was clearly reacting to public statements made by Secretariat Chief of Staff Mark Malloch-Brown, in which he criticized member states for interfering in Secretariat affairs. The G77 also disapproved of Malloch-Brown's apparent pandering to the US government in an appearance before Congress during which he discussed UN reform. (Inter Press Service)

"In Larger Freedom": Decision Time at the UN (June 2005)

Writing in Foreign Affairs, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan highlights the need for upholding human rights, development and democracy, and proposes strengthening the global security system by preventing terrorism, reinforcing nonproliferation, and building peace in war-torn lands. Arguing that the UN should be used as a vehicle to reach the goals outlined in his report "In Larger Freedom," Annan emphasizes the urgency for reform to better achieve the UN's "mission of peace."

It's Crunch Time at the United Nations (June 3, 2005)

While encouraged by diplomats' commitments in the fields of human rights and peacekeeping, President of the International Peace Academy Terje Roed-Larsen expresses concern in the progress of the "new security agenda". He warns that if member states fail to agree on how to handle terrorism, disarmament and nonproliferation, these blockages could unravel progress achieved in other areas. (International Herald Tribune)

"In Larger Freedom": A Challenge to the United Nations and to the South (June 2005)

Reflecting the position of developing nations, the intergovernmental organization South Centre provides a refreshing analysis of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's reform agenda. The group argues that many of Annan's recommendations will make "the international order less and less participatory," and offers alternative proposals for establishing a more democratic UN. Such measures include making the Security Council accountable to the General Assembly, securing regional staff representation at the currently "undemocratic" UN Secretariat, and installing global taxes to reduce UN dependence on major donors.

UN Reform Needs an African Perspective (May 23, 2005)

African civil society leaders express their concern about the lack of African involvement in the UN reform debate, in particular the absence of African leadership in the UN Secretariat. The group calls for increased focus on debt cancellation, advocates adding African seats in the Security Council, and expresses qualms on the US-led "war on terrorism." Is UN reform simply "an attempt to appease Western interests"? (Mail & Guardian)

Time to Look Beyond Mere Administrative Reforms (April 26, 2005)

This Financial Express piece considers Kofi Annan's report on UN reform "cautious, if not conservative." The article suggests that realpolitik prevents the reform debate from going beyond administrative restructuring. The writer attributes this approach to governments' "attachment to parochial symbols of power and influence" and presents radical suggestions for change, including redesigning the principle organs of the UN.

Kofi Annan and the Need for Real UN Reform (March 31, 2005)

While acknowledging that Kofi Annan's High Level Panel report on UN reform and Jeffrey Sachs' Millennium Project report "have provided stimulus for significant reform efforts," the authors of this Globalist article believe the proposed recommendations "fall far short" of what the world requires. Specifically, they point to the growing gap between the West and the South, claiming this as an issue that the reports do not adequately address.

Reinventing "We the Peoples" (March 26, 2005)

This Salon article assesses the recommendations in Kofi Annan's report on UN reform as generally positive and achievable, and in particular commends what it sees as the Secretary General's attempt to "reinterpret" the UN Charter rather than rewriting it. It further admires the report's "joint appeal to both altruism and self-interest" noting that they "often prove more potent than either on its own".

The Annan Report (March 28, 2005)

This Washington Post editorial praises Kofi Annan's agenda for UN reform, but notes that "real power is vested not in the secretary general but rather in the UN member states - and they will determine whether Mr Annan's proposals make any difference". The article urges the US to take the lead in making these recommendations a reality.

Our Mission Remains Vital (February 22, 2005)

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan responds to critics by citing examples of the world body's accomplishments, from successful peacekeeping missions to tsunami relief. Annan also recognizes the organization's shortcomings and stresses the importance of UN reform, which he is "determined to see through."

Is Beleaguered UN Chief Caving In to US Pressure? (February 10, 2005)

Inter Press Service reporter Thalif Deen responds to an "unrelenting media and political campaign" against UN Secretary General Kofi Annan with evidence that reduces Annan to little more than a US puppet. Deen describes how many of the senior UN positions have gone to the US, Britain and other donor nations in a "power driven" hiring policy to ensure these nations maintain their "often-insufficient" support for the global organization.

Only Reformed UN Can Confront Combined Threats of Terror and Poverty (February 10, 2005)

Speaking at a high level London seminar, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan reiterated his plan for UN reform. He described the UN as a fundamental "instrument of collective action" that provides "a forum for collective decision-making." In his speech Annan focused on global interconnectedness with its implications for potentially widespread terrorism, and stressed the importance of alleviating poverty and disease for a safer world. (UN News)

The Right's Assault on Kofi Annan: How the Neocoms Created a "Scandal" to Punish a Critic of US Policies (January 10, 2005)

"The reality is that the current calls for Annan's head are provoked by his opposition to America's pre-emptive war in Iraq," says The Nation's UN correspondent. The author also denounces the "creation" of the oil-for-food scandal as simply a way for US neoconservatives – who have been historically opposed to the United Nations – to push their own "reform" agenda to weaken "multilateral institutions and their role in the world."



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