Annan Defends U.N. in Op-Ed Piece

"A strong U.N. is of vital importance to humanity," Kofi Annan (search) wrote in an op-ed Tuesday, adding that so long as he serves as the organization's secretary-general, he will do everything he can "to correct its imperfections, and to improve and strengthen it" amid a flurry of "attacks" that continue to plague the organization.

The United Nations has been hit with one scandal after another of late, the most recent being the resignation of the chief of refugee relief efforts after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced. The organization and Annan are also embroiled in the Oil-for-Food (search) scandal.

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, Annan said that the U.N. is "far from perfect — even if some of the recent allegations made about it have been overblown."

Saying the interim report of independent Oil-for-Food investigator Paul Volcker (search) has helped put the program in perspective, Annan said, "some of the more hyperbolic assertions about it have been proven untrue."

"Yet I am the first to admit that real and troubling failures — ethical lapses and lax management — have been brought to light. I am determined, with the help of member states, to carry through the management reforms, which are clearly called for by Mr. Volcker's findings," Annan wrote.

The secretary-general also called "shocking" the reports of widespread cases of sexual exploitation and abuse of minors by peacekeepers and U.N. officials in the Congo and other African countries.

"Both the U.N. secretariat and the member states have been too slow to realize the extent of this problem, take effective measures to end it, and punish the culprits." Annan wrote. "But we are now doing so, and I am determined to see it through."

Annan cited U.N. relief efforts in Southeast Asia to help that region recover from the tsunami, peace operations around the world and aid given in the Iraqi elections and other efforts there as two key areas where the United Nations has performed vital and helpful functions. Even though the United Nations did not support the U.S.-led coalition in its ousting of Saddam Hussein, Annan said the international body would also give advice, if asked, on the drafting of the new Iraqi constitution.

"Even the scars left by past differences can be turned into today's opportunities," Annan wrote. "Precisely because the United Nations did not agree on some earlier actions in Iraq, today it has much needed credibility with, and access to, Iraqi groups who must agree to join in the new political process if peace is to prevail. The U.N. can be useful because it is seen as independent and impartial."

Relief efforts overseen and organized by the United Nations are necessary for many parts of the world, Annan reminded critics, even though its efforts don't often get the attention they deserve.

"Indeed, when ill-informed critics try to cut the U.N. off at the knees, the people they hurt most are not diplomats or bureaucrats but innocent people caught in war or poverty, in desperate need of the world's help," he wrote.

Annan said there's "plenty of criticism to go round" among the various nations involved in the U.N. if fingers are going to be pointed but that people should remember "that the U.N., like the U.S. and other great democracies, is a work in progress — always struggling to lessen the gap between reality and the ideals which gave it birth. That such a gap exists is all the more reason why those who value freedom and peace should work to build the U.N. up, not tear it down."

While saying he has already done much to make the U.N. more coherent and efficient, Annan said much more needs to be done to make it more transparent and accountable to governments and the public.

"The U.N. cannot expect to survive into the 21st century unless ordinary people throughout the world feel that it does something for them," he wrote.

The upcoming U.N. summit in New York in September will be a "real opportunity" to further these efforts, Annan said, promising an agenda of "bold but achievable proposals for making the U.N. work better, and the world fairer and safer."