Published December 13, 2005
WASHINGTON – Sixty years after it was founded to bring nations together and prevent another world war, the United Nations finds itself in a time of crisis, with some critics saying they want drastic reforms immediately or dissolution of the world body altogether.
"We decided to take on the United Nations. It’s been a problem for a long time," said David Bossie, president of Citizens United, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative grassroots group that has produced a documentary film criticizing the world body.
"Their record is one of failure," he said.
Some of the problems often cited about the United Nations include the Oil-for-Food scandal, the largest bribery scheme in history and one that originated within its corridors. The program that allowed Iraq to trade oil for humanitarian relief but ended up allegedly lining the pockets of U.N. executives and influencing votes in the Security Council is currently under investigation.
In August, the former chief of the Iraqi Oil-for-Food program, Benon Sevan, resigned from the world body just hours before the results of a U.N.-sanctioned probe by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker accused Sevan of getting kickbacks from the $67 billion operation. Several other U.N. officials have been connected to the scheme as have representatives of some member-nations.
Besides the Oil-for-Food mess, the United Nations faces a procurement scandal too. A six-week investigation of U.N. procurement finished last week showed that the agency in charge of acquisitions, which spent nearly $1.4 billion last year, has inadequate oversight controls, employees who lack adequate training both in their jobs as well as ethics and integrity and procedures that don't work.
One longtime procurement department official, Alexander Yakovlev, this year pleaded guilty to corruption and money laundering. Investigators revealed he had stashed nearly $1 million in bribes and payoffs that landed in a Caribbean account.
The world body is also criticized for having some of the world's biggest human rights violators serving on the discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights and has heard complaints about weak oversight of nuclear weapons development in countries that have said they would not be pained to use those weapons.
"I don’t think the American people understand what the U.N. is about or what they’re supposed to do versus what they do," Bossie told FOXNews.com.
The United Nations began Oct. 24, 1945, when its charter was ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States, the five permanent members on the 15-nation U.N. Security Council.
For decades, the United Nations has led major peacekeeping missions, aided in disaster relief, monitored elections and supported political stability in troubled nations. It also has helped end cross-border conflicts, provided shelter and food to millions of refugees and assisted in ending smallpox and polio worldwide through its World Health Organization. It continues to address poverty and hunger worldwide and to respond to emergencies like this summer's South Asian earthquake.
"Today, as we celebrate 60 years of our United Nations, we must recognize that the world today is very different from that of our founders. The United Nations must reflect this new age, and respond to its challenges," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the world body on its anniversary.
Annan, who one investigator revealed just missed facing his own sanctions in the U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal, said that he too wants reforms sought most ardently by the United States, but he thinks it can be done within the current framework of operations. More than two thirds of the world body oppose reforms while European Union nations want a budget before passing them.
That doesn't appeal to U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, who recently cautioned the world body to reform or risk losing U.S. financial support. The United States pays 22 percent of the U.N.'s bills, the largest amount of any nation.
"We think the reform process should drive the budget, not the budget driving the reform process," Bolton said. "If you make it a more effective institution, which we believe these reforms will do, you make it more attractive for the United States and others to turn to the U.N. So we think that's something in the interest of the entire U.N. membership."
Bolton said he wants to delay the two-year budget and replace it with one that covers only the first quarter of next year unless reforms are approved.
Congress too is pushing a similar idea. The House has passed the United Nations Reform Act of 2005, which would hold back some U.S. funding if reforms are not enacted soon.
"The United Nations today is a far cry from the institution that its founders envisioned," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said. "It is a tragic fact that numerous scandals have characterized the U.N. over the past decade and they are no accident."
But Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who has promoted reform at the congressional level, and others say the United Nations should be forced to update its procedures and policies but can do so without Congress withholding funds necessary to make the changes.
"The U.N. does need reform, but there are some in Congress who are threatening to revisit the recent past, when Congress withheld payment of dues to the U.N. and created a great deal of needless acrimony. At a time when the U.S. needs international cooperation more than ever that would be the wrong message to send,” Maloney said in a statement to FOXNews.com.
Filming the Needed Changes
Ros-Lehtinen appeared in the film "Broken Promises, The United Nations at 60," which was produced by Bossie and is narrated by actor Ron Silver. The film has been showing in select cities nationwide and has been released on DVD through the Broken Promises Web site. Bossie's group, Citizens United, also distributed DVDs to every member of the U.S. Congress.
Bossie, the chief investigator for the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight when it probed former President Bill Clinton's Whitewater dealings, said his group paid $500,000 to make the 65-minute film.
He said it aims to address public policy by taking an in-depth look at the United Nations' history. Bossie also produced "Celsius 41.11," a documentary meant to counter filmmaker Michael Moore’s "Fahrenheit 9/11.
The film documents key historical moments and questions the U.N.'s role in such events as Indian and Pakistani tensions, the Arab-Israeli conflicts, the Cambodian refugee crisis, Rwandan genocide, Bosnia's troubles and the Oil-for-Food scandal.
"We need to reform it at its basic root," Ros-Lehtinen says in the film.
But some supporters of the United Nations say that Bossie's film wrongly places blame for the world body's failures.
“The movie laid too much stress on problems of the U.N. staff and administration,” said David Shorr, program officer of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that addresses international issues.
Shorr said the responsibility for failures is not with hired individuals, but instead with the world body’s member states, governments and leaders.
While Shorr said he disagrees with the film about who deserves fault for the U.N.'s shortcomings, he does support the many sources in the film who promote reforms to help the world body, particularly since the world body has struggled to make the changes on its own.
“The main change needed is a shift of focus and a shift of political dynamic within the U.N.,” Shorr said. “It’s still a work in progress and there are some timelines that are being used for most of these different reforms. There’s still hope of achieving them.”