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U.S. Department of State
96/01/15 USUN Press Release #005-(96)
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE USUN PRESS RELEASE #005-(96)
JANUARY 15, 1996
STATEMENT TO THE
UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
HIGH LEVEL WORKING GROUP ON STRENGTHENING THE UN SYSTEM
AMBASSADOR MADELEINE K. ALBRIGHT
U.S. PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE TO THE UNITED NATIONS
JANUARY 15, 1996
The United States is committed to the reform and revitalization of the
United Nations because the United States is committed to the success of
the United Nations. As President Clinton said during the ceremony
observing the 50th anniversary of the UN Charter in San Francisco last
In this age of relentless change, successful governments and
corporations are constantly reducing their bureaucracies, setting
clearer priorities and focusing on targeted results. In the United
States, we have eliminated hundreds of programs and thousands of
regulations...The U.N. must take similar steps.
Every country will benefit from a UN that wastes less and produces more,
that responds to crises more rapidly, and that focuses its efforts on
important tasks that the organization is comparatively well-qualified to
In recent years, much energy has been devoted to the study of this
organization. Many useful recommendations have been made. The job of
this high-level working group is to devise a blueprint for translating
the best of those recommendations into reality, not at some distant
time, but soon. We should be able to complete a report by the end of
this General Assembly session, in time for early action in the next.
Mr. President, to reform the UN system, we need first to be clear about
what we expect from it.
The UN is but one of many instruments available for countries seeking to
act cooperatively. But because of its near-universal membership, it has
unique legitimacy. This is an enormous asset when real agreement is
possible. In the 1970's and 80's, General Assembly resolutions on
apartheid isolated South Africa's minority regime. In this decade, the
Security Council held firm first against Iraqi aggression and then
against Iraqi deception on biological arms.
But the need to build a consensus for action before taking action also
hinders the UN.
During the Cold War, divisions within the Security Council limited UN
peacekeeping to a few areas of the globe. Today, the UN's very size
dictates that agreement will rarely come without compromise.
In substantive areas, this creates the risk that actions will come late
or that standards will be watered down.
In the administrative realm, it has diffused purpose and spawned
tolerance for ineffectual effort. Some view the UN's inefficiency as
inevitable, and consider it an acceptable price to pay for the breadth
of the UN's membership. My government rejects that view. Wasteful
practices are neither inevitable, nor tolerable. Given the nature of
the UN's work, they literally take food from the mouths of the hungry
and the means of survival from those in desperate need. These excesses,
unless curbed, will destroy the UN's credibility and they are already
undermining its base of financial support.
We must address the confusion of purpose reflected in the multiplicity
of agencies and programs with overlapping mandates that have come to
exist within the UN system. Unfortunately, we have allowed habits to
develop here that have turned the organization inward upon itself;
habits which divide bureaucratic turf again and again, substituting the
appearance of action for its substance. Today, more than 150 separate
entities report through the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to the
General Assembly. Of these, more than a half dozen each are dedicated
to health, the environment, oceans and coasts, forests, fresh water,
food and agriculture, and nutrition.
If we want the UN to succeed, we must dig ourselves out from beneath the
blizzard of paperwork all this produces. Like healthy trees or vines,
bureaucracies must be pruned. And, like any successful organization,
the UN must be clear and selective about what it attempts to do.
To be effective, the UN should focus its efforts and resources on four
--maintaining peace and security;
--ensuring a rapid and effective response to humanitarian emergencies;
--establishing, and monitoring the observance of, international legal
and technical norms; and
--promoting sustainable development.
The purpose of reform should be to create a UN system organized and
managed around these functions. That system should be no larger than it
needs to be, as modern as it can be, and as efficient as sound
management can cause it to be. It should be flexible enough to cope
both with longstanding and newly emerging threats. It should be skilled
at anticipating, preventing and responding rapidly to crises. Its
various components should function not as competitors or as strangers,
but as a team.
A reformed UN would be staffed by people selected for their
qualifications, entrusted with real responsibilities and held
accountable for results. It would operate openly and cooperatively with
others, including nongovernmental and voluntary organizations. It would
be the key actor when its universality and expertise enable it to
fulfill roles that other organizations and arrangements cannot. But it
would serve more often as one partner among many in responding to global
The job of this High-Level Working Group is to recommend the steps by
which we might proceed from the UN of today to the UN I have just
described. That is a very tall order, but recent actions provide
grounds for optimism.
Last month, the General Assembly approved for the next biennium a "no-
growth" budget that constitutes a legislative mandate for reform.
The Secretariat has inaugurated a new personnel appraisal system and an
The General Assembly has created an independent Office of Internal
Oversight Services to crack down on waste.
The role of the Economic and Social Council has been enhanced.
A UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has been created.
And UN working groups are considering a series of reform-related issues
including Security Council membership, the Agenda for Development and UN
These initiatives provide a foundation upon which a far-reaching program
of reform may be built.
My government would like briefly, in this orientation session, to
outline our initial thoughts about how the Working Group should proceed,
and what its report should recommend. We will be providing additional
recommendations and more detailed views as our discussions continue.
First, with respect to the program of work, we believe the group should
proceed to a comprehensive review of economic and social programs after
its consideration of the General Assembly and Secretariat. In so doing,
we should build on the efforts of the Working Group on the Agenda for
Development and on those underway pursuant to Resolution 48/162 on
ECOSOC reform. Our review should concentrate on the need to reassess
mandates, consolidate functions and improve coordination throughout the
Questions have been raised about the relationship of this working group
to the others engaged in UN reform activity. We see this group as the
one having the broadest mandate -- to construct a complete and coherent
plan that will ensure that the UN system does, indeed, work like a
system. To that end, the working group should draw upon the
recommendations of other groups, in addition to those of outside
Second, as part of its blueprint, the Working Group should formulate a
bold plan for restoring the relevance of the General Assembly. The
Assembly is, as former Ambassador Adlai Stevenson once called it, "the
meetinghouse of the family of man." But if families are to get along
well, a certain degree of discipline is required.
Unfortunately, the General Assembly's agenda long ago got out of hand.
Assembly debates tend to cover an enormous range of issues, over and
over again, without creating any greater degree of consensus. The
United States favors reforms that would make the Assembly's agenda
shorter, less repetitive and more relevant to specific decisions facing
the international community.
The role of the Assembly would be enhanced dramatically, for example, if
it were to take the place of expensive global conferences, and become
the venue for sustained thematic discussion, on a scheduled basis, of
important and timely issues. In addition, the ACABQ should be reformed
to enhance transparency, accountability and professionalism in its
approach to the UN budget. Similarly, the procedures of the Fifth
Committee should be altered to improve their efficiency, and the
relevance of the CPC should be re-examined.
Third, the United States favors a major restructuring of the
Secretariat. Most experts agree that the Secretariat has historically
been poorly-staffed, poorly-managed and poorly-organized. Although we
have been moving in the right direction in recent years, we need a more
We believe that a new post of Deputy Secretary General should be
established. The Deputy would be responsible for administering the
organization on a day to day basis, thereby freeing the Secretary
General to cope with political and diplomatic demands without
sacrificing management goals.
We also believe that the Secretariat should be consolidated into fewer
departments; that the number of officials at the Assistant Secretary
General level and above should be reduced significantly; that a
strategic planning office should be created; that budgeting should be
zero-based; that a "sunset" policy should be adopted so that only
programs of continuing value receive continuing funding; that the
independent auditing and investigatory concept should be integrated
throughout the UN system; and that senior UN officials should be
required to disclose their finances.
Finally, in the economic and social area, the United States will have a
series of recommendations designed to make the current system more
Our goal is a structure that sets clear priorities, facilitates
coordination, avoids duplication, minimizes administrative costs and
frees up resources for programs and services that save or enrich
For this to occur, the Economic and Social Council must assume its
intended role as the principal UN policy-maker and coordinator within
its areas of responsibility. We also believe that a development
assistance coordination committee should be set up, under the
chairmanship of the Secretary General, and consisting of senior
officials in the economic and social sectors. Activities throughout the
UN system that provide technical cooperation for sustainable development
should be consolidated, with the UN Development Program serving as the
core. Highest priority should be given to improved collaboration among
UN development programs, the Bretton Woods institutions, bilateral and
regional donors, and nongovernmental organizations. Finally, serious
thought should be given to further consolidation of UN humanitarian aid
and emergency response functions.
Mr. President, my government recognizes that this working group has a
very broad agenda and a limited amount of time in which to formulate its
principal recommendations. For that reason, we believe it should first
identify proposals that may be implemented in a relatively short period
of time. We should also consider establishing subgroups to facilitate
the pace of our efforts.
My government stands ready to cooperate fully with the group in its
work. We attach great importance to it. The UN is indispensable. Its
credibility and reputation matter. In many areas of law and social
policy, it establishes the standard by which national actions and
efforts are judged. It is both necessary and appropriate, therefore,
that we hold the organization, itself, to a high standard.
I am sometimes asked whether the goal of the United States is to
strengthen the UN or to reform it. That is a false choice, because
reform is a prerequisite to strength. The future of the organization
depends entirely on whether it is restructured and revitalized.
Certainly, the best way to ensure adequate and predictable funding for
the UN system is through reforms which reduce costs and allow
reinvestments of savings in areas of high priority to UN members.
Those who founded the UN a half century ago were not motivated by a
desire to create the world's largest international bureaucracy. And
they did not, in creating the General Assembly, envision a global
The goal of the founders was to build a platform of principle and law
upon which all the peoples of the world might stand. They wanted an
organization dedicated to maintaining peace, promoting human dignity and
helping people from all corners of the world to enjoy social and
economic progress in larger freedom.
We are the inheritors of that legacy. To honor it, we must insist not
merely on competence in the administration and operation of UN programs,
but on excellence. We must demand value. And we must provide the right
focus; for a UN that tries to do everything will do nothing very well.
Mr. President, the United States is committed to the success and
revitalization of the United Nations, and convinced that this will be
possible only through a program of comprehensive, far-reaching and
sustained reform. That is a goal towards which all nations must work
and from which all nations will benefit.
Thank you very much.
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