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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 
 
Mr. President, 
 
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 
June:   
 
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 
perform. 
 
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 
core functions: 
 
--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 
challenges.   
 
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 
efficiency board. 
 
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 
financing.   
 
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 
system. 
 
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 
experts. 
 
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 
comprehensive approach.   
 
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 
effective. 
 
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 
people's lives.   
 
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 
sedative.   
 
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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