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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
95/05/11 REMARKS: AMB. ALBRIGHT ON THE UNITED NATIONS
U.S. UNITED NATIONS MISSION
(prepared for delivery)
The United States and the United Nations
AMBASSADOR MADELEINE K. ALBRIGHT
PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE U.S. TO THE UNITED NATIONS
BUSINESS COUNCIL FOR THE UNITED NATIONS
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
MAY 11, 1995
Thank you, Mr. O'Hare, for that glowing introduction. I am delighted to
be here. BCUN is a great organization; the World Congress is always a
memorable event; and this anniversary year means much to all who care
about the United Nations and want it to succeed. I am pleased, as well,
that you will hear tomorrow from George Soros, whose vision and
generosity have inspired us all.
But I cannot think of George Soros tonight without thinking also of
another man who has been striving to piece together something humane and
decent from the most shattered fragments of our globe. It has been a
month since Fred Cuny went to Chechnya to see what could be done for the
innocent civilians trapped by the violence there. It has been a month
since anyone has heard from him. It is impossible to give up hope for a
man who never met a cause he considered lost or a person he considered
beyond help. Fred Cuny is in our thoughts and our prayers tonight.
I was asked to speak tonight about the relationship between the United
States and the United Nations. That is a timely topic and I intend to
speak with some frankness about three main points.
First, the United States continues to have a major stake in the success
of the United Nations system.
Second, UN members must undertake a far-reaching and sustained effort to
reform, revitalize and reinvent this institution or its relevance will
Third, there is a very real danger that the United States Congress will
cut the legs out from under American leadership and support for this
The first point is obvious, I think, to most of those in this room,
although not--apparently--to some of our friends a couple of hundred
miles to the south.
For all its flaws, the UN remains indispensable. It is the only multi-
purpose organization with global legitimacy. It is a forum in which
representatives from a multitude of cultures and perspectives can talk
things out. It provides a mechanism for keeping international peace
that--however imperfect--is still the most durable and useful system for
collective security yet designed. And through economic sanctions, the
UN enables the international community to attach a price, short of war,
to the lawless behavior of rogue states.
But the UN is about far more than peacekeeping and sanctions. It is
The IAEA helping to keep nuclear weapons from falling into the
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees providing care to those made
homeless by conflict or disaster;
UNICEF helping children to grow up nourished and healthy and ready
to contribute to their societies;
The World Health Organization spearheading a global battle against
AIDS and other epidemic disease;
The UNFPA striving to check unrestrained growth in population,
thereby helping the world to grow in a steadier, more sustainable
The International Labor Organization, in which business, as well as
labor, is represented, working to guarantee humane working conditions
and to halt the abuse of child labor; and
War Crimes Tribunals engaged--for the first time since Nuremburg--
in bringing to justice those who have run roughshod over the most basic
precepts of international humanitarian law.
Forty-five years ago, President Harry Truman said that:
"to millions of people, the UN...is a case of food or a box of school
books; it is a doctor who vaccinates their children; it is an expert who
shows them how to raise more rice, or more wheat, on their land; it is
the flag which marks a safe haven to the refugee, or an extra meal a day
to a nursing mother..."
As Truman and every President since has recognized, UN capabilities and
contributions are important to America; they are among the building
blocks of a more prosperous, secure and just world. And yet, the per
capita cost to Americans, for the entire UN system, for everything from
blue helmets for peacekeepers to polio vaccines for babies is less than
$7 a year, or about the price of a movie ticket.
Unfortunately, the future success of the UN cannot be taken for granted.
The dustbin of history is filled with institutions, corporations,
governments and even empires that failed to adjust to changing times.
Technology has made national borders vulnerable to everything from
migrants and money launderers to microbes and Madonna; governments are
increasingly hard-pressed, on their own, to meet the expectations of
their citizens; the end of the Cold War has scrambled our perception of
threats to international security and peace, and raised questions about
what we want and need from the institutions and arrangements developed
during that era.
Where does that leave the UN? How can it compete in this new world?
Its universal membership is its great advantage--and its great burden.
Sometimes I think the UN is like a corporation with 185 members of the
board; all of them with strong and contradictory opinions; coming from
every conceivable culture; speaking every conceivable language; and each
with a brother-in-law who is unemployed.
During the Cold War, the effectiveness of the UN could not be judged
fairly, because there was little agreement about what its goals should
be. Now, the old political divisions have either narrowed or gone. The
UN still does not work as well as it should, but UN members have both
the incentive--and the ability--to imbue it with fresh energy and
purpose if they so choose. Over the past two years, the groundwork for
substantial progress has been laid.
Last summer, the General Assembly established the Office of Internal
Oversight Services (OIOS), headed by Under Secretary General Karl
Paschke, with a mandate to crack down on waste, fraud and abuse.
U.S. Representative Harold Rogers of Kentucky, who is a leading advocate
of UN reform and chairman of the subcommittee responsible for funding
most UN accounts, has expressed the hope that this new office will prove
to be a "junkyard dog, not a household pet." Our own assessment, after
six months, is that the OIOS is a "junkyard puppy."
On the plus side, the office has the authority and leadership it needs
to succeed; what it does not yet have is a cadre of professional
investigators who know what they're doing and who will stick by their
guns when challenged.
Fortunately, help is on the way; the budget is going up; investigators
will soon be hired; we expect the peacekeeping budget to absorb the cost
of OIOS inspectors looking at peace operations; and governments--
including our own--have offered to lend expert personnel on a temporary
Equally important, the UN's new Under Secretary General for
Administration and Management, Joseph Connor, has embarked on an
aggressive campaign to change the entire management culture of the UN.
This effort deserves the support of every member state.
This year, in a sharp departure from the past, the Secretariat has
submitted a budget calling for real restraints in spending and a net
reduction of 109 staff positions over two years. This is only the
beginning of a process that promises to:
-- shift resources to high priority programs;
-- eliminate obsolete positions;
-- modernize information systems;
-- ensure that managers and staff are judged on the basis of merit;
-- improve training in the key area of procurement; and
-- privatize administrative and service functions in the many situations
where this makes fiscal sense.
In short, just as the corporate sector is downsizing and the U.S.
Government is reinventing, the UN is beginning to undertake needed
change. If this process is to reach its potential, momentum for reform
must continue to build. Let me suggest five ways to encourage that.
First, we should go forward immediately with President Clinton's
proposal for a high-level working group to plan implementation of the
best recommendations on UN financing and reform that have been made in
Second, we should embrace the Secretary General's plan for an efficiency
task force--preferably including member states--to eliminate duplication
and identify programs that are not working as well as they should.
Third, we should consider major structural changes--including
consolidation--within the UN system. In some areas, specialization
makes sense. In others, overlapping functions can create confusion and
waste. We need to examine each UN agency and program with a critical
-- is it performing a necessary function?
-- do its priorities make sense?
-- could other organizations, whether public or private, regional or
global, perform the same functions with greater effectiveness, at less
Fourth, after the already planned global conferences on women, housing
and food security are held, we should have a moratorium on such
conferences, and we should put the resources we now spend establishing
goals to work accomplishing goals.
Finally, member states should take a vow to ask, before each report that
is ordered, each resolution proposed and each meeting scheduled--exactly
what is the point? Are we breaking new ground, or are we spending more
staff resources and killing more trees just to say something that's
already been said--and translated into six official languages--a hundred
Overall, our goal should be to move into the 21st century with a
smaller, more focused, more accountable UN that is clear about its
objectives and able to get results. The world must understand that
America is committed to this objective.
But Americans must understand that, despite our influence, it will not
be possible to achieve genuine reform at the United Nations through
unilateral action. The UN and its affiliated agencies are political
bodies; to change them, we have to have the votes. Accordingly, we
must--and we are--consulting with others about the right way to proceed.
Certainly, the taxpayers and citizens of other nations share our desire
to see a UN system that wastes less and produces more. But they are
unlikely to follow our lead unless they are convinced our goal is to
create a UN that does a better job for the international community. We
will not succeed if we are viewed wrongly as having lost interest in the
UN or if we are thought to be using reform simply as an excuse to avoid
or minimize our financial obligations.
Unfortunately, there is a danger that Congress will take a meat-axe to
our contributions to the UN that will not only obliterate the prospects
for reform, but cripple the ability of many important UN agencies to
function at all.
One document now circulating in the Senate says that "U.S. participation
in most UN programs should be terminated." The leadership of the
Senate Budget Committee is calling for a massive reduction in U.S.
voluntary contributions to all UN organizations except the IAEA and
UNICEF, and for a slash in funding for peacekeeping to about one-fifth
current levels. A bill considered this week by the House Committee on
International Relations is less extreme, but would still require massive
cuts, and micromanage and earmark the funds that remain. And earlier
this year, Congress flatly rejected the Administration's request for
$672 million to pay our assessments for UN peace operations through the
end of the fiscal year.
In highlighting the risks posed to American interests by these actions,
I do not mean to be a special pleader. There is no question that the
budget environment in Washington is difficult. And as a citizen and
taxpayer, I support deficit reduction strongly, and I am proud to work
for a President who has done much to bring the deficit down.
But I am convinced that peacekeeping and other high priority UN programs
provide exceptional value for the United States. The advocates of the
proposals now pending in Congress reject the label isolationist, and I
know they do not view themselves that way. But the impact of their
plans would be to undermine and reduce U.S. influence in organizations
of direct and urgent relevance to the interests of our people.
Perhaps it is in the nature of our times to take public institutions for
granted. They provide a convenient outlet for frustration. I mean
nothing personal, but as the famous Texas expression goes: any jackass
can kick down a barn; but it takes a good carpenter to build one.
For America to turn inward now and retreat from the responsibilities of
leadership would be to repeat a grave historical error.
It would not save money, for as the past reminds us, problems overseas
have a habit, if left unattended, of coming home to America.
And it would not save lives, for in the absence of multilateral
arrangements that work, America's armed forces would be called upon more
often--not less--to intervene in support of international security and
Seven decades ago, a generation of American leaders thought our best
interests could be protected by withdrawal from the entanglements of a
troubled world. They scorned international institutions and rejected
the mantle of global leadership--all in the name of "putting America
first." Our children will never forgive us if we repeat these mistakes
of the past, instead of learning from them.
Let us never forget that the United Nations emerged not from a dream,
but a nightmare. In the 1920's and 30's, the world squandered an
opportunity to organize the peace. The result was the invasion of
Manchuria, the conquest of Ethiopia, the betrayal of Munich, the
depravity of the Holocaust and the devastation of world war.
It was not enough, after World War II, to say that the enemy had been
vanquished--that what we were against had failed. The generation that
defeated Hitler was determined to build a foundation of peace, law and
dignity that would last; and that would never again allow society to
descend to such depths. They vowed to save future generations from the
scourge of war. And they recognized that, in the atomic age, people
would have to learn to live together, or they would not live at all.
These were not naive people. They understood well the frailties of
humankind, and the yawning gap between how we would like the world to be
and how it is; between promised behavior and reality.
When Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg returned to Washington from
the Convention in San Francisco where the UN Charter was drafted, he was
challenged by those who thought it too idealistic, even utopian. He
You may tell me that I have but to scan the present world with
realistic eyes in order to see the fine phrases (of the Charter).reduced
to a shambles.I reply that the nearer right you may be.the greater is
the need for the new pattern which promises.to stem these evil tides.
The Truman-Vandenberg generation understood that although the noble
aspects of human nature had made the UN possible, it was the ignoble
aspects that had made it necessary.
It is up to us in our time to do what they did in their time. To resist
the siren song of isolation. To defend freedom. And to build or
revitalize institutions like the UN that will help to keep the peace,
extend the rule of law, promote social progress and--in the spirit of
George Soros and Fred Cuny--increase respect for the dignity and value
of every human being.
That is the responsibility we share in this new era.
That is our challenge in the months and years ahead.
Thank you very much.
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