The United Nations and
the International Committee
of the Red Cross
Much of the recent literature on complex humanitarian emergencies regularly contains an obligatory diatribe, even if composed in the polite artifice of academic prose, on the abysmal failure of the United Nations to perform its duties. Although much of this criticism is justified, some of it is not. A few UN-led operations have succeeded in returning countries to some degree of normalcy, others have tragically miscarried. The United States has increasingly relied on UN agencies for important functions that other humanitarian actors are not prepared to undertake in complex emergencies. In fiscal year 1994 the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance provided 27.4 percent of its funding for relief operations to UN agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross. 1 Given this intimacy between U.S. foreign policy and UN humanitarian operations, it is appropriate to describe the nature of the institution on which the implementation of U.S. humanitarian policy depends.
Over the past five or six years, the UN has claimed for itself certain preeminent roles in emergency operations, roles that are relatively new and for which the institution was never designed. In some cases, the UN has been willingly recruited to carry out these functions by the great powers when they have had no interest in taking the lead themselves or have not minded leading as long as they knew they could turn operations over to the UN at an early date. In fact, some observers, including former