Magazine article The American Prospect

Cash-and-Parry: Bolton Pushes toward a Shutdown, but Developing Nations Push Back

Magazine article The American Prospect

Cash-and-Parry: Bolton Pushes toward a Shutdown, but Developing Nations Push Back

Article excerpt

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THE United Nations ran out of money? Will unpaid translators show up to work at the Security Council? Will Con Edison simply turn the lights off at First Avenue and 42nd Street? More importantly: Will peacekeeping troops across the globe have to pack up and go home?

We may soon find out. The U.N.'s operating budget is on pace to expire this summer, when a spending cap on the U.N.'s two-year budget is reached. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton sought the cap to pressure the developing world into acceding to a set of reforms that would streamline U.N. bureaucracy. So far, however, that tactic has backfired. And in the process, it has fostered a strategic realignment in Turtle Bay, in which the global south acts as an increasingly muscular foil to reform.

FOR BETTER OR WORSE, THE UNITED Nations relies on precedent, tradition, and consensus to make its most important decisions. This is particularly true on budgetary matters. Going back to the 1980s, when the Reagan administration prodded the body to change its budgeting process so that small nations that contributed little money couldn't force through frivolous increases, the U.N. has adopted budgets covering two-year periods. It has done so always by consensus and never by roll-call vote. The practice held for nearly 20 years, until April 28, when South Africa, on behalf of the developing world and China, forced a resolution to stall a series of management and budget reforms championed by the U.N.'s main donors.

The South African resolution was consensus-shattering--an unprecedented airing of grievances by the nations of the developing world. These countries felt that they were being railroaded by the large-donor states--the United States, Japan, and European nations--behind the current reform drive. Fearing that many of these reforms would usurp power of the General Assembly--the main deliberative organ of the U.N. where poorer countries wield more clout--the developing countries demanded a rare roll-call vote, and 121 of them voted for South Africa's resolution.

The ill will can actually be traced to December 2005, when Bolton held up the 2006-2007 biennium talks as a tactic to force reform. Most of the changes that he sought were supported by virtually the entire Western world and inspired by Secretary-General Kofi Annan himself. But the developing world vigorously opposed key personnel and budget reforms that would have transferred authority to the Office of the Secretary General and away from the General Assembly.

Even though Europe and Japan were with Bolton on the substance, they opposed his tactic, saying they were loathe to hold the operating budget hostage. As a shutdown loomed, the United States, Europe, Japan, and the developing world finally reached a compromise whereby $950 million of the $1. …

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