United Nations Reform

Presidents & Prime Ministers, January-February 1997 | Go to article overview

United Nations Reform


... Allow me, first of all, to restate strongly my faith in the values of the World Organization. Those are the values of peace, of freedom and of justice, of progress and development, of generosity and solidarity, and of respect for human rights. These are also the values which have made America such a great nation. They are the values of the people who, 50 years ago, invited the United Nations to set up headquarters on its territory...

I am heartened by the many opinion polls which show strong American public support for the United Nations: for our peace-keeping and humanitarian assistance operations; for our economic development programs; and for our vital work in the fields of human rights and democratization...

The world has changed. It is increasingly interdependent. This interdependence, which profoundly benefits the United States, is fostered by the United Nations, through agreements among its sovereign Member States.

The United Nations promotes the freedom of trade and markets. Other United Nations bodies fight epidemics, famine, poverty; protect human rights; promote the protection of the environment; help the advancement of women and the fights of children.

United Nations agencies also set the indispensable rules and standards for safe and efficient transport by air and by sea. It is because of United Nations rules that all pilots and air traffic controllers across the world have to speak English. Imagine what would happen if they didn't. A United Nations agency works to ensure respect for intellectual property rights throughout the world. Another United Nations body coordinates the allocation of radio frequencies; without this, the international airwaves would be drowned in discordant noise.

The institutions of the United Nations advance the respect and promotion of international law and norms. This includes measures against terrorism, drug-trafficking and transnational crime. These problems cross frontiers; so must their solutions.

The Office the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) looks after some 45 million refugees and displaced persons worldwide. Without this essential institution, many countries would be destabilized by chaotic refugee flows.

And United Nations peace-keepers have in many cases prevented the escalation of conflicts and saved countless thousands of lives. They are helping to consolidate peace in such a wide range of countries as Angola, Cyprus, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia and the former Yugoslavia.

These diverse activities show the many ways in which the United Nations touches the lives of ordinary Americans. We are not some remote foreign body; the United Nations is part of your daily life.

I have had constructive and positive meetings with President Clinton, with the members of his Administration, with Congressional leaders of both parties.

I have assured them that I am determined to reform the United Nations. Not reform for its own sake, but in order to revitalize the Organization's capacity to serve its Members, in our changing world. We, too, cannot risk falling off the bridge to the twenty-first century.

We have already begun our journey across that bridge. Our high-level staff has been reduced by a quarter since 1992 and the total number of staff is down 25 per cent. Since last December, the Organization has taken steps to live within a no-growth budget capped at $2.608 billion for the two year period, 1996-1997. During the last 12 months, the Secretariat initiated more than 400 efficiency projects with concrete results already in hand -- for example, expanding the use of the Internet and the United Nations Home Page to disseminate United Nations information, reducing the cost of documentation and meeting services, and improving cash management.

... Reform is a process, not an event. Its result will be a leaner and more efficient Secretariat. …

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