US Has Good Cause to Seek Reductions in Contributions to UN

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March 20, 2017 – At a time when the United Nations is seeking funds to address massive humanitarian crises in Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia, reports that the Trump administration is seeking to cut its funding to the world body by up to half are particularly unwelcome.

The United States is by far the biggest contributor to the UN system, contributing 22 percent to the regular budget and also 28 percent to the peacekeeping budget. That it is a permanent member of the Security Council and that the UN headquarters is hosted in New York City go some way towards the US getting its money’s worth (the economic benefit to New York City from the UN is some $3.3 billion per year).

In truth, the UN is divided into two classes: the veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, and all others, and it is the P5 who rule the roost at UN headquarters. The top jobs are divvied up among the five and they have the power to influence hiring and firing (witness last week’s ‘resignation’ of the secretary-general of ESCWA after angering Washington with a report that said Israeli treatment of Palestinians amounted to apartheid).

As researcher Cedric de Coning recently pointed out in a Twitter post, a fairer system of assessing dues would be for the permanent members of the Council to pay 10 percent each towards the regular budget, which would amount to about $1 billion each – a savings to the US of about $2 billion. Combined, the other four permanent members, Britain, France, China and Russia, pay less than 17%, with the UK and France paying some 6 percent, China, 3 percent and Russia less than two percent.

The UN could also make make life easier for itself and those it serves by imposing mandatory assessments to fund its aid programs, just as it does for the regular budget and the peacekeeping budget. Its dependence on voluntary contributions is not working and when crises emerge, as they constantly do, the UN is hamstrung by lack of money. But the UN also has to improve how it delivers aid and addresses crises. It can do this by continuing to focus on resilience and helping fragile countries increase local capacity.

The UN is vital but it is also a poorly managed bureaucratic labyrinth with some 30 funds, programs and agencies all vying for money and influence and oftentimes operating with overlapping mandates and duplicate efforts, wasting precious resources.

If the UN wants the new US administration to take it seriously then it must get serious about becoming more transparent on how its money is spent and shutting programs that are simply redundant or not working.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Still Seven Candidates for Next UN Secretary-General Three Weeks Before Selection Process Begins

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From top (l to r) Antonio Guterres (Portugal) Danilo Turk (Slovenia) Natalia Gherman (Moldova) Irinia Bokova (Bulgaria) Srgian Kerim (Macedonia) Igor Luksic (Montenegro) Vesna Pusic (Croatia)


March 21, 2016 – The month of March has so far seen no new candidate announcements in the race to succeed Ban Ki-moon and become ninth secretary-general of the United Nations.

Portugal’s Antonio Guterres, most recently UN high commissioner for refugees, was put forward by his government on February 29, becoming the seventh candidate and the only one from outside the Eastern Europe regional group, which remains the only group to never hold the post.

While Guterres is well-regarded, it surprised many UN watchers that the Western Group put forward a candidate as it has had three previous secretaries-general, albeit the most recent, Kurt Waldheim, finished his second term in 1981. Nevertheless, promoting a fourth Western UN chief, when no other group has had more than two, looked insensitive to the overall UN composition.

Of the seven declared, three are women and in what may be another first, there is a strong desire among the general UN membership that after eight men at the helm, it’s past time for a woman to hold the post.

Only three of the declared candidates, Macedonia’s Srgian Kerim, Montenegro’s Igor Luksic and Moldova’s Natalia Gherman are from a non-NATO country, and, if the past is any indication, this could augur well for their bids – but worth noting that Macedonia and Montenegro are both aspiring NATO members, with Podgorica already in accession talks.

Of the three previous European secretaries-general, only one – the first ever secretary-general, Trygve Lie, was from a NATO member state – Norway was a founding member of the alliance in 1949, but this was three years after Lie assumed his post. In the case of Dag Hammarskjold and Kurt Waldheim, neither Sweden nor Austria have ever been NATO members.

Promoting a NATO-member candidate may well force a Russian and, perhaps, a Chinese veto, while Russia may also balk at supporting an EU candidate – and the four NATO member states with candidates are also EU members (Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal and Slovenia).

The first set of interviews with candidates are set for April 12-14 when UN member states will have the opportunity to meet and question each of the seven.

To the credit of civil society and UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft, the process to select the next secretary-general, at this stage, appears to be approaching a broader basis, and less like a backroom deal among the P5.

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related:

Race For Next UN Secretary-General Taking Shape

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Race for Next UN Secretary-General Taking Shape

The six official candidates to date to succeed Ban Ki-moon

The six official candidates to date to succeed Ban Ki-moon

Feb. 22, 2016 – There are now six official candidates to succeed Ban Ki-moon and become the ninth secretary-general of the United Nations.

Four of the six declared candidates hail from the Balkans with the former Yugoslav countries hedging that strong trade links with Russia, as well as EU membership in the case of Croatia and Slovenia, and EU accession status, in the case of Macedonia and Montenegro, could see them bridge the West-Russia divide in the UN and get the support of both.

Besides Croatia’s Vesna Pusic, Macedonia’s Srgian Kerim, Slovenia’s Danilo Turk and Montenegro’s Igor Lusik, the two other candidates are Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova and Moldova’s Natalia Gherman.

Bokova, the current director-general of UNESCO, was nominated earlier this month by the Bulgarian government despite much speculation that her compatriot Kristalina Georgieva was Sofia’s favored candidate – the EU budget commissioner is also favored by the Western P5 countries, Britain, France and the US.

But all is not lost for Georgieva as the candidate process does not rule out a UN member state nominating two candidates nor does it stipulate that a candidate has to be nominated by their country of citizenship.

The sixth and most recent declared candidate is Moldova’s Natalia Gherman. UN Tribune was first to write about Gherman as a potential successor to Ban Ki-moon, noting back in April 2015 that Moldova’s strong ties with Russia, its non-membership of NATO, as well as her own pro-EU outlook, could see her emerge as a compromise candidate.

Gherman is scheduled to speak at New York’s Columbia University next week and it is interesting to note in her bio she lists fluency in English, German, Romanian and Russian – but not French, an unofficial requirement of UN secretaries-general. But there’s little reason for her to worry about this as it’s widely known that Ban Ki-moon was taking intensive French classes after his election, and French-languaue reporters still like to test him on his proficiency.

There are no clear favorites yet to succeed Ban and the list of candidates is sure to increase but what is clear so far is that the next secretary-general will come from Eastern Europe – there is no requirement as such but it is the only region not to have had a secretary-general and there is wide agreement in the general membership, if not the P5, that it is Eastern Europe’s turn – and that the UN may well elect its first female secretary-general.

Update: Feb 29, 2016 – Former UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres has been nominated by the Portuguese government. Guterres is a former prime minister of Portugal and served as UN refugee chief from 2005-15, during the worst refugee crisis in UNHCR’s history. The Portuguese government made the announcement on Monday. He is the first candidate to be nominated by a non-Eastern European member state and his candidacy, while popular, is likely to face stiff resistance from veto-wielding Russia.

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related: Natalia Gherman – Could Moldova’s Foreign Minister be the Next UN Secretary-General?

Scottish Independence Could Trigger Security Council Reform


Sept. 7, 2013 – A Yes vote in the Sept. 18th Scottish independence referendum could lead to the UK losing its permanent Security Council seat and trigger wider reform of the 15-nation body.

There is precedent in favor of such a scenario not happening. Following the breakup of the USSR in 1991, Russia notified the UN that it would assume the USSR permanent seat in the Council and the 11 former Soviet republics also wrote in favor of Russia taking the USSR seat. That was before calls for Security Council reform began in earnest, in the mid-1990s.

And since the end of the Cold War, clamor for reform has grown - most recently because of the failure of the 15-nation body to act on the situation in Syria.

Privately, non-permanent members of the Council have complained they are locked out of decision making by the P5, and in the wider UN membership there is a push for more transparency and accountability from the Council.

By what current logic should Europe possess two of the five permanent veto-wielding seats on the Security Council is also increasingly asked while Africa and Latin America have none.

An independent Scotland and EU member states may support a downsized UK – which would presumably have a new name – holding on to the old UK seat, but countries that aspire to a permanent seat – such as Argentina, Brazil, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey and South Africa – could see a Scottish Yes vote as an opportunity to change the status quo in an outdated UN.

This year’s high-level segment of the General Assembly opens on Sept. 22nd, four days after the Scottish poll, and if speeches from recent years are an indication there will be more calls for reform of the Security Council, and the result of the Sept. 18 referendum may give those calls more legs.

Moreover, the UN charter is in dire need of reform. It still refers to Germany, Japan and Italy as enemy states and despite the succession of Russia to the USSR seat the charter still refers to the USSR, as well as the Republic of China, as holders of two of the permanent five seats.

But any change to the charter requires the consent of the P5 and they are united in upholding the status quo to hold on to their veto power and not open up the can of worms that could lead to the much needed reform the UN requires to reflect the world as it is today.

An independent Scotland would have to apply for membership of the UN, which should be an uncomplicated process.

 - Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

An Independent Scotland Not Likely to Face Difficulties Joining UN

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Feb. 11, 2013 – British Prime Minister David Cameron was correct when he said earlier on Monday that an independent Scotland will have to renegotiate its relationship with international bodies but secessionists need not worry about Edinburgh encountering problems joining the UN.

While Kosovo and Palestine see their path to full UN membership blocked in the Security Council by Russia and the United States respectively, there are several examples of newly-independent states getting admitted hassle-free as full United Nations member states.

South Sudan was admitted to the UN on July 9, 2012, a year after it broke from Khartoum. The Czech Republic and Slovakia were both admitted to the UN on Jan 19, 1993, nineteen days after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.

Several former Soviet states were also admitted in the early nineties including Central Asian countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan and Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The former Yugoslav states Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia all joined the UN in 1992 or 1993. Before then, Bangladesh was admitted shortly after its separation from Pakistan. An earlier example is the readmission of Syria after it broke from the then United Arab Republic.

Full membership of the United Nations requires a recommendation from the Security Council and a simple majority vote in the General Assembly.

Barring an unlikely veto from the UK, Edinburgh should not have a problem getting the Security Council’s recommendation and would be expected to easily secure General Assembly approval.

A more troubling scenario for Scotland is whether it would have to renegotiate the 14,000 international treaties the UK has signed.

Denis Fitzgerald