UN Foundation President Timothy E. Wirth Testifies Before House International Relations Committee Hearing on UN Reform

Wirth Outlines Five Key Areas For UN Reform; Calls For U.S. Leadership

Washington, D.C.

May 19, 2005


Megan Rabbitt

United Nations Foundation (UN Foundation) President and former U.S. Senator Timothy E. Wirth testified before the House International Relations Committee at a hearing today on UN reform. Senator Wirth outlined five key points which will be essential to a constructive reform process that achieves meaningful and lasting results. He also urged Congress to support UN reform without the threat of withholding UN dues, an action which most often is cost-ineffective and counterproductive.

Excerpts of Senator Wirth’s testimony are listed below:

“[The] history of public support for the UN, and current concerns about its effectiveness, presents a good environment for UN reform. The American public is ready for change, ready for a stronger UN, and is supportive of Administrative and Congressional efforts to help strengthen the UN.”

On UN Reform:

“I want to make five points that will be essential to a constructive reform process that achieves meaningful and lasting results:

1. We are at a unique moment to reform the UN. Recent events, from the Iraq debate to the recent stories surrounding the Oil-for-Food Program, have exposed weaknesses in the ways Member States work together to address global challenges, and in the way the UN manages and implements its work. Various experts are focusing on these issues, including the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) Task Force on the UN, and are putting forward some creative ideas that should be seriously considered. The Secretary-General also put forward some bold recommendations in his recent report, “In Larger Freedom.” I hope the Congress will play a constructive role this year in encouraging U.S. leadership in the reform process underway at the UN, which brings me to my next point.

2. U.S. leadership is critical. The U.S. Government must address reform comprehensively and aggressively. It must raise the priority issues, such as the overhaul of the Human Rights Commission, the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission, and management reform through all diplomatic means available. Reform is not an event; it is a long process that requires concerted U.S. leadership and diplomacy. When the U.S. pays attention, does its homework and builds the broader coalitions behind the changes it wants, the evidence is overwhelming that the UN responds.

3. The United States government itself can and should be an example of reform. We should pay our dues to the UN in full and on time. The climate for reform at the UN is now so positive that the U.S. should be joining these forces and leading reform, not threatening and belittling the efforts. Leadership and vision is now the most needed ingredient for the UN’s reform process. Change and reform require firm, consistent policy and strong, persistent diplomacy – threatening to withhold funds is an idea that sounds good if you say it fast enough, but in fact is most often cost-ineffective and counterproductive. The climate for reform at the UN is now so positive that the U.S. should be joining these forces and leading reform, not threatening and belittling the efforts

4. Reforms must be targeted to the right places. For example, some management reforms can be done by carefully working with the Secretary-General and the Secretariat. Others, like the urgently needed transformation of the Human Rights Commission and the strengthening of the Economic and Social Council, will have to go through the General Assembly. Many of the hardest issues, like the expansion of the Security Council, will be decided by Member States, not the Secretary-General and his leadership team. If we in the U.S. are serious about UN reform, we have to start framing the ideas and proposals, and we need to start working the process, at all levels and in all regions of the world. We need to build the coalitions necessary for success; again, when we have done this in the past we have succeeded. When we are faint in our resolve or timid in our leadership, change is much less likely to come about.

5. Finally, the reform package must be robust and comprehensive. We need a comprehensive package of reforms that takes into account the scope of the UN’s work and the interests of its many Member States. This includes management reforms, but also requires the strengthening of the UN’s capacity in human rights and in areas like peacekeeping and peacebuilding, and a new understanding of the linkages between development and security.”

On the Secretary-General’s report, “In Larger Freedom”:

“It is critical to address the failures of the UN Human Rights Commission, and to replace it with a Human Rights Council with performance criteria for membership. It is essential that the High Commissioner for Human Rights be strengthened.”

“Reform must also embrace the full inclusion of Israel as a normal Member State. Israel, as the only Member State that is not a member of one of the regional groups, has no chance of being elected to serve on main organs such as the Security Council or the Economic and Social Council, and we must work to rectify this anomaly.”

The Peacebuilding Commission is also a good idea. Just as the U.S. government is currently reviewing its own capacity to respond to rebuilding war-torn societies through the creation of an office at the Department of State to coordinate this work, so should the UN be seeking a means to improve both its capacity and expert knowledge for specific countries.

On Management Reform:

“There is clearly a need for a stronger oversight function. The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is a relatively new office created with U.S. leadership in 1994. Now is the time to conduct a review of its performance, perhaps using someone like former GAO Director Chuck Bowsher or his European colleagues. The final report of the Independent Inquiry Committee on the Oil-for-Food Program comes out later this summer and will include more recommendations on how the UN can be strengthened, and the Secretary-General has stated his commitment to implementing each of these recommendations.”

“In the area of personnel, the Secretariat and the Secretary-General need authority to move people. They have to have the authority to hire faster and they have to have the capability to fire faster. They need a buy-out program, which might take the form of a targeted program to transition out those whose skills are not as well suited for the UN we need today.”

On U.S.-United Nations Relations:

“The UN works far better when the U.S. pays attention and I think we all believe that an effective UN is in our interest.”

Click here for a full copy of UN Foundation President Timothy E. Wirth’s testimony.


The UN Foundation was created in 1998 with businessman and philanthropist Ted Turner’s historic $1 billion gift to support United Nations’ causes. The UN Foundation promotes a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world through the support of the UN. Through its grant making and by building new and innovative public-private partnerships, the UN Foundation acts to meet the most pressing health, humanitarian, socioeconomic, and environmental challenges of the 21st century.