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Published: Saturday, 4/2/2005

U.N. requires real reform

IN HIS interim report on corruption in the United Nations' Oil for Food program, Paul Volcker found there wasn't enough evidence to prove U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan steered contracts to a Swiss firm that employed his son. That was enough for Mr. Annan to declare Mr. Volcker "has cleared me of any wrongdoing."

That view isn't universally shared.

"We did not exonerate Kofi Annan," Swiss organized crime expert Mark Pieth, one of Mr. Volcker's three investigators, told the Associated Press.

The Scotsman, Scotland's national newspaper, noted that Mr. Volcker faulted Mr. Annan for an "inadequate" inquiry when the Oil for Food scandal first broke.

"Under Mr. Annan, the U.N. allowed the food-for-oil program to degenerate into a corrupt empire in which Saddam Hussein bribed numerous U.N. and other diplomats to turn their backs while he looted his country and starved its people," the Scotsman said in an editorial.

In an editorial headlined: "Report Spells the End of Kofi Annan," the Montreal Gazette noted that Mr. Annan's then executive assistant destroyed three years worth of files on Oil for Food the day after the Security Council passed a resolution authorizing Mr. Volcker's inquiry.

"Just connect the dots," the newspaper said. "What a damning picture it is. Its reputation already in tatters, the U.N. stands today weaker than it ever was. Only major governance reforms can save the world body now, and the first order of reform business needs to be finding a credible replacement for Annan."

Mr. Volcker did his level best not to connect the dots. His is like CBS' investigation into the Rathergate scandal, which was more concerned with protecting the network's reputation than learning the truth. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

Oil for food is by far the largest financial scandal in the history of the world, but it is hardly the United Nations' only problem. There are the sex scandals involving U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo and elsewhere, and the United Nations' inability or unwillingness to put a halt to genocide in Darfur. The United Nations came late and brought little to the aid of victims of last December's tsunami.

On March 21, Mr. Annan announced proposals to "reform" the United Nations. The thrust of his proposals is to dilute the influence of the United States on the Security Council, while trebling the dues the United States must pay. The Bush Administration is not enthusiastic. But while others were howling for his head after the Volcker report came out, the administration issued a tepid endorsement of the embattled Mr. Annan.

I think that was the right thing to do. Mr. Annan is corrupt, incompetent, and anti-American, but not notably more so than his predecessor. And in order to keep his job, the normally dictator-friendly Mr. Annan is more likely to insist that Bashar Assad, Syria's weak-chinned strongman, get his army and his Gestapo out of Lebanon pronto.

The United Nations requires real reform, but that's more likely to occur after Mr. Annan twists in the wind a while. Just putting a new secretary-general atop the rotten edifice changes little.

I get a lot of e-mail from people who want the United States out of the United Nations, and who assume I agree with them. I don't. Winston Churchill was right when he said "jaw jaw is better than war war." The United Nations is where jaw jaw takes place.

Mr. Annan's term expires at the end of next year. Bill Clinton would love to take his place. But no citizen of a permanent member of the Security Council should get the job. It should go to a genuine democrat of unquestioned integrity and demonstrable guts, such as former Czech President Vaclav Havel, current Czech President Vaclav Klaus, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, or Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.



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