Trump Congratulates, Backs Guterres’ Reform Plan

By Stefano Gennarini, J.D. | September 18, 2017

The New York Post, Wall Street Journal, and Drudge all wrongly report Trump “slamming” the UN and bringing an “agenda of change” to the UN. Far from it.

While President Trump did offer some words of criticism about bureaucratic waste and inefficiency his tone in his first speech at the UN in a closed meeting on UN reform this morning was overall very conciliatory, even congratulatory, towards UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ recently published plan for UN reform. It would seem the UN bureaucrats have skillfully corralled the Trump administration to ensure U.S. support for  Guterres’ plans no matter what they are, as Anne Bayefsky already noted two weeks ago.

Guterres’ UN reform project would give political power and decision making authority, including on budgetary issues, to UN bureaucrats that act as intermediaries between governments and different parts of the UN system that were heretofore merely formal liaisons between the piecemeal operation of the UN system and national governments. As I reported this summer, it is a highly controversial reform agenda with a very strong probability of undermining sovereignty and  self-government by concentrating power in international bureaucrats that are ultimately accountable to the Secretary General, and not to sovereign states.

While it is true that setting up a system with UN super bureaucrats that can dictate development policies at the national level may increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the UN system, without adequate checks and balances it also has a high potential for abuse. Moreover, the reform may actually downplay the importance of checks and balances on UN system programing altogether by taking away oversight for UN programming from UN member states in New York and giving it to the UN Secretary General.

The reform in fact seems designed to overcome an inherent limitation of UN work on development, namely that it is the result of piecemeal negotiations by member states over decades. While this has resulted in waste and duplication, it has also ensured that UN programming is vetted at multiple levels both internationally and on the ground. Guterres’ reform will try to remove this “red tape” in favor of a more executive model, when the chief UN bureaucrat in each country has political and decision making authority about the kind of programming that needs to be carried out in that country. True UN reform should eliminate the waste without eliminating the vetting.

Trump will speak tomorrow at the General Assembly. It remains to be seen if the administration will offer original ideas for reform, or if the United States will rubber stamp what the UN bureaucrats propose in December.

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