The New York Times
February 28, 2005 Monday
Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section A; Column 1; Foreign Desk; Pg. 3
LENGTH: 1201 words
HEADLINE: U.N. Is Transforming Itself, but Into What Is Unclear
   No one at the United Nations doubts that big change is necessary for the
institution to regain its footing and restore its name. Mark Malloch Brown, the
new trouble-shooting chief of staff, speaks of the need for ''another San
Francisco moment,'' a reference to the founding conference of the United Nations
in 1945.
    But the question is not just whether the United Nations will emerge
reinvented from what Secretary General Kofi Annan has called its ''annus
horribilis,'' but what its appearance will be when it does and how that new look
will measure up to its creators' ambitions.
    Under prodding, Mr. Annan is shedding most of his inner circle who have
risen through the ranks with him, and, though in most cases their successors are
still to be announced, they already bear the shorthand description ''modernists'
' to contrast them with the ''traditionalists'' they are replacing.
    Shake up a bureaucracy as entrenched as the United Nations, and people get
nervous. Many thought they heard the sounding of a general retreat when Louise
Frechette, the deputy secretary general, said at a news conference this month, '
'Personally, I hope to God we never get another oil-for-food program or anything
approaching that kind of responsibility.''
    A senior official who is among the many in his generation who are retiring
early said, ''We fear that you're going to get a much more modest U.N., not
politically aggressive, not making strong statements about what is legal and
what is not, a much weaker secretary general after this one is gone.''
    When the officials who are now leaving arrived, it seemed to them a
promising time for the organization. The first President Bush told a joint
session of Congress in 1991 that he foresaw ''a world where the United Nations,
freed from cold war stalemate, is poised to fulfill the historic vision of its
    The departing official remembered it as a time that stirred world order
idealism at the United Nations. ''For the first time in its history, the U.N.
was permitted and almost begged to do virtually everything it could not do in
the cold war period, and the new hyperpower appeared to allow the U.N. to have a
politically normative role in defining values and setting conditions for
diplomatic behavior,'' he said. ''That permission has now been withdrawn, and
the bubble has ended.''
    Of the embattled Mr. Annan, whose term concludes at the end of 2006, he
said, ''They will never again choose anyone as independent as this man has
turned out to be.''
    Stephen C. Schlesinger, the author of ''Act of Creation,'' a book on the
founding of the United Nations, agreed, saying, ''I expect we'll have a series
of pedestrian secretaries general like before and then 40 years from now, we'll
get another Dag Hammarskjold.''
    Mr. Annan was once held up as the best secretary general since Mr.
Hammarskjold, who died in 1961, but that was before his reputation was battered
by charges of mismanagement and corruption in the oil-for-food scandal, sexual
abuse of girls and women by peacekeepers in Congo and inaction in the face of
genocide on his home continent, Africa. Capping it off were debilitating public
disagreements with the United States, which had originally championed him for
the job.
    Edward Luck, a professor of international affairs at Columbia, said the past
decade had been sobering for the United Nations, offering lessons on how not to
proceed in the future.
    ''In the early 90's, the U.N. got too ambitious on the operational scale; it
was no longer limited by vetoers and naysayers so the sky seemed the limit,'' he
said. ''In the late 90's and the beginning of this century, it got overly
zealous in building norms, setting international law and trying to regulate
state behavior. Now they have to step back in an attempt to do both.''
    He also faulted the United Nations for developing a sense of moral
superiority over the pursuit of national ambitions. ''It was as if national
interests are by definition base and narrow and mean-spirited,'' he said. '
'Somehow if you're a global citizen, that's superior to being a patriot.''
    Richard C. Holbrooke, the United States ambassador to the United Nations
under President Bill Clinton, said the United Nations had erred in placing
itself above its member states. ''The U.N. cannot stand above its member states;
that's not acceptable to the big powers, and not just the U.S. The Chinese and
the Russians and countries like India also won't accept the U.N. as senior to
    In the future, Mr. Luck said, the emphasis should be on how the United
Nations can help individual states and assist local powers like Australia in
East Timor or the African Union in Sudan.
    Mr. Holbrooke noted that Mr. Annan was already moving in that direction in
urging NATO and the European Union to increase efforts to end the crisis in the
Darfur region of Sudan, which has left up to 300,000 people dead and two million
    ''The learning curve from 1989 to today is that the U.N. has limitations on
its ability to act,'' Mr. Schlesinger said. ''But the realization that it's
never going to live up to the founders' ideals doesn't mean it's a defunct
organization or the miserable failure that critics say. There's a real feeling
of nervousness about whether this organization can make it through the years
ahead, but I think it's a momentary aberration.''
    Most formulas for securing the future prescribe accepting the reality of the
pre-eminence of the United States, the country that created the United Nations.
The notion is already accepted in United Nations parlance where the five
permanent veto-bearing members of the Security Council -- Britain, China,
France, Russia and the United States -- are known as the P5 but only one of them
is called the P1. No one is in any doubt who that is.
    ''There are no circumstances where the U.N. can operate in opposition to the
United States, and that is a fundamental misunderstanding of the idealists,''
Mr. Holbrooke said.
    An ambassador from a Security Council country that embodies that idealistic
view conceded the point but added a caveat. ''Yes, everyone has to come to
understand that the U.N. without America behind it doesn't work, but at the same
time the U.N. cannot be America's tool,'' he said. ''The U.N. has to represent a
poor farmer in Burkina Faso as well as a senator from Minnesota.'' The reference
was to Senator Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, who has called on Mr. Annan
to resign because of the oil-for-food scandal.
    ''The U.N. knows that the U.S. is the biggest contributor and the biggest
power on the planet, and there are signs it is accommodating the U.S. as it has
always done in the past when it has irritated the U.S.,'' said Mr. Schlesinger.
    Mr. Luck, a former president of the United Nations Association of the United
States of America, said it was just as customary for Washington to accommodate
itself to the United Nations. He recalled that President Ronald Reagan came into
office skeptical of the United Nations but left with an appreciation of its
importance. ''I think the same thing is happening with Bush,'' he said. ''Like
Reagan, they've found that they need to do business with the U.N.''
LOAD-DATE: February 28, 2005