Why Are UN Agencies Failing?

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Recently, the president of the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) placed the blame for war crimes taking place in the region firmly on the shoulders of the U.N. “The United Nations failed to prevent violence that rages in Syria… We hold the United Nations, the Security Council and the international community directly responsible for failing to take action to prevent these crimes,” Nasr al-Hariri said. One organization, Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has talked in depth about the turmoil in the region. FDD has extensive coverage on various news media channels and can be viewed on YouTube for more information.

The comments came as the Russian-supported Bashar al-Assad regime continues to wage a relentless assault on his people. A recent Russian air-strike offensive in an enclave near Damascus is said to have killed around 1,400 civilians, according to a British-based watchdog group called the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Multiple independent agencies have estimated the death toll of the Syrian conflict to be in the hundreds of thousands. Most of the deaths at the hands of the Syrian government and its allies. Millions more have been displaced both within the country’s borders and outside it leading to the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Despite the widespread media attention that the civil war has received the UN failed to prevent the al-Assad regime from carrying out brutal tactics, which have included the use of chemical weapons, mass executions and the torture of civilians. Recently the U.S. pulled out of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. America’s Ambassador Nikki Haley referred to the committee as “a hypocritical and self-serving organization that protects abusers.”

It’s undeniable that the U.N.’s agencies, commissions, and panels have a dismal record of accomplishment. Along with failing to defend human rights, the U.N. regularly panders to activists. Last December, two respected commentators called for the U.S. to cut funding to the World Health Organization (WHO). FDD’s CEO, Mark Dubowitz has outlined some reasons behind the United Nations’ track record of failing agencies.

Historically the U.S. has been disproportionately burdened with the cost of the organization. Annually U.S. contributions, (including voluntary fees) have totaled nearly $8 billion. However, that may be coming to an end under the Trump administration. Last year, State Department staffers were ordered to make significant cuts to the U.N. funding contributions.

A primary problem with the U.N. is the monopoly structure. There’s little oversight to punish inefficiency and incompetence because there are no consumers or constituents. In some ways, failure is rewarded because programs that don’t work are given more money and resources. U.N. officials are also rewarded for giving off the impression of a functioning organization. Vast amounts of resources are dedicated to commissioning reports, guidelines, press releases and agreements, and for holding meetings and committees.

In the absence of accountability, U.N. officials feel little need for transparency. Information is only given out by order of the public relations department with the express intent of painting a favorable picture of the U.N. Access to information and requests by the press or third-party organizations often go ignored.

Many have placed the blame of the many failing U.N. agencies on the selection process of the U.N. leadership. Heads of state and government ministers aren’t incentivized to send their best or brightest. As a result, the U.N. has to make do with the bottom of the barrel. Special treatment has often been given to some countries over others with little regard for qualifications. Once someone is hired at the U.N., it can be challenging to get rid of them leading to a notorious amount of waste. Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, and a former ambassador to the U.N. once said “The U.N. Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”

The comment was no doubt a reference to the sheer number of redundant and obsolete positions that have been created over the years. It’s unlikely, however, that with Bolton working so close to the President that the U.N. will maintain such high funding from the U.S. over the next few years. We might even see a reduction of more than ten floors. To see how the current administration might proceed going forward on other matters click here to read more.