The Foreign Service Journal, September 2006

ment, evaluation and promotion are introduced, it will be hard to ferret out. There has been marginal im- provement in the Human Rights Commission, though the U.S. decided not to stand for election to that body — perhaps realizing it might well suffer an embarrassing defeat if it did. The concept of a Peacebuilding Commission, in- tended to keep an eye out for failed and failing states and coordinate international action to help or pre-empt failure, is a constructive one and may still produce something useful, but there is no telling when it will bear fruit. The key obstacle to meaningful reform is the fact that different categories of members have different assortments of dissatisfactions with the institution. American unilateralists distrust the whole idea of a “world government” (which the U.N. certainly is not) and are suspicious of any strengthening or power-shar- ing. Washington chafes at the economic burden of pay- ing 22 percent of the institution’s total budget. It resents underwriting programs with no sunset provi- sions in which the U.S. has little interest or actually opposes, particularly when they are advanced by coun- tries that don’t have to carry the costs. Other major contributors like Germany and Japan are unhappy that countries paying much smaller shares of the costs (e.g., Russia and China) continue to enjoy a pre- ferred position. Major geographic powers like Brazil and India feel the institution should be modernized to recog- nize the political weight their large populations should be accorded in the world body. Smaller countries complain about the concentration of authority in a small group of developed countries that don’t have their interests at heart. They feel that the General Assembly in which they are all represented, has been totally marginalized by the Security Council. In many instances, appeasing one group would sharpen the dissat- isfaction among another. There has been no reform solution proposed that would take care of everyone’s problems. Only the classic “good citizens,” like the Scandinavians and Canadians, seem to stand outside the “unhappiness” corner. Aim High Perhaps the problem is that our sights have been set too low, and that we need to aim for a more radical restructuring. Realists may argue that if small steps can’t be made, large ones are even more out of the question. I am not so sure. It is worth thinking about a bottom-up overhaul of an organization that is frozen in the realities of the 1940s. I believe the following ideas, though far-reaching, are worth considering. The General Assembly might be rescued from its sleepy irrelevance by two fundamental changes. The first would be a move to population-based, weighted voting. It is ridiculous that the vote of Palau (popula- tion 20,000) has the same weight as that of China or India (each over a billion). Under weighted voting, each of the 192 members (Montenegro recently became the 192nd) might have one vote (or a fraction thereof) for each million of its population. Admittedly, this approach would give China (hardly democratically representative) a weightier vote than the U.S. in the General Assembly, but it would engender a greater sense of equity within the body that might be con- ducive to achieving some of our goals. The second reform would be to reconstitute the assembly’s committee system along parliamentary lines, so that each of the present Committees of the Whole would consist of just 30 to 40 members elected by each General Assembly session from among the members who presented themselves as candidates to assume membership at the following session. This would make the committees smaller, more substantive and efficient, and give the plenary sessions more of a role in resolving differences. As a bonus, General Assembly recommendations would be more likely to reflect global realities. F O C U S 30 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 6 Following his retirement from the Foreign Service, Ambassador Ronald Spiers was undersecretary-general for political affairs of the United Nations from 1989 to 1992. He began his 34-year FS career by serving on the staff of U.S. delegations to the General Assembly from 1955 to 1959. He now writes and lectures on foreign affairs and is a fellow of the American Academy of Diplomacy. The key obstacle is the fact that different categories of members have different complaints about the institution.