PAUL GIGOT: Welcome to THE JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT. American taxpayers pay more than a fifth of the United Nations budget -- more than anyone else -- and this week there was more reason to think about whether the money is well spent. Senator Norm Coleman, who leads a bipartisan subcommittee investigating the UN Oil for Food program, called for the resignation of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. And the UN issued a report this week, commissioned and supported by the Secretary-General, which criticized many UN institutions and policies but made few specific recommendations for change.
With me to discuss all this are Dan Henninger, deputy editor of the editorial page, Claudia Rosett, a columnist for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL in Europe and for OPINIONJOURNAL.COM, and Bret Stephens, a member of the editorial board.
Claudia, let's talk about Kofi Annan first. A lot of calls for his resignation. President Bush pointedly did not give him an endorsement this week. How much trouble is he in?
CLAUDIA ROSETT: He's in a lot of trouble. He has presided over a 17 billion dollar scam by Saddam Hussein out of Oil for Food. We now have seen, have discovered that his own son was on the payroll of a contractor under the program.
PAUL GIGOT: Your scoop, by the way.
CLAUDIA ROSETT: Right. On the other hand, he's very likely to hang on. He's got diplomatic immunity, and so far there has been no allegation that he himself committed criminal acts. The problem is much deeper, actually. It's one of dereliction. It's one of how on earth did he fail to stop this huge scam from rolling forward? How did he miss all these things? Why did he let it happen?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, a lot of his defenders would say, look, it wasn't just him. He was not the only person responsible here. The Security Council plays a role in monitoring Oil for Food and its programs, and they knew, more or less, what was going on, including the United States of America as one of those members, but did nothing. Isn't that a point in Kofi Annan's defense?
BRET STEPHENS: No, I don't think that's an excuse for his malfeasance. He was directly responsible for running the Oil for Food program, and ultimately he was the bureaucrat responsible. So I think that you can't ask the United States to resign, you can't ask France to resign -- although some of us might like that. But you certainly can ask the bureaucrat who's presided over this gigantic failure of oversight to step down. I think it's the appropriate thing for him to do.
DAN HENNINGER: If you accept that, what are the American people, who are paying 20 percent of the bill, supposed to think about the rest of the United Nations? Are you just supposed to shrug and accept the fact that the organization is this incompetent when they're paying them all this money?
PAUL GIGOT: Claudia, would it make any difference, really, to the functioning of the United Nations if the Secretary-General were to resign?
CLAUDIA ROSETT: Unfortunately, no. I mean, it would remove an immediate problem of a man who did not try to solve the problem, but the basic difficulties go so deep. It's structural. It's the way the entire organization is set up, which abets, basically, the interests of dictators and tends to minimize the push for democracy.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, let's talk about that. Bret, we had a reform proposal by a panel, a 16-member panel that Kofi Annan himself had appointed, including eminent people -- Brent Scowcroft, the former National Security Advisor to the first President Bush. How extensive are these reforms? Will they make a difference?
BRET STEPHENS: Well, this reform is one of these big reforms that rolls around every few years when the UN realizes that it hasn't accomplished very much in its history. But the reform itself focuses on the wrong things. I mean, here's an organization that can't handle its own accounting. It can't administer a fairly simple Oil for Food program. It can't be entrusted to run simple peace-keeping operations in small African countries.
So what's the solution? Well, the solution is to add Brazil, Egypt, Japan, Germany, and maybe Nigeria to the Security Council. It's very hard to see how simply adding more voices is going to create a more effective organization. If anything, it creates a much less effective organization.
CLAUDIA ROSETT: The crucial thing that seems to me may be missing from this report is, they need transparency. They've got to be open at the very least about what they do. And adding more players actually creates more opportunity for corruption and collusion.
PAUL GIGOT: Dan, any saving grace here?
DAN HENNINGER: Yeah, but there were good things in the report. I think the report was written by serious people, especially the chapter on terrorism. They noted that the United Nations not having a definition of terrorism undermines the moral authority of the institution, and urged them to come up with one, which is an attack on civilians.
PAUL GIGOT: Did they try to define it?
DAN HENNINGER: Yes, they did.
PAUL GIGOT: In a helpful way.
DAN HENNINGER: In a helpful way. They said an attack on civilians is not defensible under any circumstances whatsoever. The United Nations doesn't even have that as a working definition of terrorism.
PAUL GIGOT: Let me make another point. It seems to me that what the report did was try as well to move at least somewhat in the direction of President Bush's idea that pre-emption as a strategy has to be undertaken sometime. I mean, they talked about anticipatory self-defense, and they said sometimes -- particularly the threat from nuclear weapons if it looks like it's a country that's facing it -- it may warrant pre-emptive action.
BRET STEPHENS: Yeah, but I think there is much less here than meets the eye. Basically, they didn't endorse the idea of unilateral pre-emption. They said pre-emption has to go through the Security Council. So what does that, in fact, mean in, say, our greatest proliferation crisis right now which is Iran? Well, the Security Council would have to approve some kind of pre-emptive strike against Iran. But when Iran has, as its economic clients or its political allies, countries like China, Russia and France, that means no pre-emption. So this, again, is a fairly hollow gesture.
PAUL GIGOT: Sounds like Iraq all over again.
BRET STEPHENS: Oh yeah.
PAUL GIGOT: If that stays. The UN was founded on this vision of collective security, which was supposed to prevent what happened in World War I and II from ever happening again. And there were moments, I would say -- particularly after the Berlin Wall fell, the first Iraq war -- when it looked like when the Soviet Union veto was removed, it could be a functioning body. And yet in the nineties its track record has been really very bad.
DAN HENNINGER: But all of these have been, essentially, ideas, proposals. The UN is in fact an organization. It's a huge bureaucracy. And I don't know how you reform large bureaucracies when they get to the size the United Nations is.
The first thing you need, if you're going to start, is accountability. Corporations do it, nations do it. If the UN cannot insert accountability into its process, the bureaucracy will simply roll over this reform.
BRET STEPHENS: But I think it's more than an organizational problem here. It's a moral problem. The basic moral problem with the UN is that this organization, by definition, can't really distinguish between good guys and bad guys. They all have a seat. They all have a vote. China, a human rights abuser, has a seat on the Security Council. So does the United States. And until you break that problem -- which seems to me insoluble in the UN context -- you're not going to have a reformed UN.
PAUL GIGOT: We just have time for a short answer, but some people have proposed an Alliance for Democracy -- an alliance of democracies as an alternative to this United Nations. Because it helps sometimes to have a place to talk.
CLAUDIA ROSETT: Of course.
PAUL GIGOT: What do you think of that idea?
CLAUDIA ROSETT: I think it's a great idea. Actually, you might start it now. And you know what, let's drop markets into this. We need some competition. The line you always here is, we must go to the UN because it's all we have. Let's create an alternative and see what wins.
PAUL GIGOT: Okay, Claudia. Thank you very much. Next subject.