Looking Ahead: Implications of the United Nations Mandate Review
Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning, Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General;
Kristen Lee Silverberg, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, U.S. Department of State;
Mark Wallace, U.S. Representative to the United Nations for UN Management and Reform.
Moderator: David Birenbaum, Senior Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center; Former Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations for UN Management and Reform
This event was cosponsored with the Better World Campaign.
Part of the comprehensive reform effort undertaken by the United Nations since the September 2005 World Summit, the Mandate Review process has been designed to analyze all requests for action made by the General Assembly or another principal organ of the United Nations more than five years ago. The UN Secretariat has created a public online database of all mandates created by the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the Economic and Social Councils over the past fifty years. The number of mandates totals more than nine thousand.
Bob Orr noted that the Mandate Review is intended to show that the UN cannot handle all requests being made. Some requests need to be abandoned, while other actions need to be fulfilled with assistance from other bodies and Member States. He cited two specific challenges to the Mandate Review process. Each mandate has been created by at least one Member State, and removing any mandate is thus a politically charged exercise. Additionally, the monitoring and evaluation process for mandates is less than what is required, and the UN does not have a network of bodies available to assess the utility of each mandate.
Outlining several conclusions of the Mandate Review process, Orr noted that only a fraction of the many reports produced by the United Nations each year should be actually written and reviewed. He also observed that the overlap between and within UN organizations generates a redundancy of mandates. The UN is also plagued by an unwieldy and duplicate system of management, as well as by a series of gaps between mandates issued and the resources of the organizations intended to respond to those requests. Orr suggested the creation of a mechanism through which the Secretariat could offer analysis prior to voting on new mandates. Such a mechanism would refer to mandates already in existence in the same area, as well as the way in which the new mandate could affect the overall system.
Orr reported that the Secretary-General has developed various conclusions as a result of the Mandate Review process. They include the recommendation that some United Nations committees should meet less frequently in order to conserve resources; the reduction of the excessive and unnecessary number of reports produced by the UN; the need to dismantle particular peacekeeping missions that are no longer necessary; the proposed systemization of multiple research and training institutions associated with the UN; the consolidation of successful commissions such as the Commission on Drugs and the Commission on Crime; and the restructuring of mandates affecting African countries to reflect the actual development needs of African leaders.
The Mandate Review process is expected to produce immediate results in the coming months, to include the presentation of a package of mandates that should be consolidated, eliminated, or further reviewed. But Orr noted that a systematic analysis and scrubbing of United Nations activities require a long-term approach. The ultimate success of the process will require structural changes to the UN's internal review mechanisms. Ideally, mandates will be assessed on a continual basis rather than at the impetus of a one-time review process. Orr stated that the two-phase plan for review has been greeted positively by a majority of Member States.
Kristen Silverberg reported that the Mandate Review process is at the forefront of Secretary Condoleezza Rice's overall reform agenda for the United Nations. She noted that only seventeen Member States pay more than one percent of the overall budget, resulting in little incentive for the streamlining of mandates and resources. In the coming months, the U.S. will be assessing the UN's tangible short-term progress and will also be looking forward to longer-term payouts of the Mandate Review process.
Silverberg outlined several strategic priorities related to Mandate Review that have been highlighted by the United States. They include reducing the burdensome number of mandates that require reporting; eliminating the overlap in and between agencies, such as in trade, sustainable development, and disarmament; and providing serious scrutiny of the politically-charged humanitarian services devoted to Palestinian affairs. The U.S. has also prioritized the improvement of ethics and oversight at the UN, specifically efforts toward strengthening the independence of the OIOS.
Mark Wallace noted that seventy-nine percent of mandates for activity on the part of the United Nations emerge from the General Assembly, which means the GA will take the lead on the review process. Pakistan and Canada, the co-chair representatives of the Mandate Review committee, have managed what Wallace considers to be successful initial meetings that have generated a tremendous number of questions surrounding thematic areas for consideration.
While Member States and delegations are generally supportive of the short-term and long-term roadmap for the Mandate Review process, the U.S. is subject to looming budgetary deadlines and will be looking for full-fledged approaches to management reform and mandate review. In particular, the U.S. is working to build consensus on mandate review issues with the EU and JUSCANZ (Japan, U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand).
Wallace observed that some Member States have been resistant to reviewing mandates less than five years old, which comprise only seven percent of the total mandates. Another challenge to the process of Mandate Review is the "envelopes" issue. Some Member States prefer that funds saved by consolidating or eliminating mandates stay within the original mandate's programmatic area. Meanwhile, the U.S. holds that Member States should be less concerned with savings and more attuned to appropriate programmatic reforms. Once such reforms are made, funds should then by either returned to Member States or reprioritized. Some Member States have also expressed a desire to remove politically sensitive mandates from consideration, but Wallace emphasized that the U.S. would like to avoid arbitrary identification of such mandates and would rather have all mandates reviewed at once.