Verbatim, as delivered


February 13, 2007

Contact: Lynne Weil, 202-225-5021

Remarks of Chairman Tom Lantos at Hearing: The Future of the United Nations Under Ban Ki-Moon

We’re here today to talk about the future of the United Nations. And to start, I want to ask you to cast your minds ahead to 2012, and imagine a hearing that looks back on the first term of office of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. No doubt there will be successes to celebrate. But the United Nations could also fall short of its ideals in many ways, as it certainly does today. Weighing the milestones against the inevitable millstones, which way will the scales tip? The answer depends on what we are here to discuss today.

As of now, the pace of U.N. reform remains excruciatingly slow. The Secretariat is hamstrung from the top down by a management structure that is at best obsolete. It is stuffed to the rafters with global civil servants, many of them with outdated skills. And the grouping of states still known as the Non-Aligned Movement – and I wonder what they are non-aligned against this time – has far too much sway in blocking reforms, polluting human rights mechanisms, and bashing the democratic state of Israel.

Faced with these frustrating realities, we have two ways to proceed in New York: write the United Nations off as a lost cause, or ratchet up our diplomacy to bring about much-needed reforms. And the choice is simple. As tempting as some might find it to contemplate, we cannot abandon the United Nations.

The U.N. provides vital support to core U.S. foreign policy initiatives in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Sudan and a dozen other places. It manages response to transnational threats such as AIDS, avian flu, famine and refugee crises that no nation, not even one as powerful as the United States, can tackle alone.

When we face frustrations in our efforts to transform the U.N., it is tempting to reach for a my-way-or-the-highway ultimatum. It is tempting to avoid the messy and tedious, behind-the-scenes work so essential to the U.N.’s efficient operation. It is tempting to threaten to cut off a share of our U.N. dues until the management in Turtle Bay and each and every one of the 191 other states does exactly what we tell them to do.

But this approach is wrong-headed. It doesn’t begin to fix the real problems we face in transforming the United Nations. Instead of playing to the crowd, trashing the U.N. and threatening to shut down its budget, we need to ratchet up our level of diplomacy there.

We need to be strong in our approach to the UN, but savvy in how we carry out our work.

In the coming weeks and months our Committee will look at ways to enhance the ability of our career diplomats to handle themselves in New York. We will explore new training to give them better skills. We will look at incentives to change the way our best and brightest diplomats view U.N. assignments. Ultimately, we want them to see New York or Geneva as career enhancers rather than as diplomatic backwaters.

Our Committee will also look at actions we can take to encourage the State Department and the White House to be more deeply and more consistently committed to the long-term diplomatic effort to remake the United Nations.

We will also explore actions that the Congress might take to undercut the strength of the Non-Aligned Movement.

We are delighted to have three very distinguished witnesses here to help us frame this critical issue.

Senator George Mitchell, who served our country with extraordinary distinction as the Majority Leader of the Senate, is one of our nation’s leading experts on U.N. reform. As co-chair of the Gingrich-Mitchell task force on U.N. reform, he helped sketch out the best blueprint for transforming the United Nations that currently exists.

My friend and former Congressional colleague, who also served as a distinguished Undersecretary of State, Senator Tim Wirth, directs the U.N. Foundation, the leading NGO supporting a revitalized United Nations, and has made the United Nations the core of his professional work.

And Ambassador John Bolton served as the most recent Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations.

I am convinced that our new Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, with whom I had the pleasure of having dinner Saturday night – it was my seventh lengthy meeting with him -- will be an ally of the U.S. effort to transform the U.N. His unprompted disclosure of his own personal finances and his unflinching response to the first hints of scandal during his tenure reveal him to be a no-nonsense manager who will demand change.

He also fills Kofi Annan’s shoes as a warrior against the U.N.’s sad legacy of anti-Semitism. He has already issued several statements repudiating the Iranian President’s pathetic attempt to deny the historic reality of the Holocaust. And he has unequivocally condemned Palestinian suicide bombers who recently murdered innocent Israeli citizens.

These and other indicators that I have observed in my meetings with Ban Ki-Moon, including a breakfast that he had with members of this Committee last month, are full of promise. It is my hope to see that that promise is fulfilled. And if in five years we do hold a hearing looking back on Ban Ki-Moon’s first term, I hope we will find reason to recommend a second, based on his success at implementing meaningful and lasting reforms.

It is great my pleasure now to turn to my distinguished colleague, Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, for any remarks she may make.