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Undocumented Outcomes at the UN

Earlier this month, the United Nations claimed to have attracted the largest ever gathering of world leaders and heads of state. The UN says that leaders from 151 of the 191 member nations attended the massive summit. (Note: Because it was not confirmed by independent auditors, we make no representations about the accuracy of this figure.)

Secretary General Kofi Annan had touted the assemblage as the last best opportunity to secure meaningful reform of the world organization. He has promoted it for months as a critical moment in the UN’s future. But the much-ballyhooed gathering decided nothing, agreed on nothing and accomplished nothing except issuing a 35-page “Outcome Document” so full of platitudes and clich√?∆? ¬©s that only an advice columnist could love it.

Indeed, the “Outcome Document” is most notable for its irony.

Consider the very second statement: “We reaffirm our faith in the United Nations…” Of course, this assumes that any of the parties had any faith in the world organization to begin with. On the other hand, perhaps it doesn’t. After all, if you are reaffirming nothing, then nothing is all that you have.

In Paragraph 15, the Document intones, “We pledge to enhance the relevance, effectiveness, accountability and credibility of the UN system.” Happily, that shouldn’t be hard. Starting from zero on all counts leaves lots of room for enhancement. But at least the UN will be able to say that it is making progress on reaching the objectives laid out in this Document.

You have to read all the way to Page 6 to reach the biggest irony of all. “We therefore resolve to … make the fight against corruption a priority at all levels … and welcome … the adoption of polices that emphasize accountability, transparent public sector management, and corporate responsibility.” It would have been absurd enough if the UN was applying this command to its own operations. But not to worry. This passage refers to the world body targeting corruption in developing countries. Because who better to fight corruption around the globe than the organization which perfected it?

By the time you get to Page 19, the platitudes have gotten so thick that it’s easy to miss this nugget: “Recognizing the good offices of the Secretary-General…” Does the rest of the sentence really matter? After all, if the UN has perfected corruption, it’s with Kofi Annan at the helm. Perhaps the authors were literally contemplating Annan’s “good office” √?¬Ę√Ę‚??¬¨- so filled with booty from the world organization’s nefarious activities that it might be pirate’s treasure cave. Perhaps not.

Finally, on Page 28, the Document turns to the UN itself. But when the end arrives seven pages later, all we are left with is fodder for the recycling bin. The Secretary-General’s reform proposals are not addressed. Neither are the outstanding ideas for UN reform put forward by the Gingrich-Mitchell commission.

If the Oil for Food scandal exposed Kofi Annan’s failure as an administrator and manager, then this Document together with the total irrelevance of the world summit demonstrates Annan’s complete failure as a political leader.

Annan has made it clear he won’t resign. So be it. It’s evidently not possible to force him from office. But with every passing day, the UN slides further and further into irrelevance.

Final note: No word on whether the Secretary General will appoint a commission to investigate whether three kings, two presidents, one dictator and one prime minister were “stolen” during the summit. This in spite of reports that two UN employees have been implicated in the theft.

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Written By

Mr. Manson is a vice president at Edelman, a global public relations firm. In his spare time, he blogs at On Tap. Contact him at marshall.manson@gmail.com.

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