(CNSNews.com) – On the day President Trump hosts a high-level summit in New York City on reforming the United Nations, Russian President Vladimir Putin will be more than 4,000 miles away, having chosen to spend Monday observing Russia-Belarus wargames south of St. Petersburg.
“The supreme commander-in-chief will inspect actions of the armed forces of the Union State of Russia and Belarus at the main stage of the joint strategic exercise Zapad-2017 on the Luzhsky range,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Earlier this month the pro-Kremlin RT television network under the headline “Not on guest list” reported that Putin had “not been invited” to Trump’s summit, which comes one day before the U.S. president addresses the U.N. General Assembly for the first time.
In fact no country was “invited” to participate in the reform gathering, but the U.S. mission to the U.N. instead asked countries to put their names to a package of proposed reform measures.
“We asked other countries to sign on to their support of reform, and 120 countries have signed on and will be in attendance,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told reporters at the White House on Friday, adding that securing the support of so many countries was “miraculous.” The U.N. has 193 member-states.
Also on Friday, Haley’s Russian counterpart, Vasily Nebenzya, expressed doubt that his country would sign up to the reform proposals.
“I am not sure we will sign this declaration,” he told the Russian news agency Tass.
“Many of the declaration’s ideas are of major importance and echo initiatives put forth by the [U.N.] secretary general [Antonio Guterres] but a declaration is not enough to reform the United Nations,” he said. Tass quoted Nebenzya as adding that the U.N.’s efficiency could be boosted only through intergovernmental talks.
Although most voice rhetorical support, Russia, China and a host of developing countries have long resisted efforts, pushed by the U.S. and allies like Japan (the U.S. and Japan are the U.N.’s biggest funders) for far-reaching reforms of the world body.
Trump has been deeply critical of the U.N., deriding it before his inauguration as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time” but pledging that “things will be different” once he had taken office.
The administration put the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in particular on notice, and its fiscal year 2018 budget request for the account that funds the U.N. regular budget and major U.N. agencies was down 30 percent from the FY 2017 estimate level – something Haley told lawmakers had sent “shockwaves” through the U.N.
U.S. taxpayers provide 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular budget billions of dollars more each year in “voluntary contributions” to a range of bodies across the U.N. system. In recent years the funding has totaled $7-8 billion annually.
In 2017, the next biggest contributors to the regular budget are Japan (9.68 percent), China (7.92 percent) and Germany (6.38 percent). Russia sits further down the list, contributing just 3.08 percent.
‘Duplication, redundancy and overlap’
The Trump administration has thrown its weight behind a campaign led by Guterres aimed at making the U.N. system more efficient and cost-effective.
Haley did not go into detail at Friday’s briefing – other than saying the package “streamlines” processes and the budget – but the declaration countries have been asked to support calls among other things for reducing “duplication” and “overlap” among U.N. agencies and their mandates.
That recalls a document compiled by the Clinton administration 22 years ago, which among other things criticized the “unnecessary multiplication of U.N. entities” with overlapping functions and mandates.
The leaked 1995 document, entitled “Readying the United Nations for the 20th Century,” called among other things for the elimination of U.N. Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), an agency which the U.S. said “has not been able to define its purpose and function very well.”
UNIDO survives, and last year celebrated its 50th birthday, although without the membership or financial support of the U.S. – whose departure in 1996 cost it one-quarter of its budget – or that of more than half a dozen other Western donor countries which have left since.
But duplication remains a jarring problem for those working for U.N. reform. For example, while the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the U.N.’s main climate change vehicle, no fewer than 38 other U.N. bodies incorporate climate change one way or another into their own mandates.
“We commit to reducing mandate duplication, redundancy and overlap, including among the main organs of the United Nations,” reads the draft declaration which the U.S. has asked other countries to support.
The declaration also backs stronger powers for the secretary-general, an issue long supported by the U.S. and some allies but resisted by many members of the bloc of developing nations that calls itself the Group of 77 (although comprising 134 member-states).
G77 members worry that giving the post currently held by Guterres more executive authority, including greater hiring-and-firing powers, could lead to under-representation of developing countries in senior U.N. jobs.
In a letter to Guterres last summer, Haley said the U.S. could not “afford to be crippled by bureaucracy and micromanagement,” and encouraged him to “use your executive authority to advance organizational reforms.”
“We will support you fully in exercising such authority – and urge you to reclaim the powers that have been eroded over time,” she wrote.
Even some critics of Trump’s foreign policies are cautiously supportive of the reform push.
“The reform package championed by Antonio Guterres and vigorously supported by Nikki Haley would make the United Nations a more streamlined bureaucracy better able to deliver tangible results to the people it serves,” commented the U.N. Dispatch, the blog of the U.N. Foundation, which advocates strong U.S. engagement with the U.N.
“So it should be seen as a net plus that the U.S. has decided to positively engage on these issues at the highest level,” it said.