June 28, 2019 / 6:25 AM / 24 days ago

Top official says timid U.N. 'tribe' must assert itself amid political nonsense

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations must drop its bureaucratic timidity and stand up to its member states if it is to tackle global problems, a top U.N. official told Reuters in an interview.

The United Nations headquarters building is pictured though a window with the UN logo in the foreground in the Manhattan borough of New York August 15, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/Files

Michael Moller, U.N. director-general in Geneva, said governments were failing to deal with new and existing challenges such as nuclear disarmament, internet regulation and climate-related migration, and the U.N. needed to respond.

That meant looking to emerging new groupings of decision-makers, such as cities, technology firms or online movements, while national governments are set to see their role shrink.

“It’s tough for some of these guys to swallow. And it’s tough, particularly for some of the bigger countries that are used to a very top-down governance,” said Moller.

Global cooperation has been stuck during Moller’s six years as head of the U.N. in Geneva, the center of humanitarian work and human rights, with gridlock in the U.N. Security Council and stalemate in talks ranging from nuclear disarmament to trade.

U.S. President Donald Trump has pulled the United States out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris Climate Accord, while Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a Financial Times interview on Friday liberal values were now obsolete.

Moller declined to name names but suggested that such leaders were resisting the tide of history, and that “tearing down multilateralism in all its forms” did not make sense for any country.

“If you look at what’s happening, a number of countries are walking away from all the international agreements they can lay their hands on, and a good number of their citizens are not following suit,” he said.

“Individuals, mayors, businesses just say no, we’re going in a different direction,” Moller said.

The U.N. should face its critics with facts and statistics to show the extraordinary prosperity and well-being it had achieved for humanity.

“With the kind of nonsense that the world is facing now, we’re risking throwing away those extraordinary gains because we’re not getting our governance stuff right”, Moller said.

TRIBE OF BUREAUCRATS

The U.N. and its member states had been “too timid in our collective pushback on what’s happening to human rights” and sometimes fell prey to wishful thinking when trying to mediate peace and stop wars, he said.

The U.N.’s intended role went far beyond being a neutral discussion arena. It should be a bridge to bring short-term political systems towards long-term solutions, Moller said.

The U.N. needed to break out of its bureaucratic aversion to change and be imaginative for the bridge to be effective.

“Take some risks and be more assertive, basically,” Moller said. “It’s a hell of a thing to ask because there’s one tribe on the planet that doesn’t like change: it’s us, it’s bureaucrats.”

Member states had a “defensive reflex” and were retaining tight control of U.N. budgets and activities.

“The Secretary-General has launched a reform process that is limping,” Moller said.

“But it’s limping precisely because of the micromanagement by member states that has reached gigantic proportions and is acting as a massive brake on any kind of forward imaginative and innovative movement of the organization.”

Member states had taken a “slash-and-burn” approach to the U.N. budget over the past decade but the world body was increasingly working with businesses, philanthropists and foundations and money was available, he said.

Change was possible, Moller said, but much of it may close within the next 10 years if the U.N. cannot work more effectively and collaboratively. That would represent a huge waste of expertise, he said.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Paul Tait

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