Although somewhat lost in the political slugfest over the nomination of John Bolton to be the Bush administration's next ambassador to the United Nations, there is a lot of effort being expended to reform the 60-year-old U.N. system.
Like everything else about the U.N., however, reform will come neither easily nor without disappointment to those members who do not get what they want or who have to pay more of the costs.
Most of the debate over U.N. reform tends to focus on adding new members to the Security Council, the most powerful part of the organization. There are many wannabees, the most prominent being Japan, Germany, India and Brazil. Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns spoke this week of "our likely support for two or so new permanent members," but so far, Washington has publicly signaled its backing only for Japan.
This week, the Bush administration tried to shift the focus around the reform debate away from the Security Council to other, more structural reforms it backs. In the first place, Washington wants to see budget, management and administrative reform of an organization it sees as top-heavy with people, paper and too little financial oversight.
There is also a desire to support U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's call for a Peace Building Commission, which would help countries after the fighting has stopped; and a Human Rights Council, to replace the existing Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, seen in Washington and other capitals as having too many members who do not allow their citizens many basic human rights. Zimbabwe is most often cited as an example of what's wrong with the current organizational structure on human rights.