Anthony Banbury: “The UN Is Failing”

Anthony Banbury served the United Nations as assistant secretary-general for field support. He dealt with the Haiti earthquake, conflict in the Central African Republic, and the prohibition of chemical weapons in Syria.

His latest assignment was as head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response.

Anthony Banbury

Anthony Banbury

He’s earned kudos for his work around the globe — and at UN headquarters in New York. He commuted there from his Westport home.

Now Banbury is leaving.

In a story to be published in this Sunday’s New York Times — and already posted online — Banbury writes: “I care deeply for the principles the United Nations is designed to uphold. And that’s why I have decided to leave.”

The Westporter describes a

blur of Orwellian admonitions and Carrollian logic that govern the place. If you locked a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again.

Banbury describes astonishingly, scarily frustrating incidents involving his Ebola work; lack of accountability; decisions driven more by “political expediency” than by the UN’s own values, and more.

A 10-year-old Ebola survivor, and Tony Banbury.

A 10-year-old Ebola survivor, and Tony Banbury.

He concludes:

I am hardly the first to warn that the United Nations bureaucracy is getting in the way of its peacekeeping efforts. But too often, these criticisms come from people who think the United Nations is doomed to fail. I come at it from a different angle: I believe that for the world’s sake we must make the United Nations succeed.

In the run-up to the election of a new secretary general this year, it is essential that governments, and especially the permanent members of the Security Council, think carefully about what they want out of the United Nations. The organization is a Remington typewriter in a smartphone world. If it is going to advance the causes of peace, human rights, development and the climate, it needs a leader genuinely committed to reform.

United Nations

The bureaucracy needs to work for the missions; not the other way around. The starting point should be the overhaul of our personnel system. We need an outside panel to examine the system and recommend changes. Second, all administrative expenses should be capped at a fixed percentage of operations costs. Third, decisions on budget allocations should be removed from the Department of Management and placed in the hands of an independent controller reporting to the secretary general. Finally, we need rigorous performance audits of all parts of headquarters operations.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is a man of great integrity, and the United Nations is filled with smart, brave and selfless people. Unfortunately, far too many others lack the moral aptitude and professional abilities to serve. We need a United Nations led by people for whom “doing the right thing” is normal and expected.

To read Anthony Banbury’s entire piece, click here.

(Hat tip: Maxine Bleiweis)

15 responses to “Anthony Banbury: “The UN Is Failing”

  1. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Has the U.S. paid its dues yet?

    • Jerry MacDaid

      I hope not if what he says is true. But, according to th UN web site, the US is not in arrears on their dues.

      Of course, they might be lying.

    • The UN should pay the United States and also New York! If you guys up North want it it would be fine with me! Canada Place looks a little empty…maybe you could put it there.

      • Nancy Hunter Wilson

        You are thinking of Cape Breton.

        • No, that’s where Americans want to escape to….I am thinking WestCoast…as far from New York, but I regret that would only add a huge blemish to the beauty and kindness of Canada….so maybe we can drop it in somewhere in the Middle East .

          • Nancy Hunter Wilson

            Ah, so you have seen the ad. It was so much better before Nova Scotia Tourism had it toned down!

  2. This guy is just becoming aware that UN is a corrupt waste of time, money, and effort?
    He must have been out on assignment too long.

  3. Dick Lowenstein

    The UN is more than just the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the maladroitly named Human Rights Council. It also consists of specialized agencies, some of which predate the current UN and some of which actually do good.(

    That said, the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council have become anti-Israel platforms. And then there is UNRWA — UN Relief and Works Agency — which supports Palestinians in refugee camps starting with the 1948 Israeli War of Independence and subsequent conflicts. Not only are the original refugees (about 800,000 in 1948) supported with over $600 million annually, but so are their patrilineal descendants, who totaled 5.2 million in 2000. One can argue the exact numbers, but these are a reasonable approximations.

    The best thing that can be said for the UN is that it brings megabucks into the New York economy and its meetings are conducted in an architecturally significant building on Manhattan’s east side.

  4. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    School visits to the UN were important. Yet, I only recall looking at an empty, quiet chamber. So quiet, you could hear a pin drop. Nevertheless, the place exuded argument, arrogance, false friendships. Peace? I found peace on a visit to Hiroshima.

  5. Great article, and totally uncommon to have this level of transparency and honesty coming in writing out of today’s United Nations. That takes a lot of courage on his part and that of NYTimes too.

    Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, had Ramos Horta been placed in SG spot over these last years as USA and several other goal oriented-demanding members of GA wanted, Banbury wouldn’t have had to publish his critique, it would have been internalized and acted on, he wouldn’t have felt the need take his criticism public.

    Let’s see who next SG is, if it’s AUS who gives us more of a Kofi Annan candidate in Kevin Rudd, there is hope these criticisms will be acted on and corrected, see

  6. Luciano Morelli

    How many more years will it be before we can same the same of our own Government?

  7. Dick Lowenstein