How to sell a UN reform to member states

Five lessons from the Human Rights Up Front initiative



by Gerrit Kurtz

They had expected it anxiously. When I spoke with the UN officials working on the Secretary General’s Human Rights Up Front initiative last year, they were concerned the internal initiative could become intertwined in the polarized debates between UN member states on the role of human rights in the organization. The UN Secretary-General launched the initiative in 2013, with the aim to raise the profile of human rights in the work of the whole UN system. As a reaction to a devastating internal review panel report on the UN’s actions in Sri Lanka, the initiative includes a detailed action plan to improve the mechanisms for raising serious human rights violations with member states, for internal crisis coordination, and information management regarding such violations. The UN officials – rightly – felt that the new engagement of the UN system with member states that the initiative entailed had to build on its two other elements: cultural and operational change within the UN system, i.e. coherence between the development, peace and security and human rights arms of the UN.

As I argued in my policy paper published last July, Human Rights Up Front could not remain a pure UN matter; to be successful in the mid- to long-term, member states need to endorse it wholeheartedly. This includes an increased funding for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and an intergovernmental mandate for a more political role of UN Country Teams. In a letter on Christmas Eve 2015, the Secretary-General officially recognized the crucial role of member states: „While the Initiative is internal, its objectives speak to the purposes of the whole United Nations and will be greatly enhanced by support from Member States.“

On 27 January 2016, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson briefed the General Assembly on the initiative’s implementation since its inception more than two years ago. The broad support he received from the member states present holds five important lessons for selling UN human rights diplomacy more generally.

First, open consultations facilitate trust and transparancy. Many of the 22 member states and one regional organization (EU) that spoke during the informal briefing session, expressively welcomed the opportunity for open dialogue itself. While Eliasson had briefed member states twice before (in New York and Geneva) on Human Rights Up Front, and both he and Ban Ki-Moon referred to it in their speeches, the interactive session provided an opportunity to take stock with member states.

Second, take on board your critics. In reaction to previous comments from member states, Eliasson explicitly referred to the relevance of social, economic and cultural rights violations as precursors to physical violence and instability. China’s and Nigeria’s inputs duly acknowledged the importance of development for prevention.

Third, universality. The delegate from Iran asked how the UN could adequately respond to human rights violations in the Global North such as increasing xenophobia when most of its offices were in developing countries – a longstanding criticism in UN human rights forums. Eliasson emphasized the comprehensive reach of the early warning and coordination mechanisms, and compared it to the successful example of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the Human Rights Council, which commits every UN member state to a thorough peer-review of its human rights record. Indeed, the regional quarterly reviews, a new early warning and coordination mechanism introduced as part of Human Rights Up Front, look at all world regions. These coordination meetings bring together officials from divergent UN agencies to review adequacy of the UN’s response to potential risks for serious human rights violations.

Forth, association with existing mandates and agendas. Whenever the UN secretariat comes up with its own initiatives, it creates certain anxieties among member states eager to control the international bureaucracy. It was a sign of the Deputy Secretary-General’s successful outreach that no member state questioned the initiative and the role of the secretariat in coming up with it per se. In addition, Eliasson had his staff compile a list of the Charter provisions, treaties and resolutions by the General Assembly and the Security Council relevant to conflict prevention and human rights diplomacy. Responding to calls to do so for example by China, he also welcomed the role of conflict prevention as part of agenda 2030, in particular its goal 16.

Fifth, personal experience and credibility. Human Rights Up Front’s outreach benefits tremendously from having DSG Eliasson as champion in the secretariat. Not only did he conduct several mediation efforts himself, he was part of key normative and operative developments in the United Nations in the past twenty years that pertain to the Human Rights Up Front agenda. As first Emergency Relief Coordinator of the United Nations, he saw at first hand the resulting coordination challenges for the newly created position of humanitarian coordinators, a task usually taken up by the existing resident coordinator and resident representative of UNDP. In 2005, he presided over the record-breaking World Summit as president of the General Assembly, which endorsed the notion of a responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes, and agreed on the establishment of the Human Rights Council and Peacebuilding Commission. Under his leadership, the General Assembly later agreed on the details of the Human Rights Council, including the UPR. All of this provides Eliasson with unrivaled credibility among member states; his diplomatic skills enable him to put this status into practice.

The overwhelmingly positive welcome in the General Assembly session should not disregard the fair and important questions that even constructive member states still have. Several representatives such as Australia and Argentina asked for concrete examples of the initiative’s implementation, and China wanted to know which experiences the Secretariat had made in the first two years of the action plan’s implementation. While much of the high diplomacy of the UN may be sensitive and should remain confidential for the time being, there is no reason why the UN could not report on efforts taken after the fact, in consultation with the country concerned. After all, OHCHR reports annually about its activities including on a country basis, as do other UN entities. Indeed, three UN officials wrote a blog entry for UNDG how Human Rights up Front had helped them in following up on Argentina’s pledges under the UPR mechanism.

Finally, the UN leadership should not shy away from calling remaining challenges within the UN system by their name. It is understandable that Eliasson and others prefer to stress how “enthusiastic” staff members have greeted the initiative. Yet the action plan has also included new tasks for OCHR, without generating new funding. The creation of a common information system on serious human rights violations was hampered by different understandings of the objectives of protection and varying standards for the protection of victims and witnesses of violations. The new universal human rights training for all UN staff was seen as ineffective and beside the point by a number of observers within the UN system. Most troublingly, an independent expert panel on sexual abuse and exploitation in UN peace operations pointed to „gross institutional failure“ in the UN system, exposing a serious deficit in the organization’s internal culture (Eliasson has, in fact, made the link with Human Rights Up Front at a press conference). If Human Rights Up Front is to gain more traction with member states, Eliasson and his team should confront these challenges head-on.

Fragiler Schutz

Bei der UN-Friedensmission im Südsudan

Gerrit Kurtz


Gedrungene, dunkelgrüne Bäume sprenkeln die weite Ebene unter uns, die sich kaum zu einer Ansammlung verdichten, welche die Bezeichnung Wald verdiente. Nur selten tauchen strohbedeckte Hüttenrunden in dem Muster auf, begleitet von weißen Punkten: Kühe sind das Ein und Alles hier: Lebensunterhalt, Statussymbol, Konfliktanlass.

Ich bin im Südsudan, dem jüngsten Staat der Erde. Den weißen Nil immer im Blick befinden wir uns im Anflug auf Bor, die Landeshauptstadt von Jonglei, dem bevölkerungsreichsten Bundesstaat des Landes. Im weißen UN-Helikopter sitzen sich Offiziere und Zivilisten aus Indien, Australien, der Schweiz und anderen Ländern gegenüber. Meine beiden Kollegen und ich wollen in den kommenden Tagen herausfinden, wie die UN Mission im Südsudan (kurz UNMISS) zur Bearbeitung lokaler Konflikte beiträgt. Dafür besuchen wir zivile Teams an drei Standorten; Bor ist unser erster Stopp.

Sanft setzt der Hubschrauber auf dem planierten, nicht geteerten Rollfeld auf. Kaum ausgestiegen begrüßt uns Erik, ein gut gelaunter Endfünfziger aus Schweden, der uns in den kommenden Tagen auf vielen Treffen begleiten wird. Die Vereinten Nationen haben ihr Camp direkt gegenüber vom Flughafen errichtet. In immer-gleichen weißen Containern arbeiten und schlafen die Mitarbeiter der Mission. Um die Büros und Wohneinheiten herum haben die militärischen Kontingente ihre Lager aufgeschlagen. Neben Offizieren und kleineren Einheiten aus vielen verschiedenen Ländern sind das vor allem vier Länder: ein indisches und ein äthiopisches Bataillon, eine koreanische Ingenieurseinheit und ein sri lankisches Militärkrankenhaus. Insgesamt sind im dem Land, das ungefähr so groß wie Frankreich ist, über 11.200 Soldaten für die Vereinten Nationen stationiert, dazu etwa 2.300 zivile Mitarbeiter und 1.100 Polizeikräfte.

Seit der Unabhängigkeit im Juli 2011 hatte der Südsudan kaum Zeit, zur Ruhe zu kommen. Insbesondere in Jonglei fanden wiederholt Kämpfe zwischen bewaffneten Gruppen und Regierungseinheiten statt. Bewegungen von Militäreinheiten sind dabei weitgehend auf die vielleicht viermonatige Trockenzeit begrenzt. Wenn es anfängt, dauerhaft zu regnen in dieser sumpfigen, flachen Gegend, werden weite Gebiete überschwemmt. Der Boden wird derart zäh, dass kein landgetriebenes Fahrzeug durchkommen kann. Selbst mit Gummistiefeln bleibe man häufig stecken: im Grunde könne man in solchen Situationen nur barfuß laufen, hatte uns ein ehemaliger UN-Mitarbeiter in Berlin erzählt.

Das gesamte Land stürzte in eine tiefe Krise, als am 15. Dezember 2013 ein Machtkampf zwischen dem Präsidenten Salva Kiir und seinem langjährigen Weggefährten und ehemaligen Vizepräsidenten Riek Machar außer Kontrolle geriet. Binnen kürzester Zeit nahm der politische Streit eine ethnische Dimension an, da Kiir und Machar unterschiedlichen Volksgruppen angehören und diese innerhalb der Regierungsarmee mobilisierten. Im Zuge dessen töteten Einheiten, welche der Gruppe des Präsidenten angehören (Dinka), Zivilisten der Nuer in Juba, welche sie der Sympathie mit dem als Putschisten geschassten Machar beschuldigten. Innerhalb weniger Tage weitete sich der Konflikt auf andere Teile des Landes aus; Gegenden, in denen viele Nuer leben, wurden zur Basis der bewaffneten Opposition unter Machar. Auch in Bor fanden heftige Kämpfe statt. Die Stadt wechselte die Kontrolle zwischen Regierung und Opposition viermal innerhalb weniger Wochen.

In den umkämpften Gebieten fürchteten viele Menschen um ihr Leben. Ihre eigene Regierung wandte sich gegen sie. Wo würden sie noch sicher sein? Die blaue Fahne der Vereinten Nationen versprach Rettung. Zu tausenden strömten Menschen im Dezember 2013 zu den Lagern der UN-Mission. Vor die Wahl gestellt, verantwortlich für die Versorgung von tausenden von Menschen zu sein oder zuzusehen, wie diese vor ihren Augen abgeschlachtet würden, ordnete die damalige Leiterin von UNMISS, die Norwegerin Hilde Johnson, an, die Tore zu öffnen. Auch das Lager in Bor öffnete seine Tore. „Am ersten Tag kamen 2.000, am zweiten waren es bereits 16.000 Menschen auf unserem Gelände“, erzählt uns ein UN-Mitarbeiter an unserem ersten Abend. „Wir waren nicht dafür ausgerüstet. Wir hatten kein Essen, keine Unterkünfte für diese Menschen.“ Wegen der Kämpfe wurden gleichzeitig viele Mitarbeiter von Hilfsorganisationen evakuiert: „Wir waren auf uns selbst gestellt in den ersten Tagen“, sagt er.

Anderthalb Jahre später sind viele Flüchtlinge immer noch da. Mittlerweile versorgen die Vereinten Nationen etwa 130.000 Menschen auf dem Gelände ihrer Stützpunkte im Südsudan (in Bor sind es noch etwa 2.400). Nie zuvor in ihrer Geschichte hat die Organisation so viele Personen über so einen langen Zeitraum direkt geschützt.

Straße zwischen Bor Town und den UNMISS Lager. Hier kam der gewaltsame Mob am 17. April 2014 entlang.

Straße zwischen Bor Town und den UNMISS Lager. Hier kam der gewaltsame Mob am 17. April 2014 entlang.

Am nächsten Morgen fahren wir mit Erik die breite Straße runter in die Stadt. Kühe säumen den Weg, Büros von internationalen Hilfsorganisationen und verlassene Villen lokaler Größen. Die meisten Einwohner von Bor wohnen in traditionellen Lehmhütten, die über ein weites Gebiet um die Hauptstraßen verteilt sind. Im Zentrum brummen Marktstände mit Leben, deren Auswahl allerdings auf wenige Güter wie Reis, Bohnen, Mehl, Tomaten, Zwiebeln, Okraschoten und weitere weitgehend importierte Güter beschränkt ist. Dazu kommt die hohe Inflation – ein kleines Bündel Zwiebel kostet schon mal 25 südsudanesische Pfund, über zwei Euro.

Wir treffen einen Minister der Landesregierung, der zum Einstieg betont, es gäbe keine Konflikte mehr in Jonglei, nur noch ab und an kriminelle Aktivitäten. Ja, die Rebellen kontrollieren einen erheblichen Teil im Norden von Jonglei, aber im Grunde ginge es dabei nur um politische Macht in der Zentralregierung in Juba. „Wir wollen Botschaften des Friedens im gesamten Land verbreiten“, sagt er. Wie ernst er es damit meint, bleibt unklar.

Die Wunden sitzen tief, gerade hier in Bor. Die Regierungsarmee vertrieb die Opposition aus der Stadt, was Flüchtlingen anderer Ethnien und nationaler Herkunft erlaubte, das UN-Lager zu verlassen. Nur die Nuer, welche der gleichen Volksgruppe wie die Rebellen angehören, blieben, weil sie Übergriffe von Regierungskräften gegen sie fürchteten. Die Beziehung zwischen der überwiegend von Dinka bewohnten Stadt und den Flüchtlingen blieb angespannt: Nuer wurden regelmäßig belästigt und angegriffen, wenn sie das Lager verließen. Als Berichte in Bor eintrafen, dass Nuer-Flüchtlinge in einer nördlichen Stadt des Landes dessen Eroberung durch die Opposition gefeiert hätten, griff die Stimmung über.

Ein UN-Bericht detailliert, was am 17. April 2014 geschah: Morgens sammelte sich eine aufgebrachte Menge von hundert bis dreihundert jungen Männern, die sich mit Gewehren und Stöckern ausgestattet in einem Zug von der Stadt auf das UN-Lager zu bewegten. Sie umrundeten das Lager und gelangten zur der Seite, wo sich das Flüchtlingslager befand. Etwa zwanzig Männer überwanden den Zaun, Graben und Stacheldraht-bewehrten Wall, übermächtigen die Wache schiebenden UN-Soldaten und ließen mehre Dutzend weitere Männer herein. Die Angreifer gingen von Zelt zu Zelt, raubten die Insassen aus, schlugen sie und raubten Frauen. Sofern sie ihre Opfer nicht an den für Nuer typischen Gesichtsnarben erkannten, fragten sie ihre Opfer, welcher Volksgruppe sie angehörten und droschen auf sie ein, wenn diese nicht in Dinka antworten konnten. Der Angriff ebbte erst ab, als etwa eine halbe Stunde später eine schnelle Eingreiftruppe der UN einrückte.

47 Menschen starben in Folge dieses Angriffs innerhalb des UN-Lagers, und dass, obwohl sie „umgeben von Panzern“ waren, wie uns der hagere Vorsitzende des Flüchtlingsrats innerhalb des Lages später erzählt. Wieder einmal waren die Erwartungen auf Schutz und Sicherheit durch die blaue Flagge der Vereinten Nationen aufs Bitterste enttäuscht worden. Bis zum heutigen Tag ist keiner der Täter zur Rechenschaft gezogen worden.

Gut ein Jahr später gibt es jedoch auch Zeichen der Hoffnung. Ein lange schwelender Konflikt zwischen einer bewaffneten Gruppe einer dritten Volksgruppe, den Murle, konnte letztes Jahr beigelegt werden. Erst vor kurzem gab es eine weitere politische Annäherung auf Landesebene mit einem hochrangigen Treffen von Vertretern der ehemaligen Murle-Rebellen und der Landesregierung. Während in anderen Bundesstaaten des Südsudan sich die Opposition um Machar und die Regierungsarmee gerade Gefechte liefern, ist es in Jonglei relativ ruhiger. In einigen Gebieten mit traditionell gemischter Dinka-Nuer Bevölkerung scheint es vorsichtige Annäherungen zu geben. Die Vereinten Nationen unterstützen diese Prozesse nach Kräften. Ihr Zugang zu den Rebellengebieten ist allerdings sehr begrenzt.

Die Vereinten Nationen haben eine große Verantwortung übernommen für die Flüchtlinge, die direkt in ihren Lagen leben. Sie versprechen ihren Schutz, aber greifen teilweise nicht entschieden genug ein, wenn es darauf ankommt. Mittlerweile bindet der Schutz der eignen Lager und der angeschlossenen Flüchtlingslager über drei Viertel der militärischen Ressourcen und einen Großteil der humanitären Hilfe – dabei leben die allermeisten Flüchtlinge und Hilfsbedürftigen außerhalb der Lager, häufig in schwer zugänglichen Gegenden. Schwierige Entscheidungen stehen bevor.

Leise schlägt der Regen auf die Fensterscheiben. Wir fliegen zurück nach Juba, unsere Zeit in Bor ist zu Ende. Die Soldaten, Offiziere, humanitären Helfer und zivilen Mitarbeiter der UN Mission werden jedoch noch lange bleiben müssen.

Dieser Text gibt ausschließlich die Meinung des Verfassers wieder und entspricht weder notwendigerweise der Einschätzung der Vereinten Nationen noch von GPPi.

Governing transboundary waters for the benefit of people through the human right to water

By Ha Le Phan, LLM (University of Essex)

Brahmaputra river in Assam, India, (c) Rita Willaert,

Brahmaputra river in Assam, India, (c) Rita Willaert

A number of contemporary challenges put a strain on the world’s freshwater resources including rivers, lakes and groundwaters, as well as their sensitive ecosystems. The effects of climate change and man-made conflicts are intensifying global water stress, while global demand and competition for water rises with ever growing industries and populations. Water is thus considered “blue gold”. For example, India and China are competing in the construction of dams on the Ganga-Brahmaputra in a race to exploit the rivers’ energy potential. In the long run, this will heavily impact water and food security in many riparian states and threaten the livelihoods of millions of people depending on these rivers. Interstate disputes over shared ground and surface waters can lead to the destabilisation of entire world regions. Some even argue that the next world war will be fought over water.

Although this is often suggested by the media and public opinion, the scarcity of water resources is, however, not the main cause of conflict. The UNDP Human Development Report (2006) concluded that “the global water crisis is rooted in power, poverty and inequality, not in physical availability”. The actual problem thus revolves around the question of water allocation, both within and among countries. How to weigh conflicting water uses and set the right priorities? The highly fragmented system of international law suggests a complex interplay of different legal regimes applicable to transboundary water governance. International water law emerged as the main specialised regime providing rules for coordination and cooperation between countries sharing freshwater resources. In August 2014, the UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC) has entered into force as the first universal framework convention on transboundary water use.

Besides, the human right to water evolved in response to the global water crisis and shifted attention to its main reason: unequal access to water. In 2010, the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council explicitly recognised the human right to water as part of the right to an adequate standard of living in Article 11 (1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. With the emergence of states obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights extraterritorially, the application of the human right to water will no longer be limited to a state’s national territory, but extends to people in riparian countries. From a legal perspective, both international water law and international human rights law provide pertinent criteria for water allocation in a transboundary context.


Divergence between international water law and human rights law

Both regimes of international law can prescribe differing water allocation criteria, when the access to water for residents in one state is heavily affected in quantity or quality by a water use with transboundary effects in another riparian state. For example, residents in downstream riparians can be impaired in their enjoyment of the right to water, when an upstream country chooses to excessively withdraw or pollute a shared river. The right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use. It places priority on the allocation of water for the satisfaction of most basic human needs such as drinking, cooking and showering. Consequently, states must at least abstain from activites that impede on the realisation of the right to water in their territory as well as in other basin states.

While the human right to water requires a prioritisation of water for personal and domestic uses, the UN Watercourses Convention only covers vital human needs at the survival level and considers these on a quasi-equal footing with other considerations. In international water law, the customary cornerstone rule of equitable and reasonable use seeks to establish a fair weighting of the interests of all states in the regulation of shared waters. However, the balancing process does not provide for the preferential treatment of any factor (Article 10 (1) UNWC). While the principle of equitable and reasonable use requires states to give “special regard” to the protection of “vital human needs” (Article 10 (2) UNWC), it does not stringently and expressly set out the superiority of these needs.

Only to some vague degree, vital human needs are more important than other considerations, but they still remain one amongst many factors to determine the equitable and reasonable use of a shared river (Article 6 UNWC). In this way, international water law leaves the door open for other aspects such as economic needs to outweigh the requirements of vital human needs. In situations where, for example, the economic exploitation of a river competes with the transboundary realisation of the human right to water, a so-called normative conflict in the wider sense can be provoked across the regimes of international water law and international human rights law.


Resolving normative conflicts among regimes through dynamic and harmonious interpretation

A number of legal techniques to overcome the fragmentation of different regimes of international law were suggested by the UN International Law Commission in 2006. In accordance with the principle of harmonisation, states could resolve differing water allocation criteria by reading the human right to water and the cornerstone principles of international water law in a mutually supportive light. Harmonious interpretation allows human rights standards and principles to enter the normative environment of international water law. Moreover, international water law is highly dynamic and its notions are not frozen in perpetuity, but will necessarily evolve over time in response to new global challenges and developments in other branches of international law.

Recent developments in international water law reflect a strong convergence with human rights law on the prioritised satisfaction of basic human needs. The 2004 ILA Berlin Rules on Water Resources (BR) marked a significant shift towards the comprehensive protection of basic human needs in international water law. The Rules took full account of the developments in the past decade regarding the scope and content of the right to water. The Berlin Rules recognised the human right to water (Article 17 BR) and broadened the concept of vital human needs (Article 3 (20) BR) in international water law. While the Rules are not legally binding, they aim at codifying emerging norms of customary international law which are expected to become settled in the near future. They therefore demonstrate that international water law is becoming closely aligned with the human right to water.

If legal tensions are resolved, both branches of public international law will be able to complement and mutually reinforce each other in order to set clear legal and political priorities for the allocation of water in a transboundary context. On the one hand, the human right to water and its associated extraterritorial obligations are likely to put flesh on the bones of existing and emerging international water law by filling in its concepts and notions. On the other hand, the principles of international water law can be applied to ensure and foster the extraterritorial realisation of the right to water. Given these synergies, the international legal landscape can serve as an effective framework to shape policy decisions regarding transboundary water allocation which allow for the satisfaction of basic needs as a matter of priority. The human right to water thus shines light on the needs of those who tend to suffer the most from transboundary water conflicts.

Learning in International Organizations

Nächster Teil unserer Serie zum 4. UN-Forschungskolloquium.


Natalia Dalmer
Leibniz Universität Hannover
Institut für Politische Wissenschaft

Change is part of everyone’s life, and just as it shapes our personal biographies, it characterizes developments within collective entities, such as private or public organizations at local, national and international levels. Change can proceed along different trajectories and it can either be exogenous or endogenous to an entity. For example, organizations need to change when they have ceased to perform their tasks properly or lag behind the times. Organizations may strive to expand their activities and compete for financial resources. Beyond that, organizational development might be based on a knowledge-based evolution of organizational perceptions of problems and, accordingly, appropriate strategies towards their solution. In other words, it might be due to a learning process.

Admittedly, organizational learning (OL) has not been a traditional focus within International Relations (IR) – unlike in sociology and management studies – and it has only been relatively recently that it has garnered increased attention. For instance, the World Bank’s and the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) environmental management activities (Haas & Haas 1995; Siebenhüner 2008) and developments within UN peacekeeping (Benner et al. 2013; Howard 2008) were found to be based on internal learning processes (although findings with respect to peacekeeping paint a heterogeneous picture). This development is promising, since researching learning within international organizations (IOs) helps to further enhance our understanding of the role and relevance of IOs in this day and age, as well as the nature of institutional innovation: apart from directing attention towards IO influence, it also sheds light on how they are tackling current problems. With a focus on UN agencies, this short contribution is intended to illustrate the nature of organizational learning and why it might be a worthwhile research endeavor for International Relations.

What is organizational learning and why do IOs learn?

As many international problems are becoming more complex and interrelated, international organizations are increasingly adopting knowledge-generating and –managing approaches in order to understand and tackle them. In this context, learning is becoming an important change trajectory within IOs. For UNDP, for instance, knowledge management has become necessary, because the nature of requested services has changed over the last years (UNDP 2014: 5). Among other things, the goal to reduce poverty is, in most areas of the developing world, closely linked to halting environmental degradation and to establishing sustainability. However, defining organizational learning is somewhat of a challenge. Although learning seems to be an intuitively obvious and familiar concept to everyone, imagining collective learning entities is more difficult. In fact, organizational learning is a rather ambitious concept and has been defined in various different ways. It is generally agreed, though, that it involves a rather profound knowledge-based process entailing a “reexamination of [organizational] purposes” (Haas 1990: 4), which leads to a subsequent change of organizational policies, strategies or structures (Siebenhüner 2008: 96). Knowledge here is understood as interpreted information, based on scientific evaluation and/or experience (cf. Haas & Haas 1995; cf. Argote & Miron-Spektor 2011). A changing perception of a certain problem influences the strategies towards tackling it. Thus, knowledge is always embedded in interpretative frames and is, to some extent, normative. Organizational learning is therefore broadly located within the constructivist tradition, which recognizes the mutual constitution of actors and structure; it enables us to understand how actors’ interests develop by focusing on the transformative influence of mutual beliefs and ideas.

Although connected to individual learning, the concepts are not synonymous: organizational learning is more than just the sum of learning individuals. Rather, structures need to be built that strengthen institutional capacity, preserve knowledge and enable lesson sharing. For instance, a number of UN agencies have established and systemized knowledge management systems to promote organizational learning (see for example UNDP 2014; OCHA 2011; DPKO/DFS 2009). However, challenges still remain in this area. But organizational learning also depends on individual leadership and an entity’s permeability towards its environment. Organizations do not exist in isolation and their relationship with the outside world allows for understanding where stimuli come from (cf. Haas 1990: 27). For example, the adoption of gender related issues and climate change cannot be understood without taking into account the influence of international civil society actors.

IOs, Organizational Learning, and organizational development

Learning as a non-coercive social process of organizational change enables us to further elaborate on IOs’ role and their opportunities as actors in international politics – in particular how they make use of their influence. IOs as bureaucratic creatures, amongst others gain authority from expertise (cf. Barnett & Finnemore 2004). And while “the authority of IOs creates a basis for their autonomous action” (ibid: 27), learning represents a particular development path that many organizations choose to take – namely one aimed at enabling themselves to better tap into oftentimes overlooked knowledge and to “decrease ‘information silos’” (UNDP 2014: 2). Thus, learning describes a process that is not externally imposed by states, but rather defined by a self-initiated and purposeful evolution of organizational expertise. Given the complex nature of today’s issues, it stands to reason that this trajectory is considered to be particularly appropriate and legitimate. For example, UNEP’s learning-based development towards a more active role in environmental matters has led to a revival of previously dwindling state acceptance (Siebenhüner 2008: 101).


Organizational learning is a worthwhile endeavor in International Relations, as it can deepen our understanding of organizational autonomy and how they choose to make use of it in order to tackle current problems. Moreover, we can draw conclusions about the legitimacy of this particular approach given the nature of current problems. Although challenges remain, more organizations are striving to become learning organizations. However, organizational learning is still understudied in International Relations. An increased focus on learning and knowledge-based change within IOs might be a fruitful exercise for future research, as problems become more complex and issues are increasingly interlinked. Research on learning within international organizations might contribute to understanding how emerging problems can be dealt with and what role IOs play. This is important, because the more IOs are able to adapt to a changing environment and react to increasingly interconnected and multifaceted problems, the more they will gain legitimacy in an increasingly complex world.


Argote, Linda and Ella Miron-Spektor (2011): Organizational Learning: From Experience to Knowledge, Organizational Science 22 (5): 1123-1137.

Barnett, Michael and Martha Finnemore (2004): Rules for the World: International Organizations in Global Politics, Ithaka: Cornell University Press.

Benner, Thorsten, Stephan Mergenthaler and Philipp Rothmann (2013): The New World of UN Peace Operations: Learning to Build Peace?, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

DPKO/DFS (2009): DPKO/DFS Policy on Knowledge Sharing, Ref. 2009.4, 1 May, United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, United Nations Department of Field Support.

Haas, Ernst B. (1990): When Knowledge is Power: Three Models of Change in International Organizations, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Haas, Peter M. and Ernst B. Haas (1995): Learning to Learn: Improving International Governance, Global Governance 1: 255-285.

Howard, Lise Morjé (2008): UN Peacekeeping in Civil Wars, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

OCHA (2011): Organizational Learning for Results, Objective 3.3, OCHA Annual Report 2011, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, [viewed 20 August 2014].

Siebenhüner, Bernd (2008): Learning in International Organizations in Global Environmental Governance, Global Environmental Politics 8(4): 92-116.

UNDP (2014): UNDP Knowledge Management Strategy Framework 2014-2017, New York: United Nations Development Programme.

Fragmentierung bedeutet mehr Effektivität

Informelle Entscheidungsfindung im VN-Sicherheitsregieren

von Eva Schmitt, JLU Gießen

Teil unserer Serie zum UN- Forschungskolloquium 2014

Security Council Meeting on: The situation in Cote d'Ivoire

Die sicherheitspolitischen Verhandlungsprozesse im Kontext der Vereinten Nationen sind durch Beratungen in exklusiven Foren mit beschränkter Mitgliederzahl gekennzeichnet. Während sich bereits der formell zuständige VN-Sicherheitsrat (VNSR) durch eine spezialisierte Struktur auszeichnet, finden konkrete Verhandlungen seit Anfang der 1990er Jahre oftmals im Rahmen weiter differenzierter Formate statt, die gleichgesinnte Gruppen sowie regionale Formate umfassen. So etablierte sich bereits Anfang der 1990er Jahre eine enge Konsultationspraxis der westlichen „Permanenten Drei“ (P3 – USA, Frankreich, Großbritannien), die im Laufe der 1990er Jahre durch den informellen Einbezug Deutschlands sowie weiterer „westlicher“ Akteure ergänzt wurde (Andreae 2002, 34), die in Folge in den Verhandlungen zu den Balkan-Konflikten und dem iranischen Atomprogramm eine relevante Rolle spielte. Parallel – z.T. auch in Reaktion hierauf – waren auch regionale Vormächte bemüht, im Rahmen regionaler Freundesgruppen (u.a. in den Fällen El Salvador, Haiti und Osttimor) die eigene Relevanz zu stärken. Dieser Ausdifferenzierungsprozess führte zu einer größeren Spezialisierung in Hinblick auf die Bearbeitung sicherheitspolitischer Fragen, geht jedoch tendenziell mit einer Relativierung des15er-Gremiums sowie der Position einzelner ständiger Mitglieder – wie u.a. Russland und China – einher, die (noch) über keine derart belastbaren „Netzwerke“ verfügen. Dieser Nachteil scheint unmittelbar mit den (Nach-)Wirkungen einer stärker „souveränitätsaffinen“ Orientierung beider Staaten zusammenzuhängen. Während China seit einiger Zeit bemüht zu sein scheint, sich in VN-Fragen stärker mit Schwellen- und Entwicklungsländern zu koordinieren, setzt Russland in der Entscheidungsfindung nach wie vor stärker auf Ad-Hoc-Koalitionen – wenngleich häufig zum Preis verminderter eigener Gestaltungsfähigkeit.

Der folgende Blogbeitrag setzt sich mit der Fragmentierung der SR-internen Entscheidungsprozesse seit 1990 auseinander. Hierbei wird der Hypothese gefolgt, dass dieser Prozess – im Gegensatz zu der grundsätzlichen Perzeption von Fragmentierungsprozessen als Negativentwicklung – in der Regel positive Implikationen für die Effektivität des Krisenmanagements im Rahmen des SR besitzt.


„Kontaktgruppen“ – nachfolgend definiert als spezialisierte und mit geringer Mitgliederzahl versehene Zusammenschlüsse, die wesentlich aus einflussreichen westlichen Staaten (wie den USA, Deutschland, Frankreich, Großbritannien und Japan) bestehen – treten seit Anfang der 1990er Jahre mit hoher Kontinuität zu den Verhandlungsprozessen im Sicherheitsrat auf. Zu diesen Formaten zählen u.a. die Jugoslawien-Kontaktgruppe (ab 1994), die E3+3-Initiative zum iranischen Atomprogramm (ab 2006), die Sechsparteiengespräche zum nordkoreanischen Atomprogramm sowie das Nahost-Quartett (ab 2001). Hierbei ist den drei erstgenannten Konfliktsachverhalten gemein, dass sie zwar zu definierten Zeiträumen (mit) im Rat verhandelt wurden, im 15er-Gremium jedoch keine substanzielle Konsolidierung der Konflikte erzielt werden konnte bzw. in letzterem Fall – aufgrund abweichender Interessen vetobewehrter Staaten – noch nicht einmal eine Verhandlungsführung im Rat möglich war. Die Transferierung in ein kleines, spezialisiertes Gremium ist somit als eine flexibilisierende Maßnahme anzusehen, die den im Prozess beteiligten Mächten größere Handlungsfreiheit und Vertraulichkeit in der Verhandlungsführung zusichert bzw. diese von den „Störmanövern“ von Spoilern unbeschadet halten soll.

Hinsichtlich der Effektivität der Gruppenformationen gilt, dass die Problemlösung in Hinblick auf die „hochpolitischen“ Konflikte, die mit den Kontaktgruppen adressiert werden, sich im Vergleich zu weiteren Konflikten als ausgesprochen diffizil gestaltet. Diese Ausgangslage, die eine Behandlung im Sicherheitsrat schwierig bis unmöglich werden lässt, führt auch dazu, dass eine Konfliktlösung im Rahmen der „kleineren“ Formate mitunter nicht – oder nicht in den Hauptdimensionen des Konfliktes – gelingt. Tatsächlich war es in den vier Konfliktfällen somit bislang nur in einem Fall – der Jugoslawien-Kontaktgruppe – möglich, einen Konflikt zu konsolidieren. In Hinblick auf das iranische Atomprogramm sowie das nordkoreanische Programm konnte eine Akkumulation nukleartechnischer Kapazitäten durch die Adressaten nicht verhindert werden. In der Verhandlungsführung in den Kontaktgruppen gelang es immerhin, eine weitgehende wirtschaftliche Isolation Irans und Nordkoreas mit Hilfe von Sanktionen durchzusetzen, die auch China und Russland im Sicherheitsrat mittrugen. Der schwächste Output konnte im Rahmen des Nahost-Konfliktes erzielt werden, der trotz der Einrichtung der Palästinensischen Autonomiebehörde in Folge der Verhandlungen nach wie vor einer grundlegenden Konsolidierung harrt. Jedoch ist in besagten Fällen die Interpretation zulässig, dass im Rahmen der Kontaktgruppen eine deutlich effektivere Verhandlungsleistung möglich war als innerhalb des (durch die Vetodrohung verschiedener Akteure tangierten) Sicherheitsrates. Dieser Umstand kommt insbesondere im Falle des Kosovo-Konfliktes, jedoch auch in Bezug auf die Atomprogramme zum Ausdruck, in denen die Wirtschaftssanktionen einzelner westlicher Staaten nicht unerheblichen Druck auf Iran und Nordkorea ausübten. Relevanter noch als das Containment beider Akteure scheint zu sein, dass beiden Fällen eine stark abschreckende Wirkung in Hinblick auf dritte Akteure unterstellt werden muss, die möglicherweise an einer Akquise nuklearer Kompetenzen interessiert sind. Die Fälle Jugoslawien-Kosovo, Iran und Nordkorea verweisen somit auch auf die weltpolitische Gestaltungsfunktion, welche speziell die demokratischen Staaten innerhalb der Kontaktgruppen auszuüben vermögen (und in dieser Weise in dem blockierungsanfälligen SR nicht gewährleistet wäre).

Ähnlich sieht es auch bei den sog. Freundesgruppen aus. Dies sind Staatengruppen, die sich mit Konflikten von mittlerer internationaler Relevanz befassen und die daher Raum für die Interventionen von Seiten regionaler Akteure zugänglich sind. So kam es im Zeitraum zwischen 1990 bis heute zu der Formierung von 31 Freundesgruppen, bei denen in 14 Fällen umfangreiche Untersuchungen zu deren Problemlösekompetenz vorliegen . Grundsätzlich gilt, dass die thematisch differenzierten Freundesgruppen in ihrer Effektivität stark auseinanderfallen, wobei in der Hälfte der Fälle eine positive und problemkonsolidierende Rolle der Freundesgruppen in Bezug auf regionale Konflikte konstatiert werden kann. Auch hier besteht eine starke Tendenz hin zu der Aufwertung von Demokratien in Verhandlungsprozessen (u.a. Spanien und Mexiko im Falle El Salvadors bzw. Australien und Neuseeland im Falle Osttimors), die regulär im Zentrum der Freundesgruppen-Verhandlungsprozesse stehen.


Kontakt- und Freundesgruppen treten seit den 1990er Jahren mit hoher Regelmäßigkeit im Konfliktmanagement der Vereinten Nationen in Erscheinung. Hierbei lassen die vorliegenden Befunde den Schluss zu, dass Fragmentierungsprozesse – im Sinne von Gruppenbildungsprozessen– in Akkordanz mit liberalen Annahmen zu der Schrittmacherrolle bzw. Gruppengovernance westlich-demokratischer Staaten in der VN-Sicherheitspolitik beitragen. Durch die Öffnung für das Konfliktmanagement auf Seiten regionaler Akteure und Vormächte ermöglichen sie eine praxisnähere und weitreichendere Konfliktbearbeitung , als dies im Rahmen einer Entscheidung im 15er-Gremium der Fall wäre. Sie tragen somit auch zu der Relevanz des VN-Sicherheitsregierens nach 1990 bei. Wenngleich es immer wieder Vorbehalte von Seiten nicht in den Gruppen vertretener Akteure gegenüber einzelnen Kontakt- bzw. Freundesgruppenformationen gibt, ist daher auch in Zukunft mit der Formierung derartiger Foren zu rechnen, da sich diese (aufgrund ihrer Attraktivität für international relevante Akteure) immer wieder in Verhandlungsprozessen zu etablieren bzw. zu behaupten vermögen.


Adekeye Adebajo: The Security Council and Three Wars in West Africa, in: Lowe, The United Nations Security Council and War. The Evolution of Thought and Practice since 1945, Oxford 2010, Seiten 466-493.

Lisette Andreae: Reform in der Warteschleife. Ein deutscher Sitz im UN-Sicherheitsrat? München 2002.

Peter Carey and Pat Walsh: The Security Council and East Timor, in: Lowe, The United Nations Security Council and War. The Evolution of Thought and Practice since 1945, Oxford 2010, Seiten 346-367.

Sebastian Harnisch: Der UN-Sicherheitsrat im koreanischen Nuklearkonflikt, in: Vereinte Nationen 4/2010.

Lowe, Vaughn / Roberts, Adam / Welsh, Jennifer: The United Nations Security Council and War: The Evolution of Thought and Practice since 1945, Oxford 2010.

David M. Malone (Hrsg.): The UN Security Council. From the Cold War to the 21st Century, London 2004.

Teresa Whitfield: Friends Indeed? The United Nations, Groups of Friends, and the Resolution of Conflict, Washington D.C. 2007.

Schwegmann, Christoph: Kontaktgruppen und EU 3-Verhandlungen. Notwendige Flexibilisierung Europäischer Außenpolitik, in: SWP-Aktuell, Dezember 2005.

The implications of multi-bi aid

Dieser Beitrag ist der erste Teil unseres neuen Schwerpunkts, der Themen und Papiere des 4. Forschungskolloquiums aufnimmt.

This guest post by Bernhard Reinsberg first appeared on his blog

Multi-bi financing has frequently been accused of fuelling the fragmentation of foreign aid. No doubt trust funds at international development organizations and special-purpose global funds have massively proliferated over the last two decades – but these trends may appear in a different light if donors would have sought to address the emerging development challenges with a myriad of bilateral aid activities. For this reason, any judgment on multi-bi financing may be misleading because it is not clear what alternative financing instruments would have been used in its absence.

To avoid this drawback, I take a different approach. I take the perspective of international development organizations, since these agencies arguably are most affected by the rise of multi-bi financing. I conducted more than 80 interviews at the World Bank, yielding nuanced assessments for different types of trust funds and different staff perspectives. These nuanced findings are developed in the full paper. For the purpose of this short article, I highlight some key findings and compare them with the experience of the United Nations agencies from earlier work based on document analysis. Before that, I briefly review what multi-bi financing is.

What is multi-bi financing?

Multi-bi financing represents a new type of funding for international development organizations. As opposed to traditional multilateral aid, multi-bi financing provides voluntary resources earmarked for specific development purposes, notably sectors, themes, countries, or modalities (OECD 2011: 54). It may even support activities outside the mandate of these organizations. It does not need approval by the formal governing bodies of multilateral organizations. No wonder why multi-bi financing has tremendously grown over the last two decades.

Currently, the portfolio of trust funds wandering through the coffers of the World Bank exceeds USD 30 billion, including trust funds for which the Bank only serves as financial intermediary. The entire trust fund portfolio has been outgrowing core contributions to the International Development Association since FY03. Over the last decade, the number of trust funds skyrocketed to over a thousands accounts. To support its own operations, the World Bank receives annual cash contributions of about USD 4 billion – a fourfold increase since the turn of the millennium (World Bank 2013).

Similarly, the United Nations witnessed a non-core resource growth by more than 350 percent between 1995 and 2011. Annual contributions having reached USD 18 billion, non-core resources support 70 percent of UN activities for development; some entities rely on these funds to an even larger extent (UN 2012). It would be surprising if these money flows had no real consequences.

Implications of multi-bi financing

Trust funds have become politicized. On the one hand, skeptics deplore the proliferation of poorly coordinated donor-sponsored activities at the expense of collective burden-sharing through multilateral core contributions (Isenman and Schakow 2010; Severino and Ray 2010; Graham 2012). On the other hand, advocates praise the potential to reduce burdens for recipients by harmonizing aid, especially in fragile states that do not have the capacity to manage multiple donors (Guder 2009; Barakat, Rzeszut, and Martin 2012). Surprisingly, neither fragmentation nor harominzation actually belong to the most important concerns for international development organizations. What does really matter for multilateral agencies? Read on to find out the seven most pressing issues.

Potential for realignment

Do trust funds support different activities than core funding through the International Development Association? Figure 1 compares the aggregate allocations from both types of funding by region. The figure illustrates a key rationale for trust funds, notably the support for global thematic activities. Also, as suggested by interviewees, trust funds are more relevant for regions that apparently do not obtain enough core funding to meet development needs, notably middle-income regions.

Figure 1: Regional allocation by source of funding.

Figure 1: Regional allocation by source of funding

Figure 2 repeats this comparison for sectors. Core funding has traditionally been more important in the transportation sector. Conversely, trust funds tend to give more weight to governance and education. Otherwise the respective allocations by sector are fairly similar. In addition, narrative evidence suggests that trust funds does not necessarily support the same types of activities as core funding. Some funds are used to pilot innovative development approaches, and even when they merely reinforce existing operations, trust funds rebalance the portfolio of activities by supporting selected Bank initiatives.

Figure 2: Sector allocation by source of funding.

Figure 2: Sector allocation by source of funding.

Similar analyses for UN agencies yield similar results. Both types of resources have different priority countries. The largest beneficiaries of non-core resources are Afghanistan, Sudan, and Pakistan, whereas the three core-funded darlings are India, Bangladesh, and DR Congo (UN 2012). The low rank correlation coefficient (R=0.30) reflects the country dissimilarity. Furthermore, non-core resources are more important for global activities.

Relevance for development needs

A large share of trust funds merely co-finance existing Bank activities, and where they do not, there are oftentimes limited possibilities to rely on core funding. For example, the Bank cannot legally interfere in the domestic affairs of recipient countries, which poses a problem for institutional capacity-building in fragile states. Multi-donor trust funds therefore seem to be the only viable choice to assist fragile states (Guder 2009; Barakat 2009). In a recent paper co-authored with Steve Knack and Katja Michaelowa, I exemplify why it is so difficult to change the rules of the game of World Bank assistance.

The UN virtually does not have any blind spots in its mandate. It hence uses its trust funds rather to scale up existing activities and to initiate new partnerships. For instance, UNDP said its collaboration with global funds helped “develop country-specific technical expertise in specialized areas” and to promote “innovative work that would not easily be possible through the use of core funds” (UNDP 2012: xiv).

Donor involvement in trust-funded operations

The first dividing line among different hierarchy levels pops up as regards operational involvement of donors. Bank staff from operational units usually consider the local collaboration with donors mutually beneficial, notably since bilateral donors sometimes have critical expertise. Corporate managers are more concerned that donors sometimes want to become “part of the kitchen”. Especially in the early days, donors had the prerogative to vet proposals, or to send own staff to project missions. More recently, donor audit offices have become interested in the operational details of trust funds.

UN agencies are more skeptical, complaining that “[trust funds are distorting program priorities by limiting the proportion of funding that is directly regulated by intergovernmental governing bodies and processes“ (UN 2012: 12). The UN Secretariat fears an erosion of capacities to “create, collate, and disseminate information“ (UN 2012: 12). Others have warned that trust funds are an „[…] implementing tool of donors, enhancing the patronage function […], further diluting the principles of independent multilateralism” (Browne & Weiss 2012: 13).

Hollowing out core funding

Over the last decades, the Bank has developed a sophisticated fee structure. Trust fund managers assert that management fees cover the costs of trust fund secretariats. From a corporate perspective, however, it seems entirely plausible that the fees do not cover the true costs of trust funds, because there are unaccounted costs for activities beyond immediate program support, notably fundraising and learning. An internal Bank evaluation finds that “it costs more to manage trust-funded activities than trust funds typically provide for this purpose” (IEG 2011: 75).

The UN Secretariat takes a similar view. In the early 1990s, fees were too low and frequent exemptions were granted, notably “to attract funding” and “to secure market share” (UNDP 2001: 35). While fees have gradually increased over the last decade, the Secretariat still asserts that core resources cross-subsidize the support costs of non-core activities (UN 2012: 24). This may unleash a dangerous dynamic whereby donors crowd into non-core resources as these funds appear to be administratively cheaper (Mahn 2012: 3).

Replacing core funding

There is virtually no evidence that donors intentionally reallocate money from World Bank core funding to trust funds, at the possible exception of large sector funds. From a Bank perspective, trust funds are always financially incremental if they support issues outside the core mandate and when there is evidence that donors replaced their core-bilateral aid by trust funds. The Bank also has been a winner of the overall growth of multi-bi aid because it makes a stable profit from the fees collected from financial management of global partnerships.

According to UN Secretariat, core resources “continue to be the bedrock of the operational activities for development of the United Nations system” (UN 2012). The Secretariat fears that non-core resources ultimately replace core contributions, thereby threatening to erode the “critical mass” of the organization (UN 2012: 13). Whether or not such direct substitution occurs is debatable — donors argue they could not have mobilized additional resources without earmarking (IDRC 2007: 10). However, the issue of lacking critical mass indeed is serious.

Costs of donor relations and administrative procedures

There are administrative costs related to negotiating trust funds, monitoring and reporting, and maintaining donor relations. Administrative burdens are due to donor exigencies as well as Bank-internal rules and clearance procedures. Excessive audits by some donors have become the greatest burden according to World Bank staff.

A UN budget report summarizes the administrative impact of trust funds: “Negotiating individual funding agreements and separate program and financial reporting for hundreds or even thousands of individual projects according to widely varying sets of requirements add significant costs […]” (UN 2012: 24). To some degree, these additional burdens are unavoidable when donors want attribution of their funding to tangible results and when they schedule audits every three months. However, the burden can be eased considerably by aligning reporting schedules and limiting possibilities for idiosyncratic donor requests, as envisaged in the umbrella funds by the World Bank.

Bureaucratic politics and institutional fragmentation

Trust funds can challenge the organizational integrity of the Bank by creating wedges between heterogeneous organizational units. Goal conflicts exist between corporate management and operational staff, as well as between networks and regions as the two types of operational units. Notably, trust funds with strong cross-linkages between the two types of operational units bear the risk of fuelling institutional fragmentation inside the Bank.

Similar lessons apply to the UN system. UN agencies compete with each other for implementing mandates. Competition prevents system-wide cooperation. According to UNDP, “competition and rivalry between agencies over non-core funds“ keeps the agency away from “meet[ing] its coordinating role in the UN system” (UNDP 2012: 71). Hence, the dark side of multi-bi financing may be duplication induced by competition.

Other implications

In the early days, trust funds threatened to undermine the risk culture inside the Bank. Fiduciary controls were lenient. Nowadays, after a corruption scandal in the early 2000s, the Bank has made trust funds subject to even higher controls than its own resources, according to corporate managers interviewed. This does not make trust funds equal to core resources: Specific types of funds in which the trustee does not have implementing stakes carry reputational risks. In addition, the Bank has a “hat problem” when managing multi-bi aid, as conflicts of interests may emerge when the Bank serves many different roles (Smyth 2011).

These additional problems are somewhat less relevant for UN agencies. UNDP may be an exception, as the organization traditionally served as the clearing house of the UN system, later developing into an implementing agency, and most recently becoming trustee of UN-wide basket funds through the Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office (UNDP 2013).


In conclusion, I have discussed seven hypotheses on the implications of multi-bi financing from the perspective of international development organizations. In a nutshell, my findings on these hypotheses are as follows:

  • Multi-bi financing and core funding support different aid activities –> True
  • As compared to core funding, multi-bi financing supports activities that are less aligned with actual development needs –> Not necessarily true, as multi-bi financing sometimes addresses gaps in the core budget

  • Multi-bi financing opens the door for undue donor influence on multilateral aid operations –> Maybe, but opinion on its effects varies across agency staff and it is not always harmful

  • Fees collected on multi-bi financing do not cover its maintenance costs –> Direct maintenance costs tend to be covered, but externalities most likely not

  • Multi-bi financing eventually replaces core funding –> Difficult to assess, but no evidence yet

  • Multi-bi financing increases transaction costs due to donor exigencies and bureaucratic procedures –> True, but unavoidable if aid is to be more targeted

  • Multi-bi financing spurs institutional fragmentation within multilateral agencies –> A negative externality from the agency perspective


My analysis on the World Bank has shown pros and cons of multi-bi financing. In times of stagnant core budgets, agency staff are tempted to expand their business through trust funds, even though they face higher administrative burdens induced by earmarking. This tradeoff may be moderated by organizational characteristics. Corporate management at the World Bank has been able to manage the proliferation of funds. Conversely, decentralized agencies like the United Nations tend to be more affected by the adverse implications of multi-bi financing.


Barakat, S., Rzeszut, K., and Martin, N. (2012). What is the track record of Multi-Donor Trust Funds in improving aid effectiveness? DFID and EPPI-Centre, University of London.

Browne, S. and Weiss, T. G. (2012). Making change happen: Enhancing the UN’s contributions to development. FUNDS report.

Graham, E. R. (2012). Money, Power, and Accountability at the United Nations: Examining the Causes and Consequences of Voluntary Funding.

Guder, L. (2009). Multi-Donor Trust Funds. Development Outreach, 11(1):36—38.

IDRC (2007). Donor Environment for International Development: An Overview. Technical report, Partnership and Business Development Division, Ottawa.

[IEG] Independent Evaluation Group (2011). An Evaluation of the World Bank’s Trust Fund Portfolio: Trust Fund Support for Development. Washington DC.

Isenman, P. and Shakow, A. (2010). Donor Schizophrenia and Aid Effectiveness: The Role of Global Funds. IDS Practice Paper No. 5.

Mahn, T. (2012). The financing of development cooperation at the United Nations: why more means less. DIE/GDI Briefing Paper.

[OECD] Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (2011). 2011 DAC Report on Multilateral Aid. Paris.

Reinsberg, B., Michaelowa, K., and Knack, S. (2014). Which donors, which funds? The choice of multilateral funds by bilateral donors at the World Bank. Presented at German Development Economics Association, Passau, June 26-27.

Severino, J.-M. and Ray, O. (2010). The end of ODA (II): the birth of hypercollective action. Center for Global Development Working Paper No. 218.

Smyth, S. (2011). Collective Action for Development Finance. University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, 32(4): 961–1054.

[UN] United Nations (2012). Analysis of funding of operational activities for development of the United Nations system for the year 2010. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Development Cooperation Policy Branch, New York.

[UNDP] Evaluation Office (2001). Evaluation of UNDP non-core resources. June 15, New York.

[UNDP] Evaluation Office (2012). Evaluation of UNDP Partnerships with Global Funds and Philantrophic Foundations. New York.

[UNDP] United Nations Development Program (2013). Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office Gateway. Web portal available at (accessed September 15, 2013).

World Bank (2013). 2012 Trust Fund Annual Report. Concessional Finance and Global Partnerships Vice Presidency, Washington D.C.


Can Europe Get Its Act Together to Influence the Post-2015 Agenda?

This guest post by Sophie Hermans first appeared on passblue.

BONN — As the open working group on the new sustainable development goals is nearing its last session in mid-July, the European Commission adopted a communicationon June 2, outlining Europe’s priorities for the post-2015 development agenda. This work is part of the European Union’s effort to make a substantive contribution in shaping the new goals, an endeavor that may not get too far. Differences of opinion among European nations and disagreements over priorities or even what should be included are already getting in the way of a strong unified position.

The European Union is the world’s largest donor to international development cooperation. It is also the single-largest financial contributor to the UN as a bloc, providing 35 percent of the regular budget and half of all voluntary contributions to UN funds and programs. Yet Europe struggles to turn its financial might into political leverage in multilateral forums.

As Simon Koppers, head of the United Nations Division at the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, said: “Generally, the EU punches below its weight. In terms of economic weight or ODA [official development assistance] or contributions to the UN, the EU should be more influential.”

The most recent communication and the documents preceding it focused on the post-2015 development agenda may be taken as a sign of Europe’s ambition to assert itself as a major player, not just a payer, in multilateral development. Titled “A Decent Life for All: From Vision to Collective Action,” the document follows up on a communication from February 2013 as well as a conclusion adopted by the Council of Ministers in June 2013, meant to contribute to Europe’s position in international negotiations. Which member states support this position and what role they will play in international negotiations is, however, far from clear.

Representing 28 countries as well as various institutions, the European Union often struggles to speak in one voice in multiparty negotiations. Typically, it strives to establish a joint position through coordination among member states. Development cooperation, environmental affairs and foreign policy (of which development is also an official part) are all policy areas in which the Union has additional legitimacy — and therefore urgency — in seeking a unified stance.

Finding common ground among 28 countries, however, is cumbersome. More than 1,300 coordination meetings take place every year — in New York alone. This makes the process lengthy and inflexible: the communication in June, for example, came out the same day as a list of proposed goals were published by the UN’s working group on the sustainable development goals. Europe’s communication may be too late to contribute meaningfully to a European position or to serve as a basis for negotiation but rather reflects and endorses negotiation processes that have already taken place.

Sophie Hermanns

This is not the first time the European Union acted too slowly in preparing for development conferences: it happened in Doha in 2008 and at the Busan forum in 2011 in Korea.

Joint positions are only worth as much as the support they receive from member states. Bypassing a collective European viewpoint may allow an individual country to pursue a more ambitious agenda than the lowest common denominator agreed on within the Union, enabling the country to act faster and more flexibly or to assert divergent interests.

Malta has already criticized the inclusion of reproductive rights among the priorities outlined in the June communication. Ireland, Poland and Spain, all members with restrictions on abortion, might feel similarly slighted.

Once a unified standpoint is reached, how can Europe contribute to the sustainable development agenda? The EU holds observer status and even membership in several UN entities and can present common positions in the General Assembly. But the bulk of the important work on the post-2015 goals will likely come from its working group, a forum in which the European Union as a bloc is not represented.

More important, in the working group’s voting blocs, all European members share seats with non-EU states. France and Germany are paired with Switzerland; Britain and the Netherlands are doubled up with Australia; and Italy and Spain are coupled with Turkey. Their ability to find a common European position will be limited by their need to coordinate with the other members of their voting groups.

The European Union is also facing additional challenges speaking with one voice in international development. One specific challenge is financial: while the June communication restated the EU’s commitment to reach its official development assistance goal of 0.7 percent by 2015, most members are far off track. Since the economic crisis, Spain’s contributions, for example, have dwindled from 0.46 percent to 0.17 percent of gross national income. In light of lasting economic crises and austerity programs, this situation is unlikely to change soon for many countries. Similarly, the Union’s budget for 2014-2020 does not provide for any increases in its development cooperation programs.

The European Union must also deal with the rise of euroskepticism and the Ukrainian conflict along its eastern border. These issues are most likely to make Europe more inward looking and less focused on its role as a global actor. The far-right parties — which proved their popularity in the EU elections in May — are critical of a strong foreign policy infringing on member states’ sovereignty, which might further aggravate European Union coordination in multilateral negotiations.

Fragmentation is one of the most common criticisms lobbed against the UN. It limits the effectiveness of the organization, the argument goes, particularly in development work. The European Union could ideally overcome some of the fragmentation, at least in development agendas, if its members worked together. The months ahead will show whether this potential can be realized.