Kofi Annan Should Step Down From the United Nations

by | Oct 22, 2004

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s latest interview with British television, in which he dismissed the serious allegations of Oil-for-Food improprieties raised in the Duelfer Report, undermines his credibility and impartiality with regard to the Oil-for-Food investigation.[1] Moreover, Annan’s remarks reinforce concerns over his own failure of leadership relating to the U.N.’s administration of the Oil-for-Food program […]

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s latest interview with British television, in which he dismissed the serious allegations of Oil-for-Food improprieties raised in the Duelfer Report, undermines his credibility and impartiality with regard to the Oil-for-Food investigation.[1] Moreover, Annan’s remarks reinforce concerns over his own failure of leadership relating to the U.N.’s administration of the Oil-for-Food program and cast serious doubt over his suitability to remain in office while the scandal is investigated. In addition, Annan’s controversial statements regarding the Iraq war have further undermined his supposedly neutral position as the world’s most senior servant of the international community. Annan should step down as Secretary-General while the Oil-for-Food investigation proceeds.

Annan and Oil for Food

In an extraordinary intervention, Kofi Annan attacked the conclusions contained in the Iraq Survey Group Report (the Duelfer Report)[2] regarding Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction program. Annan firmly rejected accusations in the report that Saddam attempted to bribe members of the U.N. Security Council through the Oil-for-Food program:

I don’t think the Russian or the French or the Chinese government would allow itself to be bought because some of his companies are getting relative contracts of the Iraqi authorities. I don’t believe that at all. I think it’s inconceivable, these are very serious and important governments. You are not dealing with banana republics.[3]

These remarks on the Duelfer Report are breathtaking in their arrogance and are a blatant demonstration of the Secretary General’s bias in favor of those nations that had opposed the removal of Saddam Hussein from power.

Annan’s comments are all the more remarkable for the fact that they were made against the backdrop of the biggest scandal in U.N. history, the ill-fated Oil-for-Food program, now the subject of at least four congressional investigations, three U.S. federal investigations, as well as a U.N.-appointed commission of inquiry, the Volcker Commission.[4] In a recent development, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the role of Kojo Annan, Kofi’s son, in connection to his role as a paid consultant to Cotecna Inspection SA, a Swiss-based company that received a contract for inspecting goods shipped to Iraq under the Oil-for-Food program.[5]

As the U.N. faces its greatest ever crisis, with its reputation firmly on the line, it is in the interests of the world body that Kofi Annan stand down while investigations into the U.N.’s management of the Oil-for-Food program proceed. The allegations against the U.N. are of such a serious nature that it is inappropriate for the organization’s CEO to remain in place when his own credibility is in question.

Several key questions remain regarding Kofi Annan:

  • Did the U.N. Secretary-General deliberately turn a blind eye to U.N. mismanagement and corruption in overseeing the Oil-for-Food program?

  • Did he sympathize with the efforts of Saddam Hussein and key members of the Security Council to lift U.N. sanctions against Iraq?

  • Were efforts made by the Hussein regime to influence the actions and decisions of the Secretary-General with regard to Iraq?

  • Was Annan influenced in his decision-making regarding the program by his son’s involvement with Cotecna?

The refusal of the U.N. to hand over to congressional investigators the audits into Oil for Food produced by the U.N.’s Office of Internal Oversight suggests that their contents may be damaging to the reputation of Annan and the U.N. Secretariat.

Annan and Iraq

Significantly, Annan’s remarks to ITV Newsregarding Oil for Food were coupled with a thinly veiled attack on the Bush Administration just two weeks before the U.S. presidential election. Annan again criticized the decision of the U.S. government to go to war against Iraq, firmly rejecting the notion that the world is a safer place with Saddam Hussein out of power:

I cannot say the world is safer when you consider the violence around us, when you look around you and see the terrorist attacks around the world and you see what is going on in Iraq.

Annan’s remarks echoed an earlier interview with the BBC, where he described the Iraq war as “illegal.”[6] Such remarks are deeply unhelpful at a time when the United States and Great Britain, with the support of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546[7], are working tirelessly to generate greater international involvement in the reconstruction and stabilization of post-war Iraq. Annan’s comments also undermine the efforts of the interim Iraqi Government in the lead-up to crucial elections in January. The Secretary-General’s description of the liberation of Iraq as a violation of the U.N. Charter merely gives comfort to the insurgents who are determined to prevent the creation of a successful democracy in Iraq.

Kofi Annan’s latest comment is a reflection not only of the U.N. Secretary General’s stunning lack of diplomatic skill, but also his deep-seated resentment of the United States’ decision to go to war against Iraq without his blessing. The U.S. public, which currently funds 22 percent of the U.N. budget, deserves better than a spectacularly undistinguished Secretary-General who can barely hide his contempt for U.S. foreign policy and has steadfastly refused to acknowledge that Saddam Hussein attempted to manipulate the U.N. Security Council.

Key Recommendations

  • The United States should call for Kofi Annan to step down as Secretary-General while the Oil-for-Food investigation proceeds.

  • Congressional investigators should examine Kofi Annan’s role in overseeing the Oil-for-Food program and explore whether attempts were made by the Hussein regime to influence the U.N. Secretary-General with regard to U.N. sanctions.

  • Congressional investigators should also establish whether Kojo Annan’s involvement with the program influenced his father’s decision-making.

  • Congress should hold hearings on the role the Oil-for-Food program played as a tool for buying influence in the Security Council.

  • The Bush Administration should seek official responses from the French, Russian, and Chinese governments to the charges made in the Duelfer report.

  • The White House should add its voice to calls from Congress for the Volcker Commission of Inquiry to make available all internal U.N. documents relating to Oil for Food.

Cartoons by Cox and Forkum.


[1]For background on the Oil-for-Food issue, see Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., James A. Phillips, and James Dean, “The Oil for Food Scandal: Next Steps for Congress,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1772, June 30, 2004, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/InternationalOrganizations/ bg1772.cfm.


[3] The comments were made in an interview with Jonathan Dimbleby for ITV News. See “Annan Slams Iraq War,” ITV News Online, October 17, 2004, at http://www.itv.com/news/world_970600.html. See also “Annan Rejects Iraq Oil Bribe Claim,” BBC News Online, October 16, 2004, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3750126.stm.

[4] For information on the Volcker Commission see Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., and James A. Phillips, “The Volcker Oil for Food Commission: Is It Credible?,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 569, September 20, 2004, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/InternationalOrganizations/ wm569.cfm.

[5] “Oil for Food Probe Includes Annan’s Son,” Fox News Online, October 15, 2004, at http://www.fox-news.com/story/0,2933,135503,00.html.

[6] BBC News Online, “Excerpts: Annan Interview,” September 16, 2004, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3661640.stm.

[7]United Nations, “Security Council Endorses Formation of Sovereign Interim Government in Iraq; Welcomes End of Occupation by 30 June, Democratic Elections by January 2005; Resolution 1546 (2004) Adopted Unanimously,” June 8, 2004, at http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2004/sc8117.doc.htm.

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo–Ameri­can Security Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for Inter­national Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. (www.heritage.org).

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