Diplomacy in the junkyard

For the present state of the uno the decaying headquarters in new york is symptomatic

On the opening of the 60. Un general assembly are held by the 14. To 16. More than 170 heads of state and government are expected to convene at the un headquarters in new york on september. The meeting, billed by the united nations as the "greatest political gathering in history," will focus on reforming the world organization. While diplomats in capitals bicker over the expansion of the un security council, revelations about the oil-for-food program are dramatically announced, and un secretary-general kofi annan is already backpedaling on his timetable for reform, some officials at the un have more practical concerns: the un headquarters building is literally falling apart.

Un headquarters in new york. Photo: andreas bummel

The foundation stone for the building designed by architect wallace k. Harrison planned building on the east river was completed on 24. October 1949 laid. Three years later, the skyscraper with a blue, reflective facade and the accompanying conference complex with the domed hall of the un general assembly were completed. After that, nothing happened in terms of construction until 1977. The building was designed to accommodate 70 member countries. Meanwhile, the activities of 191 governments must be supervised and coordinated.

Until the recent past, expansion and maintenance work was necessarily patchwork, on the one hand because of the organization’s chronic financial crisis, but on the other hand also because the high quality of the building allowed the final judgment to be postponed a little further into the future.

Franz baumann in the journal united nations

Hardly anyone denies that the "last resort", i.E. A general renovation, has become overdue. A few years ago, pieces from the roof of the general assembly broke down onto parked vehicles. Inside the building pieces fell down on the delegates. A marble wall in the library is in danger of collapse. The elevators and escalators in the 39-floor office complex break down regularly. Plaster is falling off the walls, the carpeting stinks. The building is practically inaccessible for the disabled. The air conditioner takes on a life of its own. Heat and frost alternate at random, so that often the only thing that helps is to rub the windows open.

The facilities were designed for 25 years. This span expired three years ago. The manufacturer no longer exists, so we can’t even get spare parts.

Peter wendeborn, responsible for renovations

Many of the 5.400 windows regularly burst out of their mountings because of porous insulating material. Beyond that, the water pipes leak. Computers do not work on one floor because they are disabled by electromagnetic fields from outdated systems in the room above. To make matters worse, the offices are contaminated by asbestos, some of which trickles out of the walls in powder form. "When we have to get something like this fixed, people come in space suits," wendeborn says. Air conditioning has a reputation for spreading pollutants throughout the complex.

Diplomacy in the junkyard

Drawing by andreas raub

According to u.S. Building codes, the building had to be shut down immediately. It is the only high-rise in new york that does not have a sprinkler system in case of fire. And if a fire should break out, it can only be located on three floors due to the completely outdated alarm system. Fugitive diplomats and staff had to force their way through narrow escape routes. The building is a perfect target for terrorist attacks from the security point of view. In the corridors of the republicans in the us congress, the cynical joke is circulating that nothing more needs to be done about the un: soon the headquarters will collapse of its own accord and then the matter will be settled.

Entering the building complex, one travels back in time to the 1950s. The telephones and the equipment of the meeting rooms were ready for the museum. Telecommunication is anything but disobedient.

"It’s one big junkyard. Even in africa we have more modern buildings for international conferences," a diplomat from kenya, who came to the millennium summit in 2000, told dpa.

The capital master plan

In the year 2000, the plan for a general renovation, the so-called "capital master plan" (un doc. A/res/55/238), set on its way. After some back and forth, the un general assembly authorized a renovation variant. According to the report, the interior of the building will be removed and rebuilt. The glass facade will be replaced with energy-saving, non-splintering windows. The extensive program includes modern electronics and security systems and modernization of the conference rooms. During construction, the secretariat will be relocated to a new office building, undc-5, on the south side of 42nd street. Street in new york to be relocated. The cost is estimated at about 1.27 billion us dollars.

As a host country, the u.S. Government has offered the un a 5.54 percent interest-bearing loan equal to the estimated cost of the renovation. In the meantime, this has also been approved by congress. The $1.2 billion loan will cost the united nations about $2.5 billion over the maximum three-year term, or $1.3 billion in interest. Other sources of funding are not in sight, however.

Local politicians oppose the move

Plans to relocate the secretariat to undc-5 were thwarted this spring by resolutions of the new york city council and the new york senate. The construction of undc-5 on the designated site, the robert moses playground adjacent to the main building, was not approved. The new building was to have 35 floors. The "queens midway" tunnel, of all things, runs under the planned flat area. Mayor bloomberg had advocated for the project until the very end. The un is now feverishly looking for alternatives, such as renting buror space. The ground-breaking ceremony for undc-5 in spring 2007 will probably not take place.

The mood in the two new york chambers is characterized by principled rejection of the un: "we don’t want the un here, and if it is here, we won’t do anything to make it more comfortable. I am in favor of kofi annan’s resignation. And i’m for shutting it down," for example, brooklyn democratic councilman simcha felder told the new york sun. Felder is the chairman of the city council’s landmarks and public siting subcommittee, which has had to deal with the u.N. Request as a matter of local policy.

The rejection of the united nations’ attempt to grab land in turtle bay is an opportunity for city, state and federal governments – and for the united nations itself – to rethink the logic of staying in new york in the first place. … In our view, the best outcome of this dispute for the world organization, which has betrayed america’s ideals, would be to abandon its headquarters here and move, say, to the former west german capital of bonn or to a third world capital that also shares the un’s hostility toward what america stands for.

Hamish commentary in the new york sun

Unjustified polemics

The reasons for the strong feelings are the un’s opposition to the illegal war in iraq, the oil-for-food scandal, but also local ies such as unpaid bribes for traffic violations by un diplomats. Pakistan’s un embassy alone owes the city a staggering 560.000 us dollars in traffic fines. In total, there are about 10 million us. Criticizing the un is a popular political practice in the usa in order to make a name for oneself. What better opportunity could there be for a city councilor than to take on the "rude" un and get involved in "world politics"?? Relocation of un headquarters is not even remotely on the international agenda.

The polemic is not justified anyway. The investigations into the ol-fur food program in particular clearly show the u.S. Government’s complicity in the scandal. By abusing the program, the volcker commission found that saddam hussein’s regime had taken in about $3.7 billion. Through olsmuggling, un sanctions in particular were undermined. A large part of the smuggled oil was transported by sea through the persian gulf – u.S. Navy units were in charge of the inspection.

The un and its instruments are only as good or bad as the member states themselves make possible. In an effective world organization, governments are only too reluctant to invest. The decay of the un headquarters building is a good example of this.

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