UN Groupies to US Congress: Don’t Review Their Performance!

Fast on the heels of yet another Republican-led attempt to withhold membership dues partially, should the UN not address some reforms that are of keen interest to its biggest underwriter, a bunch of former US ambassadors to the UN are saying, essentially, that pay should not be based on performance:

Eight former U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations sent a letter on Tuesday urging congressional leaders to reject a bill that would link reform of the world body to payment of American dues, warning that the legislation could actually strengthen opponents of reform.

The UN groupies cite the following precedence:

The United States is the biggest financial contributor to the United Nations, paying about 22 percent of its annual $2 billion general budget. After the U.S. government fell millions of dollars behind in arrears in the late 1990s, the United States almost lost its voting rights in the General Assembly.

The letter said that withholding money again would “create resentment, build animosity and actually strengthen opponents of reform.”

“The fact is reforms cost money and withholding dues impair the U.N.’s ability to make the changes needed,” it letter said.

So, let me get this straight: If the US pays up, reform will be had? Really? We’ve been paying for about 60 years now. Where’s the reform? The UN fell from the vision of its founders pretty much as soon as Uncle Joe decided that Eastern Europeans didn’t need human rights. “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung had no use for the UN, and the UN participated in the little chaos he started only because the Soviets thought an absence meant a veto, and Uncle Sam led the countercharge. The UN did nothing while Fidel flirted with fortune. The UN stood by while Israel was invaded on more than one occasion, and at every turn denounced Israel for fighting back. The UN did nothing for Afghanistan. Nothing for Tibet. Nothing for Kashmir. Nothing for Northern Ireland. Nothing for anyone unless some plucky nation had the courage to lead, like the Americans in Korea, the Americans in Kuwait, and the Australians in East Timor.

In the mean time, the UN has become a gaggle of goose-stepping anti-Americans, who champion Colonel Qaddafi (yeah, great dictator there, can’t even give himself a promotion) to chair the Human Rights Commission, who kick out oppressed Christians when they threaten the facetiously thin skin of Chinese cadres, who equate globalization and Zionism with racism, who think Hugo Chavez is Jesus reborn and Robert Mugabe is the next Nelson Mandela, and who, most egregiously, pass flowery resolutions encouraging Saddam Hussein to come clean, while undermining any effort to actually hold him accountable because too many corrupt officials would then be implicated in the Oil for Food racket.

Diplomacy was always a cynic’s game. Americans can appreciate cynicism, but aren’t terribly good at conducting it themselves (except, of course, the Democrats). All that the House panel asks is for there to be better accountability and more transparency. These are reforms that make businesses run better, and earn more trust with shareholders. We even demand it of our own governments. (For example, as much as we despise waiting in line at the local DMV, the work pretty much gets done as it should. Why, just last week, I renewed my vehicle license registration online, and already got the new registration card last night.)

By the way, just who are these “opponents of reform” that the UN groupies are pointing to? I imagine some tinpot dictator strutting about, telling his latest mistress that if the damn Yanks don’t pay up, then no reform will be had. And if they do pay?, she asks. Jacques laughs: Well, why then we’ve got the money anyway, so what do we care?

This isn’t to say that there aren’t worthy branches of the United Nations; but I fail to understand why such things as the General Assembly or the Commission on Human Wrongs is so necessary to continue the good works of UNICEF or maybe even UNESCO. In fact, maybe it’s time we broke up “Ma UN” into smaller groups that work better together.

Indeed, to a certain degree, specialists in different international niches have already been around. The International Committee of the Red Cross and Medicins Sans Frontiers already run relief efforts. NATO spearheaded the action in the Balkans. A quickly built coalition was able to coordinate relief efforts in Banda Aceh after the Boxing Day Tsunami. And, not to be terribly morbid, but we don’t need a bureaucracy to criticize the US while sparing Third World dictatorships when Amnesty International has made such an art of it, and we don’t need UN peacekeepers engaging in lurid acts of sexual predation when various militant groups (such as the Janjaweed) already do it so well. Besides, those blue helmets are just screaming “I’m a target“!

Can the UN be reformed? Sure. Should it be reformed instead of trashed? Probably. But I, the American voter, expect my government to get me a good deal on my international bureaucracy, dammit. So, if we can’t split the UN up, how about we just buy different parts of it? If we really want GA membership, we pay for that. If we think UNICEF’s good but UNESCO’s not, we pay for the first but not the second. Or if they’re both good, we pay for UNESCO, a little bit for UNICEF, and wait for those little collection tins to go around at the office for the rest of UNICEF. It’ll be like modding a car: You buy the really basic model, and swap out the things you don’t like for things you do like.

Ah yes, when was the last time you tried swapping out a bureaucracy, democratically appointed or not?

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

6 thoughts on “UN Groupies to US Congress: Don’t Review Their Performance!”

  1. People never use this kind of reasoning with corporations.

    If a defense contractor isn’t performing up to snuff nobody ever says, “hey, they need even more money! If we give them more money they will surely improve.”

    I think the biggest problem with the UN is that the majority of people who support it, especially in Europe, don’t really believe in government accountability to the people. In their view, the primary role of government is to control the irrational impulses of the people not to kowtow to them.

    The UN won’t be effective until it loses this elitist mindset.

  2. One place it is habitually used is with our schools. Failing? Ah, that is lack of money! Yeah, sure, contrast Washington D.c. and rural states along the northern corridor–test results & money per pupil.

    Last week a Lehrer Report implied that a school couldn’t be good because too many of the locals had opted for home schooling (thus depriving them of state money determined by student). Of course, they didn’t have as many student to spend it on and the parents had to pay school taxes even though they were home schooling their kids. I like Lehrer but it beds with the teachers’ associations.

    These share with the UN an elitist mentality and have been trading for far too long on our quite understandable affection for the values both systems are supposed to embody. The UN has not led to thoughtful dialogue and peace; the education system has not led to well educated kids.

  3. The call to reject withholding dues because it will “impair the U.N.’s ability to make the changes needed” contains the same ignorance of incentives as does the economics of socialism. The key error in both is the failure to recognize that incentives matter.

    While it may be true that American influence waned while dues were withheld, our influence while paying dues was much the same. One could instead posit that, given the same poor results whether or not we pay, why pay?

  4. Pt 1.

    I know I sound like a broken record, but I think the terms of this debate need to be clarified. The “dues” that the US pays to the UN are not the only funds that body receives from the US congress. As someone else mentioned, there are any number of other UN affiliated orgs (read: controlled by the UN bureaucrats) that receive as much, if not more funds than the amount paid directly. If I recall correctly, the total funding the UN and its sub groups receive annually is between 8-14 billion US$. (the CBO has the exact figures per cycle). The “dues” portion of the total funding is merely a fraction of the whole.

    Once this fact is understood the debate changes. The fact is that the US foolishly surrendered the right to individually demand fiscal accountability of the UN bureaucracy in terms of the “dues”… conditioning the fulfillment of treaty obligations upon financial reporting (i.e. not stealing the funds) was not considered important enough to include in the Charter, and therefore not a valid grounds in terms of the ACTUAL treaty to withhold “direct dues”. Because the Europeans on the Security Council, including the Russians, benefit directly from our inability to properly audit the UN, we will NEVER secure the SC vote required. There’s a reason most of the financial management of the UN is undertaken in jurisdictions that have discrete banking sectors.

    By forcing the US into an unwinnable political fight over the “direct dues”, the UN bureaucracy and Eurocrats control the terms, timing, and tone of the debate. And the result is that we look like jerks. We lose the PR battle every time, soley because we cannot learn from past mistakes.

    Here is a better solution: (cont)

  5. Pt. 2 cont.

    First. We should pay the direct “dues”, around $2 billion a year, without question, and not bother to make empty threats. This said, we can and should pass a law that bars transfers of US public funds to National jurisdictions with discrete and/or private banking systems. Because the Europeans know that the Swiss and Austrian governments cannot force their banks to open their books by law, the UN and Eurocrats are able to provide a plausable, if cynical, excuse when the US complains. “What can we do?” they say, “we do not make the Laws for the Swiss! You Americans are arrogant to think your law is higher than Swiss law!”

    If the monies we paid to the UN were ONLY distributed to Countries where their governments could legally force their banks to provide transaction records, then the UN and Eurocrats would have no excuse for not cooperating. Everyone, even Koffi Annan, agrees with the “Transparency” ideal. Why not? As long as the US sends UN money to non-transparent jurisdictions, the corrupt officials can still steal all they like, and look like honest men in public because of a loophole.

    Second. Although the “dues” the US pays to the UN cannot be audited, and are immune to conditional payment demands beyond the existing treaty (charter). The majority of the funds the UN receives from the US for things like Unicef or etc, are NOT required nor defined by the original Charter. I.E. although we cannot dictate terms of the “dues” the US pays to the UN, the UN cannot dictate terms regarding all the billions the US pays that DO NOT qualify as “dues”. The WHO, UNICEF, UNESCO, the “World Court”, and etc. are ALL controlled by the SAME UN bureaucracy the US would like to see reform. Is there anyone in the world willing to defend a bureaucracy that sucks up 60-80% of funding intended for CHARITY? How can the UN “fight poverty” when it’s officials refuse to fly coach or stay in other than four star hotels? Why do WHO and UNICEF officials drive brand NEW SUV’s? Why should poor people in Third World hellholes suffer so that UN bureaucrats are able to live in luxury off of money geneously donated by MIDDLE CLASS citizens of Japan, Europe, and the US?

    When those in the US and Europe who actually want to solve some of the worlds worst problems stop accepting excuses and start applying Sun Tzu, maybe then UN reform is possible.

    (Cont.) did I mention I dislike the word limit on posts?

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