WHEN PRESIDENT BUSH addressed the United Nations General Assembly last week (see p. 30), he faced delegates who've made anything but progress toward U.S. positions since the president last appeared before the world body one year ago. Then Mr. Bush warned that the UN faced "a difficult and defining moment."
In addition to disagreement over war in Iraq, the Bush administration also disagrees with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's bureaucracy on day-to-day philosophy. Earlier this year, for example, Mr. Bush made permanent a U.S. freeze on funds to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) because of its failure to meet budget-reporting requirements and its continued partnership with Chinese officials in carrying out China's one-child policy.
Now Mr. Annan is pushing "radical reform" of the UN, starting with a likely proposal that would dilute U.S. power in the UN Security Council. Mr. Annan wants to add representatives from large developing countries in the "global south" to the council's current roster of China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States.
But Mr. Bush's problems with the United Nations might not be so severe if he were dealing only with actual nations. Instead, an influential network of more than 3,000 nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)-all with consultative status with UN agencies-often helps steer UN policy against American interests.
Over 2,000 delegates from these nonprofits gathered at UN headquarters in New York City last month, two weeks before the new session was set to begin. The annual meeting had more than the usual hand wringing, adding the Security Council issue to the normal list of woes: the AIDS crisis, overpopulation, the feminization of poverty, global warming, and so forth.
"We all know today that the legitimacy of the Security Council is in crisis," Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs told attendees, a theme that echoed through every session of the three-day event and usually drew applause. "Everyone knows the Security Council is out of date in its composition," said Barbara Crossette, former New York Times bureau chief for the United Nations, now a columnist for UN Wire. Other speakers suggested adding a seat on the council to represent the NGOs. The delegates applauded again.
The UN first created a way to accredit nongovernmental organizations 35 years ago. The rule change meant NGO representatives could attend UN sessions, participate in deliberations, and work in partnership with UN programs in poor countries and war zones.
Partnership had a purpose. Communist member states at the height of the Cold War used their Security Council seats to veto anything that threatened internal control. "Ukraine is a founding member of the United Nations, but everything said by us was dictated by the Soviet Union," noted Olga Smyrnova, a youth coordinator for the United Nations in Kiev.
Early nongovernmental organizations, particularly human-rights groups, used dissidents inside communist countries to promote a truer picture of conditions for the masses. Once they were accredited, the UN could supply the forum they lacked in oppressed nations.
But in the last decade UN-sponsored conferences on population, women, global warming, and other topics have turned human-rights advocacy into radical sport, dominated by leftist themes and intent on blurring state sovereignty. Those forums became opportunities for UN careerists to recruit activists into the UN-NGO nexis. Social radicals who want rich countries to fund their activities dominate the roster.
Large and widely recognized NGOs include the League of Women Voters, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Rotary International, Soroptimists, Maryknoll Sisters, Magnet Schools of America, and NAACP.
More subliminal are groups like The Ribbon International (an anti-nuclear group), Triglav Circle (described by one associate as an "NGO with special consultative status to the UN in social and cultural questions"), and Children of the Earth (ecology for kids).
At least two dozen groups on the roll for this year's conference have the word "women" in their names. Another two dozen are United Nations associations, organizations that usually include former and current UN employees who lobby and raise funds in support of the UN. And the UN even has its own NGO with 42 delegates to the conference, the World Council of Peoples for the United Nations, with offices located within the UN's New York complex.
Organizational inbreeding is just one complaint critics aim at the UN over how it relates to nonprofit liaisons.
"Member states don't represent their countries well, they will say, so the NGOs have to," said UN watchdog Austin Ruse of Culture of Life Foundation. "The standard operating procedure for NGOs is that they truly represent the people, even though most of them don't represent the people; they represent themselves."
As one example of the UN's inbred culture, UN documents show that in 2000 the UN committee on nongovernmental organizations "left pending" the application of Triglav Circle because UN staff, including former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, were part of the organization.
Responding to those concerns, according to the committee minutes, "the group's representative stressed that the organization comprised individual members serving in their individual capacities. It just so happened that some of them worked in the Secretariat." In January 2001 the committee granted Triglav special consultative status.
"The UN is supposed to be a collection of nations, and the Security Council only exists to do the will of those nations," said Doug Sylva of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. Cozy arrangements among the NGOs, UN agencies, and country missions, he said, have turned into an "iron triangle" where NGOs appear to give the UN grassroots accountability but in most cases do not. The UN, he said, "hopes to gain legitimacy" for its decisions "by including these nongovernmental organizations in the process."
How the bureaucracy influences UN policy and the actions of the Security Council was dramatically illustrated in the debate over Iraq. UN agencies in conjunction with NGOs built up a bureaucracy in both New York and Baghdad to run Iraq's Oil for Food Program, which employed at one time 5,000 people. Many Oil for Food principals were European foreign-service diplomats who played key roles in lobbying France, Germany, and Russia against U.S.-led military intervention and the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
Anti-American rhetoric was the other current running through last month's NGO conference. An Egyptian delegate rose to complain about U.S. judicial "corruption" under Attorney General John Ashcroft. Mary Racelis, a Filipino member of a UN panel, told the delegates, "The media is a problem [in the United States] because it is a very controlled media."
Former Alternate U.S. Representative to the UN Harvey Feldman responded in an interview with WORLD: "There is a lot we can be critical of in the United States, but to say the press in the U.S. is not free or the judicial system is hopelessly corrupt is outrageous." Mr. Feldman attended the conference as an observer for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank and one of very few such groups to apply for and win NGO status at the UN.
Mr. Feldman said Heritage joined the UN list "to try to improve the effectiveness of the United Nations through administrative reform." That's the kind of reform not likely to go down easy in the secretary-general's office. Mr. Feldman said he would push for administrative reform and "an end to redundant activities," such as decolonization commissions.
But Washington conservatives aren't opposed to reforming the UN Security Council. Heritage will convene a meeting in November to discuss specific reform proposals, and one draft now circulating would include eliminating the Security Council altogether.
Meanwhile, Congress is using its check-signing powers to pressure the UN bureaucracy. This month the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to delete Mr. Bush's request for $71 million to renew U.S. membership in UNESCO. It also voted to reduce contributions to the UN general budget and for peacekeeping operations. In going against the president, the Senate committee said despite Bush administration assurances, "the committee does not consider UNESCO reformed." It said nearly 60 percent of the UN agency's budget goes into personnel, while programs receive only 40 percent.
The committee also cut the president's request to fund the UN Human Rights Commission, which includes such notorious human-rights abusers as Cuba and Libya, by $12 million. The committee argued in a markup report, "The makeup of the Human Rights Commission has gone unquestioned by the leadership of the United Nations for too long.... The Committee refuses to allow American tax dollars to be spent in support of an organization that serves merely to provide an air of legitimacy to nations that commit the very crimes this organization was created to combat."
With a resolution pending to put UN peacekeepers into Iraq, Mr. Bush's debate with the world body is far from over. So too is the UN's "difficult and defining moment."