United NGOs

International | UNITED NATIONS: As Kofi Annan tries to dilute U.S. power at the UN, some of his key allies are not even nations

Issue: "California's new governor," Oct. 4, 2003

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.

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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 "Everyone knows the Security Council is out of date in its composition," said Barbara Crossette, former New York Times bureau chief for the United Nations, now a columnist for UN Wire.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."


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