United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is certainly a big improvement over his predecessor, Kofi Annan. His quiet diplomacy and relative even-handedness in dealing with such issues as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during his first year in office are a refreshing change from Annan’s disastrous tenure. However, in terms of the institution, the change at the top has made little difference. The United Nations continues to spiral downward.
Especially disappointing is the situation in Darfur, where there was a glimmer of hope last year that a combined UN-African Union peacekeeping force could be put in place which would be large enough to stop the mass killings there. Ban admitted at his first press conference for 2008 that he has only 9000 out of the estimated 26,000 soldiers needed. “That is why we are very much concerned about this ongoing deteriorating situation in Darfur”, he said.
Things have not worked out as Ban had hoped because the Sudanese government has thrown up all manner of obstacles and China is still running interference for its ally and major oil supplier. Seventy percent of Sudan's Chinese oil revenues, which now top $1 billion per year, have been reportedly used by the Sudanese government to attack the non-Arab population in the Darfur region.
Another Rwanda is unfolding before our eyes. The UN remains impotent to stop the genocide. All it seems that Ban Ki-moon can do right now is to continue begging the Sudanese leader to cooperate, and to make symbolic gestures such as he did last week in designating actor George Clooney as a UN "messenger of peace".
The UN also remains a captive of the majority of member states controlling the General Assembly – many of whom despise democratic values.
The UN’s human rights apparatus is still in the clutches of the worst human rights abusers on the planet, who pat each other on the back for their faux commitment to human rights. Meanwhile, millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayers’ money are being squandered by these hypocrites on non-stop investigations and condemnations of Israel. To his credit, Ban Ki-moon has spoken out against this gross one-sidedness.
Iran continues to thumb its nose at the international community, flouting Security Council resolutions already on the books regarding its uranium enrichment program. It promises to ignore any further resolutions, even as diluted as such future resolutions would be after Russia and China get through with them. Iran’s disrespect of the decisions of the Security Council is rewarded by appointment of its representatives to high level positions on UN committees. Iran is also a leading contender for a seat on the Security Council next year. Ban Ki-moon should speak truth to power and denounce Iran in no uncertain terms.
Corruption in the UN continues unabated despite some cosmetic improvements that Ban Ki-moon has introduced. There are minimal controls to detect and punish misbehavior. Whistleblowers are the ones who are punished for their ‘disloyalty’ to the UN bureaucracy. New financial disclosure requirements have not been widely enforced. The audit function is stymied by lack of resources and interference by member states, which fear their own corrupt practices may come to light if the auditors are allowed to dig too deeply into UN procurement practices that implicate officials in those countries.
Then there are all those alarmist reports that keep streaming from the UN bureaucracy on everything from AIDS to climate change. The UN regularly puts out reports that are full of exaggerated statistics and worst-case assumptions designed to gather political and financial support for more UN personnel, studies and conferences. In November 2007, for example, UNAIDS, the United Nations coordinating organization to combat AIDS, conceded that it had overestimated the size of the world-wide HIV-AIDS epidemic and said that it would have to drastically slash the reported number of people suffering from the disease.
Serious flaws have also been discovered in papers used and cited by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) in its own reports. Over 400 prominent scientists from more than two dozen countries, many of whom are current and former participants in the UN IPCC, criticized the climate claims made by the UN IPCC. Unfortunately, playing on the fears that these exaggerated claims engendered, Ban Ki-moon has added his voice to the hysteria surrounding global warming, which he has called the defining issue of our time. He even went so far as to blame the slaughter in Darfur on climate change!
The wealth redistributionist philosophy is also still very much alive and well at the United Nations. The UN’s Millennium Goals started out as aspirational targets for reducing poverty, eradicating disease, and increasing the level of education in the developing world, with the help of the more advanced economies. They have since been used as the rationale for a multi-billion dollar foreign aid program, with quotas assessed against each developed country on the basis of a fixed percentage of that developed country’s gross national income. The program would be administered by the same UN bureaucracy that so distinguished itself with the Iraq oil-for-food program.
Looking ahead to 2015, the year when the Millennium Development Goals are supposed to be achieved, the United States alone would be assessed nearly $140 billion in additional funding. Like all UN programs, the moment that we insist on accountability for the money that we contribute, we are accused of neo-imperialist interference with the sovereignty of the recipient countries. Unfortunately, Ban Ki-moon has become as much of a booster for this flawed give-away program as his predecessor.
Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly – dominated by the developing countries that free-ride on the disproportionately large American contributions to the UN’s budget - is busy passing resolutions and taking actions that interfere with our national sovereignty. A case in point is the resolution passed late last year calling for a moratorium on executions in all member states that still maintain the death penalty under their own duly authorized laws. Ban Ki-moon started his term as Secretary General recognizing correctly that “the issue of capital punishment is for each and every country to decide.” However, it did not take long for him to reverse course and parrot the ‘official’ UN establishment’s opposition to the death penalty.
We have a Constitution and democratic system of government that has stood the test of time, under which our own judiciary is fully capable of determining the crimes for which the death penalty is legally permitted and ensuring due process for all criminal defendants. We need no help from the United Nations.
The UN is also lecturing us about how to handle our domestic problems. For example, a UN official, who toured parts of Louisiana and Mississippi devastated by Hurricane Katrina, declared that we are not doing enough to abide by a set of UN principles on "internally displaced persons". The fact is that since this hurricane hit in 2005, the government has spent more than $7.7 billion on housing for about 1.4 million households. Many evacuees will continue to be housed until March 2009 and will be given help to return to New Orleans. It is true that all levels of government failed in their initial response to the crisis, but our democracy worked as it should to cast a spotlight on the problem and build public pressure for the government to step in and alleviate the suffering. Again, the last thing we need is for the United Nations to tell us what to do.
In sum, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has been unable to accomplish any meaningful changes. He still presides over a bloated unaccountable bureaucracy, which we prop up with billions of dollars of funding without any significant influence over its budget. The UN remains an impotent body in dealing with the problems of international peace and security that it was set up to address. And it remains an Alice-in-Wonderland world in which human rights are defined by autocratic regimes that routinely commit heinous crimes against their own people.
Ban Ki-moon launched 2008 with a call for the United Nations to “rediscover the pragmatism of its principles”. Before that can happen, however, the United Nations must rediscover the principles themselves upon which it was founded. Sadly, that is not likely to happen.