After eight years of the Bush administration, which stubbornly subordinated the interests of the United Nations to its own, UN officials are overjoyed to see its departure and the arrival of someone – anyone – else. Bureaucrats in Turtle Bay are hopeful about last week’s election results, believing they signal the arrival of a far more UN-friendly administration. That new administration will soon face a "testing" of sorts from their quarter.
"It would be hard to find anybody, I think, at the UN who would not believe that Obama would be a considerable improvement over any other alternative," said William H. Luers, executive director of the United Nations Association.
Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who took pains publicly to remain neutral during the presidential campaign, was reported to have told a small group of journalists at an off-the-record briefing that an Obama victory would be "good for us." And in commenting after Obama’s victory, the Secretary General remarked that "With a glad heart, I welcome this new era of partnership for change."
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton had a simple explanation for the Obama boom at the United Nations: "What they want is the bending of the knee, and they’ll get it from an Obama administration."
President-elect Obama has the chance to prove Bolton wrong – and it is to be hoped that he will – but the next president will need to adopt a nuanced view of multilateralism in which the United Nations is not the main player. While it is true that the most intractable problems in the world today are global in scale – the terrorist threat and the interconnected global economic crisis, for example – the choice is not between the imposition of U.S. unilateral hegemony and accession to UN multilateral authority. Rather, the choice is between different modes of effective global cooperation.
Beneficial multilateralism is really about cooperation among sovereign nations toward a common end that produces net positive results for the cooperating countries against a stated goal. Intelligent cooperation and multilateral diplomacy do not have to mean acquiescence in whatever other countries think, no matter what the cost. Nor do they require us to ignore our own democratic values when a majority of autocratic countries push through a General Assembly resolution that contradicts those values.
The United Nations today cannot be relied upon by the United States as its chief instrument for the exercise of multilateral diplomacy. With few exceptions, such as disaster relief and dealing with critical health issues, there is little interest at the UN in true cooperation toward solving common problems. That is because the agendas of UN bodies like the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly itself have been hijacked by Islamic fanatics and their anti-Western allies, who nevertheless want more U.S. dollars to fund their vision.
Today, we are by far the largest contributor to the UN’s budget, paying 22 percent of the UN's regular operating budget and 25 percent of its peacekeeping budget. Yet we have only one vote out of 190 in the General Assembly and share the veto power in the Security Council with four other permanent members (including two authoritarian regimes), who pay a fraction of what we contribute.
As a senator, Barack Obama pushed for even more funding in support of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. He co-sponsored the Global Poverty Act (S.2433). It was explicitly directed to "the achievement of the UN’s Millennium Development Goal" that would cut extreme global poverty in half by 2015.
This first UN Millennium Development Goal of poverty reduction would be coordinated under the legislation with "the other internationally recognized Millennium Development Goals, including eradicating extreme hunger and reducing hunger and malnutrition, achieving universal education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating the spread of preventable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, increasing access to potable water and basic sanitation, ensuring environmental sustainability, and achieving significant improvement in the lives of at least 100,000,000 slum dwellers."
All of this costs lots of money. Barack Obama’s legislation called for "making available additional overall United States assistance levels." The UN has already declared what the financial commitment for each developed member state should be: 0.7 percent of its gross national product. This would mean a UN-administered assessment on America’s total national wealth that could end up taking nearly $140 billion a year more of American taxpayers’ money to finance a global redistributionist development aid program.
"America needs to do more," Obama said when his legislation was introduced. "As we strive to rebuild America’s standing in the world, this legislation will not only commit to reducing global poverty, but will also demonstrate our promise and support to those in the developing world. Our commitment to the global economy has to extend beyond trade agreements that are more about increasing corporate profits than about helping workers and small farmers everywhere."
The Bush administration has already provided billions of dollars to help fund the fight against AIDS and malaria in Africa. However, it has not been willing to hand over many hundreds of billions of dollars more of our money to unaccountable aid programs that may end up lining the pockets of corrupt government leaders and UN officials in the mold of the oil-for-food scandal. Note that corruption alone has cost Africa nearly $150 billion dollars a year, according to the African Union.
Particularly at this time of job losses, house foreclosures, exploding national debt, and other economic distress affecting many millions of Americans, a massive increase in development aid funneled through the United Nations is not the kind of change that we can afford.
Will President-elect Obama reverse his past support for expensive UN programs and keep the hands of the UN bureaucrats as far away from our pockets as possible? Will his fellow Democrats, who will be in firm control of both houses of Congress, let him reverse course even if he chooses to, since they have long been unconditional supporters of the UN?
We should know the answer quite soon.