The United Nations was created in the wake of World War II by the major Allied nations that had prevailed — at an enormous cost in blood and treasure — over the Axis powers. Its founders proclaimed ambitious goals: to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights” and “promote social progress.” That the U.N. hasn’t come close to succeeding should, by now, be obvious.
But it’s worse than that. The U.N. has become increasingly corrupt, its moral compass long ago broken. It’s poorly managed. Gross misconduct is rampant.
A few examples: the U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal, $21 billion intended for hungry Iraqis that went instead to tyrants, dishonest diplomats and unscrupulous businessmen; the spread of cholera by U.N. personnel in Haiti resulting in 10,000 deaths; “years of sexual exploitation and abuse” of women and girls “by U.N. forces,” to quote former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Among the critical issues the U.N. neglects: war crimes and genocide in Syria and Iraq (not to mention earlier genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur), and Iran’s hostage-taking and sponsorship of terrorism.
Meanwhile, Sudan has been elected to the executive board of UNICEF (the children’s fund), Russia to the U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention, and Saudi Arabia to its Commission on that Status of Women. Iran is a member of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament. George Orwell, call your office.
Despite all this, the U.N. continues to grow — or, more precisely, bloat. American taxpayers pick up the lion’s share of the tab. The U.N. has 193 members. The U.S. pays more than 183 of them — combined.
The exact total paid by Americans is estimated between $8 billion and $10 billion a year. No one is quite certain. Included in that figure are both “voluntary” contributions made by various arms of the U.S. government as well as “assessments” imposed by the U.N. General Assembly. In other words, the U.N. taxes us.
President Trump and his ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, would like to drain the swamp at Turtle Bay. Antonio Guterres, who became secretary-general in January, says he’s with the program. So perhaps a window of opportunity is opening. On Monday, during the 72nd Regular Session of the General Assembly, Mr. Trump will host an event to which countries will be invited only if they sign on to a “10-point political declaration” backing Mr. Guterres’ efforts “to initiate effective meaningful reform.”
Of course, if reforming the U.N. were easy, it would have been reformed by now. There have been numerous attempts. The most elaborate and expensive was made by the United States Institute of Peace 12 years ago. Newt Gingrich and George Mitchell were the co-chairs. In the end, the USIP Task Force on U.N. Reform issued a report containing a laundry list of recommendations.
Few were implemented. One that was: In 2006, The U.N. Human Rights Commission changed its name. It became the U.N. Human Rights Council. Current members include such paladins of human rights as Qatar, Cuba, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan and China.
With all this in mind, it should be apparent that the goals and purposes established by the U.N.’s founders are beyond reach. But a less-bad U.N. is conceivable. I’d suggest focusing, initially at least, on just three areas.
First: corruption and mismanagement. It would be useful if President Trump were to insist that the U.N.’s Office of Internal Oversight Services be augmented or replaced by an inspector general. He or she would have access to all the organization’s financial records and the authority to cut off funds to any U.N. entity unwilling to cooperate fully. Since the U.S. is the U.N.’s major funder, this position should be filled by an American selected by the U.S. president and/or Congress.
Second, Mr. Trump should make clear that the United States will not surrender sovereignty to the U.N. or other globalist bureaucracies. Only a small minority of Americans — and virtually no one who voted for the current president — regards the organization as an incipient world government, a “parliament of nations” or the supreme arbiter of international law and legitimacy. Agreements that are tantamount to treaties — for instance, the Iran deal, the major nuclear arms limitation accord so far in this century — should have congressional approval. A U.N. endorsement should not be seen as an adequate substitute.
Third, it’s high time to end the obsessive campaign to delegitimize Israel, the only nation in the Middle East that guarantees basic rights to all its citizens, including its substantial Arab and Muslim minorities. In the 20th century, genocidal anti-Semites wiped Jewish communities off the map of Europe. In the 21st century, genocidal anti-Semites vow to wipe the Jewish state off the map of the Middle East. The U.N. has become their accomplice, a fact both President Trump and Ambassador Haley rightly regard as shameful. At the very least, money from American taxpayers should no longer go to U.N. agencies participating in this campaign.
Mr. Trump has described the U.N. as a “club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.” Based on the experience of recent decades, it would constitute an enormous improvement were the U.N. simply to serve that purpose while doing no harm.
There are some U.N. agencies that perform useful functions. We can continue to support them (either within the U.N. system or outside it) if they’re willing to provide transparency and achieve basic metrics. But Third World bureaucracies should not receive First World funding.
Perhaps, in parallel, the time has come to seriously explore a different approach to international community, one that distinguishes between despotisms and free nations, and endeavors to defend the latter from the machinations of the former.
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.
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