The 75th session of the U.N. General Assembly is underway. Publicists are calling it “historic.” I suspect you’re thinking: Is this exciting or what?
I’d say the answer is “what.” Truth to tell, this session of UNGA — insiders say “un-guh” — is unlikely to produce much useful for the peoples of the world. Which would be consistent with most past sessions.
The big tent of the U.N., UNGA has 193 members. Each — big or small, rich or poor, free or unfree — gets one vote. Despite an agreement reached in 1955 guaranteeing “universal membership,” Taiwan has been denied membership at the insistence of the Communist Party of China.
In normal times, leaders and rulers from around the world arrive at Turtle Bay, Manhattan Island, NYC, N.Y., for this annual gala. Lots of limousines. Lots of colorful costumes. Lots of speeches in lots of languages. Not many available taxis or tables in fine dining establishments.
Due to a virus believed to have escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China — probably not a topic for discussion — this 75th session will be mostly online. President Trump, however, has indicated he may appear in person.
The 2020 theme is “The Future We Want, the U.N. We Need: Reaffirming Our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism.” I’m all for nations cooperating to solve problems. But the outgoing president of UNGA, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, has called UNGA the “parliament of humanity.” In fact, UNGA hasn’t the power to make laws. Nor do most Americans favor the U.N. growing into a global government to which we would surrender sovereignty.
According to the UNGA website, this session features five “high-level meetings.” On Monday, there was a “high-level meeting to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the U.N.” On Tuesday, the “general debate” began. Wednesday: a “Biodiversity Summit.” Thursday: the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women. Friday, Oct. 2: A “high-level plenary meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.”
Expect much praise for UNGA’s achievements over the past three-quarters of a century. I suspect you’re thinking: Yeah, like what?
Most noteworthy, perhaps, in 1948, UNGA adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. A solid argument can be made that it was useful to put on paper the rights the “international community” agrees should be secured for all. But those rights have not been secured for all or even most of the world’s nations.
And the U.N. Human Rights Council, the “main intergovernmental body for human rights in the UN system,” helps not at all. UNGA consistently elects the world’s worst human rights violators to “serve” on the UNHRC. In October, UNGA is expected to elect China, Russia, Cuba and Saudi Arabia. I suspect you’re thinking: That’s ludicrous, shameful, outrageous! I couldn’t agree more.
In 1975, UNGA passed a resolution discriminating against the Jewish people by declaring they have no right to self-determination in any part of their ancient homeland. Though the “Zionism is Racism” resolution was repealed in 1991, the U.N. has remained hostile to Israel, a state whose creation the U.N. facilitated.
In 1999, the General Assembly declared its adoption of the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC) “one of the greatest achievements of the past 10 years.” Over nearly two decades, the ICC has spent more than $1.5 billion securing a total of four convictions for major crimes, plus four for lesser crimes.
The ICC currently plans to investigate American personnel for “war crimes” allegedly committed while fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Israel also is in the ICC’s crosshairs for defending itself against Hamas. ICC prosecutors and bureaucrats are unfazed by the fact that the U.S. and Israel, having declined to ratify the Rome Statute, are not subject to the court’s jurisdiction.
In 2000, UNGA unveiled the Millennium Declaration, and issued the Millennium Development Goals. In 2015, it adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Do you need me to tell you how those projects are coming along?
A decade after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, UNGA declared that the international community has a “Responsibility to Protect,” or intervene, when a government is unable or unwilling to defend its citizens from mass murderers and other heinous criminals. An example of how successful that’s been: Syria.
UNGA has the power to approve the U.N. budget and, under a complex formula, to determine the “assessed contributions” of each member. It currently requires Americans to pay 22 percent of the “regular budget,” and 28 percent of the cost of “peacekeeping” operations. With voluntary contributions added, that comes to roughly $14 billion a year — about the same as the next three top-contributing members (Britain, Japan, and Germany) combined. China pays a little over a billion dollars a year, less than Canada or Sweden. Russia is much further down the list, below Denmark.
Some U.N. agencies, for example the World Food Program, which is generally well-regarded, rely on voluntary contributions. Others, for example the UNHRC, reach into the cookie jar of compulsory payments to the regular budget. That means the U.S., despite having withdrawn from that Orwellian body, remains its largest funder.
John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has suggested that the U.S. “reject this international taxation regime,” and insist instead on a system of only voluntary contributions so that Americans would support U.N. agencies doing useful work, but not those that are dysfunctional and/or corrupt.
For that to happen, the president and Congress would have to make U.N. reform a priority, and work together to get the job done. I suspect you’re thinking: That will happen when pigs fly.
• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times.
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