The next president needs to know that the United Nations and allied nongovernmental organizations want his job.
The Washington, D.C., demonstrations against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in mid-April of this year were an insult to this nation’s history of honest protest. During Martin Luther King Jr.’s huge and heartfelt march on Washington nearly forty years ago, the marchers knew exactly what they wanted—for black people to be treated as human beings. When I worked in Washington during the Vietnam War protests, the breadth and intensity of feelings about stopping the war were impressive.
When I watched the recent Seattle demonstration against the World Trade Organization (WTO), I saw many thousands of union members turn out to oppose the globalization of America’s job market. I believe that they were wrongheaded, because if we had another million jobs in this country, we would apparently have to import another million immigrants to take them. But the labor movement wanted to draw its line in the sand against exporting jobs, and it wasn’t the labor marchers who trashed downtown Seattle.
The World Bank demonstrations, by contrast, were small, shrill, and confused. There were supposedly ten thousand demonstrators, fewer people than tour George Washington’s nearby Mount Vernon farm on a sunny spring weekend. The protesters to whom I talked were overwhelmingly white, urban, affluent—and arrogant. They claimed that they were demanding “global justice” on behalf of the poor and the Third World, but there were no poor people evident among this camcorder crowd. The only minorities in sight were manning the barricades in police uniforms. The demonstrators were also noticeably lazy: when the Monday of the big World Bank meeting—and the expected big protest—dawned cold and rainy, most simply went home. The streets were nearly empty by noon, except for the patient police. The only “parade” near the World Bank building had just 150 marchers.
The protesters believed that the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank were threats to the hoi polloi. They have a point. As a development economist, I have observed that too much of the World Bank’s cash seems to end up in the Swiss bank accounts of Third World officials, without leaving behind many traces of economic growth. But the World Bank charter is something the protesters might have written themselves, and, ironically, the Bank meeting that the protesters were pledging to shut down concerned non-market ways to alleviate poverty and AIDS. Instead of applauding the proceedings, the demonstrators tramped the streets complaining loudly about “greedy corporations.” The protesters could also have given the IMF some credit for helping stop the 1997 Asian collapse before it devastated all of Asia’s economies and perhaps those throughout the Third World. This was arguably the most important thing anyone has done in recent years to spread wealth and equal opportunity among the world’s poor.
The IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO are all based on voluntary membership and claim no authority over anyone not involved. They respect the sovereignty of member (and nonmember) nations. But there is an international organization that does claim a fully global, involuntary authority, and the protesters hardly seem to consider it a threat to “global justice.” Moreover, this organization recently has made its claim quite explicit. This international organization is none other than the United Nations (UN), which has set its own agenda for the new millennium—with broad support among the very nongovernmental organizations that demonstrated in Washington.
The UN’s Charter 99, also known as “The Charter for Global Democracy,” will be considered at a special Millennium Assembly in September and already has supporters in more than ninety countries from five continents. The charter’s language is beguiling, not threatening. Here are its opening lines:
This Charter is addressed to the UN Millennium Assembly and all the governments and peoples of the world they represent. It is a demand for global democracy. Throughout the century now coming to an end there have been well-meaning and sometimes eloquent calls for world government; calls which pointed to the unfairness, inequality, and injustice of the present distributions of wealth, power, and policy making, which mean that today one in five of us lives in absolute poverty; calls which emphasized the dangers to peace and even to human survival. If only we could work as one world, then we could solve the world’s problems together.
We’re all for “human survival,” of course, and crave a solution to the injustices currently wracking the Third World and the poor everywhere. But as we delve into the details of the charter, we find that many qualifiers go along with this utopian vision. The main qualifier is that only one central body of authority will have the responsibility of overseeing the institution of “global democracy” in nation-states around the world. The charter makes this all very clear:
The first aim is to make the already existing processes of world administration and governance accountable. We want to know what decisions are being taken and why. We want the decision takers to know they are answerable to the public in every country which feels the breath of international bodies [which, of course, means everybody, everywhere]. Then we want all decisions to be compatible with public criteria of environmental sustainability. We also want the UN to ensure that its core mandate, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” applies equally to all the peoples of this world. Finally, if most ambitiously, we want global governance to be compatible with the principles of equality, human rights and justice, including social and economic justice. The accomplishment of this aim is the ultimate dream of every protester in D.C., Seattle, London, and elsewhere.
These ends are noble enough, but the means outlined in Charter 99 to achieve them would allow the UN to regulate or monitor virtually every business and legal institution in the world. The Charter lists twelve “focus areas” that together essentially call for the consolidation of all international agencies under the UN. Mentioning the first eight is sufficient to reveal the pervasiveness of its aims. These are (1) open all international institutions to democratic scrutiny and participation; (2) monitor and regulate international corporations and financial institutions; (3) give UN institutions additional and independent sources of revenue; (4) make the UN Security Council fair, effective, and democratic; (5) strengthen UN peacekeeping and multilateral global security; (6) reduce armaments, ratify the Landmines Ban, and outlaw weapons of mass destruction; (7) create equal world citizenship based on the Human Rights Declarations and Covenants; and (8) ratify the International Criminal Court and strengthen international law.
Of course, most nation-states already have institutions in place to deal with these exact concerns. The change the charter proposes is to give one organization responsibility and authority for the creation and enforcement of laws worldwide, superseding any national laws it finds unacceptable, creating a new utopia for everyone—except those who disagree. Accountability will reside in a newly created “panel of eminent Friends of the Secretary General,” which will undertake reviews of all progress made under the Charter for Global Democracy. The Charter posits that all governments seek to include all sections of society in international decision-making; all legislatures must receive a report from their ministers and officials taking part in international meetings, who must be available to be questioned in public if required; mediation and conflict resolution are available to help resolve deep differences of opinion; the UN General Assembly is given the power to scrutinize decisions by international decision-making bodies and to question decision-makers, in full meeting, through ECOSOC or a panel of representatives from all regions of the world.
Thus, protesters worldwide seem to have found a powerful ally in their mission to bring the Fortune 500 companies to their knees, and they don’t even have to launch street demonstrations to do it. As noted earlier, the people behind the Charter are the UN Commission on Global Governance, which wrote and released a statement called Our Global Neighbourhood five years ago. This document is strongly in favor of the NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and the rights of protesters, but there are important passages in the group’s press releases and public statements that indicate a powerful disrespect for the sovereignty of the nation-state and a desire to place the NGOs under UN authority, ostensibly to ensure that nation-states don’t impede the NGOs’ work. Consider the following passage from the commission’s November 1999 report, The Millennium Year and the Reform Process:
When civil society groups lack a solid political and legal footing in their countries, the UN and their counterparts in other countries should reach out to them and involve them in transnational dialogue. At this point, priority should be given to integrating civil society into the daily work of the UN system, consolidating the gains already achieved, and extending them to new areas of UN work. Governments, the UN Secretariat and, most of all, relatively affluent civil society and private sector groups should consider ways to increase the participation of NGOs from developing countries in UN-related meetings and conferences.
Regional organizations and the UN’s regional economic commissions should act as links between local and global NGOs, and foster co-operation among governments, civil society and inter-governmental organizations. The Security Council should regularize procedures for gaining input from civil society groups with relevant expertise. It could assemble panels of non-governmental specialists who could be consulted by members or staff. Another option might be to assign a small staff to conduct NGO/civil society liaisons for the Council.
What makes this sacrifice all the more alarming is that the NGOs and other similar groups would be yoking themselves to a world-governing body that has botched most of the major humanitarian and peacekeeping endeavors of the past several years. Even the UN admits to some of its most egregious failures. In its official release regarding the October 1993 to March 1996 UN campaign in Rwanda, for example, the Peace and Security Section of the UN’s Department of Public Information stated that the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was “neither mandated nor equipped to prevent or halt the genocide” that claimed 800,000 lives. An independent inquiry commissioned by the Secretary-General concluded that “the overriding failure in the international community’s response was the lack of resources and political will, as well as errors of judgment as to the nature of the events in Rwanda.”
The UN’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia hardly fared better. More than four years after spending approximately $1.6 billion on its two-year United Nations Operation in Somalia II (UNOSOM II), the Secretary-General stated that the operation had finally reached the stage at which “it may be appropriate for the UN to play an enhanced role in Somalia . . . to help bring about national unity and the restoration of a national government.” One of the goals of UNOSOM II, of course, was exactly that, to achieve “national political reconciliation” and create a “Somali State based on democratic governance.” After the UN’s two-year operation and subsequent “enhanced role,” Somalia is still in a state of chaos and has no central government. This is the organization that wants to establish and oversee “global democracy.”
In spite of these and many other failures, supporters are still turning out in vast numbers to cheer for Charter 99, which is nothing more than an attempt by the UN to wrest jurisdiction and authority away from those bodies that, with all their faults, really have the clearest sense of what ails their citizens—the nation-states.
The world may well be getting small enough to accommodate larger units of governance. Certainly, there are many issues besides the obviously important matter of international peace that transcend the nation-state, such as communications, refugees, international crime, and regional famines. The fundamental question, however, is representative governance. The world is increasingly democratic, and more of its leaders are being selected in voting booths instead of bloody coups. Democracy discourages big outrages of the sort made by Hitler (World War II and the Jewish genocide) and Chairman Mao (the Chinese famine of 1959-61, which cost an estimated thirty million lives). Democracy is also good for peace: true democracies seldom attack each other.
The United Nations, however, is not really accountable to anyone or anything. Its leaders do not derive their power from voters. At best, some nations’ representatives to the UN’s General Assembly are appointed by elected officials, but in many other cases these envoys represent elites and dictatorships. In governance, there is always a conflict of interest between the government bureaucrat and the average citizen, and in the UN, the bureaucrats almost always win. The NGOs are even less representative than the UN; they are entirely unelected and unrepresentative. By their very nature, they tend to be made up of zealots and true believers.
For example, a few years ago a hundred NGOs met under UN auspices in Leipzig, Germany, and signed a resolution demanding (1) that all international agricultural research centers be placed under UN control, and (2) that the NGOs be given the responsibility and funding to protect the world’s agricultural biodiversity. The NGOs wanted to stop the high-yield farming research that allows the world’s farmers to feed twice as many people as in the 1950s while using less farmland. The NGOs essentially wanted to turn half the world’s arable land into a gene museum where farmers would grow antique, low-yield rice and slow-growing (and therefore expensive) traditional chickens. They proposed to collect trillions of dollars from the rich countries and pass out subsidies to Third World farmers who would no longer have to worry about supplying consumers. The NGOs were vying to become global political power brokers at our expense.
Undaunted, the UN’s website states that it wants to ensure that these people and organizations join nations’ elected officials as “full partners in the shaping and implementation of public policy.” Personally, I’d rather turn the world over to the student council at Buffalo Gap High School down the road. At least those country kids know how to keep us fed.