TCS Daily


UN Bashing is Hardly Enough

By Henry I. Miller - June 19, 2006 12:00 AM

United Nations deputy secretary-general Mark Malloch Brown has a singular view of what constitutes international diplomacy. He said in a speech recently that the American public is ignorant of the importance and effectiveness of the UN because of the U.S. government's tolerance of "too much unchecked UN-bashing and stereotyping." By whom? "Much of the public discourse that reaches the U.S. heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News," according to Malloch Brown.

In fact, during its six decades, the overall record of the United Nations has been so rife with failure, corruption and incompetence -- to say nothing of poor judgment, rudeness and condescension, as exemplified by Mr. Malloch Brown -- that it deserves to be disdained.

The organization's best known interventions -- attempts to attain and maintain peace -- too often have been exercises in lowest-common-denominator diplomacy that progresses at a glacial pace; and its essays into public health and environmental protection are frequently disastrous failures. The UN's leaders and programs consistently lack an appreciation for the relationship between wealth creation and public and environmental health. Mr. Malloch Brown's boss, Secretary General Kofi Annan, has expressed the hope that concern for "intellectual property" will not "get into the way" of producing and distributing drugs for a potential avian-flu pandemic. In other words, companies that make drugs and vaccines should abandon their intellectual property at Mr. Annan's whim.

Even if the recent incidents of corruption, dishonesty and profiteering -- exemplified by the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal and its coverup, sexual abuse of refugees by UN officials and peacekeepers, the botched investigation of the assassination of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri, and procurement scams -- are anomalies, it is hard to explain away the anti-social outcomes of business as usual.

Nothing the UN has inflicted on innovation is worse than its record on biotechnology applied to agriculture and food production. At the UN's Task Force on Biotech Foods (which operates under the auspices of something called the Codex Alimentarius Commission, itself a creature of the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization), only gene-spliced products are addressed, a scope that has been condemned by experts repeatedly as unscientific and indefensible. The work of the task force prevents the wider diffusion of a superior technology for agriculture and food production and is directly detrimental to farmers, consumers, academic researchers and industry worldwide. It will exacerbate malnutrition and starvation in the developing world.

The UN's record is as bad on chemicals. The stigmatization of DDT under the Persistent Organic Pollutants Convention has caused the death from malaria and other insect-borne diseases of untold millions of residents of tropical countries and exacts a huge economic toll. Regulators who have banned DDT fail to take into consideration the inadequacy of alternatives and the fact that its toxicity is modest (and virtually nonexistent to humans). Because it persists after spraying, DDT works far better than many pesticides now in use, some of which are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms.

The result of the excessive regulatory burdens by Codex, UNEP, UNIDO, the Convention on Biological Diversity and other scientifically challenged UN agencies and programs is discouraging: vastly inflated R&D costs, less innovation, and diminished exploitation of superior techniques and products -- especially in poorer countries, which need them desperately. Public-sector research -- where budgets are tighter than in corporations with deep-pockets -- has been particularly affected.

How do such travesties of regulation arise? Through a kind of "Emperor's New Clothes" process: At UN-sponsored seances, self-interested and often inexpert participants move a flawed proposal step by step through the approval procedures, all the while pretending that it makes sense. A triumph of bureaucratic process over substance that ignores Nobel Laureate Anatole France's astute observation, "If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."

Why are arrogance, condescension, incompetence and anti-social behavior so pervasive in the sprawling organization?

First, the UN is essentially a monopoly. Inefficiency and poor performance are not punished by "consumers" of their products or services spurning the UN and patronizing a competitor. On the contrary, it is not uncommon in these kinds of bureaucracies for failure to be rewarded with additional resources, according to the hypothesis, "Maybe it's not working because it's just not big enough."

Second, economists have long observed that if you want to understand the motivation of an individual or organization, follow the self-interest. Sadly, the self-interest of UN bureaucrats seems seldom to coincide with the public interest. UN officials are rewarded for oiling the bureaucratic machinery -- that is, producing reports, regulations, guidelines, and white papers, and for holding meetings -- whether or not they are of high quality or are credible. Or even moral.

Third, there's no accountability -- no House of Lords Select Committees, U.S. Government Accountability Office or congressional oversight, or an electorate that can throw the UN bums out if they fail to do what's in the public interest. It's hardly surprising, therefore, that we see egregious examples of arrogance and corruption, let alone day to day featherbedding, laziness, incompetence and self-indulgence in the thousands of individual UN programs and projects.

Fourth, in the absence of accountability, UN officials feel little need for transparency of their policy making; the PR offices simply spin, spin, spin. Last year, I attended a major WHO conference in Geneva at which the NGO I represented was denied accreditation because it was known to be an advocate of free markets and a critic of some of the UN's policies. The lesson? You get to participate in the UN's marketplace of ideas only if what you're selling is politically correct.

Finally, there's the issue of the quality of senior UN officials. A candidate's nationality or region of origin seems to be at least as important as his credentials: No meritocracy there. And consider this critical factor that affects the quality of the pool from which potential candidates are selected: If you were a nation's president, or its environmental or health minister, would you send your best and brightest people to work for the UN? Of course not -- and that's how the UN ends up with the Malloch Browns of the world.

The UN's assault on innovation and wealth creation demands a counter-attack. The United States and other like-minded nations can provide the firepower by withholding funds and participation from UN agencies and programs that are corrupt or incompetent. Better still, they should cease paying any dues at all until the entire organization undergoes fundamental and genuine reform.

Henry I. Miller, a physician and fellow at the Hoover Institution, headed the FDA's Office of Biotechnology from 1989 to 1993. His most recent book, "The Frankenfood Myth..." was selected by Barron's one of the 25 Best Books of 2004.

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142 Comments

dysfunctional UN
Great article and the UN certainly deserves all the mocking it gets. But here's another idea which would help to bring about accountability and keep their pampered beaurocrats in from hiding their cushy positions as they can now. I advocate that the UN actually be given a country to rule; say some failed state like Somalia or East Timor. They should actually move there and run the country. In this manner it would be easier to view the results of their misguided policies right around them. It would also be easy to see how they would of course live in lavish luxury villas, whearas now they have the anonimity of their luxury Park Ave. apts and in Manhattan.

It's not just...
that we bash.

It's that they CONTINUALLY show their deep corruption, ineptitude, and impotence.

UN: Useless Nincompoops.

Un Bashing
Dietmar, your suggestion is absolutely marvelous! How can we get Bolton to put it on the agenda?

No, it's a terrible idea
because however bad the situation may be in some countries around the world, UN governance will only make it worse. Who would knowingly inflict this on anyone?

Maybe we should look on the UN as a good thing. It keeps all this ineptitude in one place where it can do relatively little harm rather than actually running a country and doing real damage. Sort of like Pandora's Box in reverse.

Good Thing?
Maybe we should look on the UN as a good thing

The UN is a parasitic organization at best.


Parasites are good only when eradicated

I see. The U.N. should be as competent as the Bush administration
handle disasters as well as Bush handled Katrina, handle wars as well as Bush handles Iraq, be fiscally prudent just like our President. Sure.

Jokes aside
the UN served one useful purpose. It was a convenient place for the U.S. and USSR to discuss their differences during the Cold War. It served as a convenience, when both sides wished to disengage from a potentially dangerous situation, such as Yom Kippur in '73, by pretending to answer to a higher mandate.

In this limited sense only, the UN has had an important use. However, in its various programs, except for some such as the IAEA and UNSCEAR which were created independently before being brought under the UN mandate, its own programs have mostly been singularly useless.

Sad demonstration of liberal think
Bush handled Katrina quite well. It was Nagin and Blanco who blew it. Most of the worst stories turned out to be not true anyway.

Iraq is and has always been going quite well.

The deficit is falling rapidly.

If only the UN were half as good as the Bush administration, it might be worth keeping.

What planet are you posting from??
Or what are you smoking?

Nice attempt at deflection
but I assume you are not pretending that the UN is not incompetent and corrupt. The question of the competence or lack thereof of the US government is irrelevant here.

Do try to stay on topic.

The real one
as opposed to the one inhabited by most liberals.

Lemuel knows that the UN is indefensible
but since he agrees with it's aims, he has to protect it somehow. Defelection and camoflauge are the only means left.

Absolutely on topic
The incompetence of the current administration has much graver consequences both for the U.S. and for the world than the problems at the U.N. The bandage should go where it does the most good.

Tell us another one!
How about how Enron was put out of business by jealous backbiters and the evil mainstream media?

I said nothing about its ends
The issue raised was competence and honesty. If you're worried by problems at the U.N. in this department, you should be terrified by the problems in the White House.

Please address the question
Do you, or do you not, agree that the UN is incompetent and corrupt? If you disagree, then we can look at the evidence for and against, and perhaps come up with a list of things the UN has done well and those which it has done badly, but there can be no discussion as long as you continue to evade the issue by dragging in the question of the US government as a red herring.

It doesn't seem as incompetent and corrupt as the Bush administration
and the consequences of what is wrong with the U.N. are less important than the consequences of Bush administrtion incompetence and corruption.

I mean, peace-keeping operations. It's having trouble in Sudan. The Bush administation, with much greater resources, is having trouble in Iraq.

It's more than just trouble
in Sudan when you discover that UN troops are participating in inflicting outrages on the local population in Darfur along with the Sudanese government-sponsored militias. It's more than just trouble, when a unit returning home to Chad from its UN mission has to hijack an airport to get a ride home. It is difficult to imagine a scandal as corrupt as oil-for-food. The UN bungled the Rwandan mission to the point where nearly a million died as a result of the UN mission being too small and too badly supported to achieve their mission. I've talked with peacekeepers serving on UN missions and their engagement orders defied both logic and even understanding. Shall we talk about two battalions of Indian soldiers massacred nearly to a man in 1967 because the UN neglected to tell them to pull out at the beginning of the Six Day War?

In only two areas has the UN conducted itself well and with some competence, namely UNSCEAR and IAEA. However, both of these organizations were created independently of the UN before being placed under its aegis.

Hence, the UN is corrupt and incompetent, and it has a long track record of being so.

Gee. Sure is lucky the Bush administration doesn't do stuff like that
I mean, inflict outrages on populations. Imagine! Make military mistakes -- what a mess! So completely different from the Bush record!

and this:
>UN bungled the Rwandan mission to the point where nearly a million died as a result of the UN mission being too small and too badly supported to achieve their mission.

This was the U.N.'s fault? Where was the U.N. supposed to get a larger and better supported mission?

Outrages
mean mass rape, murder, enslavement and extortion.

As to Rwanda, the UN assumed a mission for which it was incapable of providing the necessary resources to carry it out. That's called incompetence.

Stop dragging Bush into this. This is about the UN. So, seriously, in your view, what things has the UN done well or even passably?

Rwanda
> mass rape, murder, enslavement and extortion.

mass murder and extortion are all happening in Iraq.

>Rwanda, the UN assumed a mission for which it was incapable of providing the necessary resources to carry it out. That's called incompetence.

Lots of blame all over the place with Rwanda. See:
http://www.africafocus.org/docs04/rw0403b.php

but it was all the fault of the U.N.?

>Stop dragging Bush into this. This is about the UN. So, seriously, in your view, what things has the UN done well or even passably?

Their weapons inspection mission in Iraq, and particularly the atomic weapons inspect was proceeding efficiently and effectively. The Bush administration refused to accept the result -- Cheney publically stated that ElBaradei was wrong when he said the Iraqis did not have a functioning nuclear weapons program. He was wrong. But it was the U.N. who screwed up?

UN bashing is hardly enough. But it is a good start.
...

I see that you still can't defend your original claims.
Instead you seek to divert attention away from your many failures.

LeMuel still thinks those voices in his head come from Rove.
...

What incompetance?
...

We're winning in Iraq.
I wish I could say the same for any UN operation.

And just what are these alleged mistakes?
Assuming they exist anywhere outside your cranium.

LeMuel's fevered imagination
Mass murder and extortion were happening in Iraq. They stopped when the US invaded.

It's hard to complete inspections, when the govt stops the inspectors while trucks are seen leaving from the rear of the building.

nothing to respond to there
just made-up facts and non-information

nothing here either
just made-up facts and non-information

The Big Difference Between the UN and US
The Chief Executive of the US is elected. We don't elect the UN, yet they want increasingly more influence, and some - maybe not smoking but lobomotized - want to actually cede power to the UN voluntarily and idealize it as the arbiter of global problems.

The poster who said you need to stay on topic was correct. The UN is going to have a pervasive and increasingly more controlling role if we let them, Mr. Bush is gone in January of 2009.

zero again
you should explain this to the Iraqis

and a total and absolute zero here
Why are you wasting everyone's time?

double zero in italics
the failure here is your total inablity to make a point

And busting the U.N. helps us how?
Due to Bush's my-way-or-highway foreign policy, we've isolated and weakened ourselves. But we're supposed to view the U.N. as the big problem and menace?

Inane gibberish
stop wasting everyone's time.

A better start
would be for someone to unplug your computer. You are not making points; you are just making noise.

duck, dodge and weave
not that we expected anything else.

duck, dodge and weave
It's the Iraqis who are saying this.

Why won't you answer a simple question?
...

I'm still waiting for you to defend your initial claim? Though your dodging is quite artfull.
...

Those who have always hated us, still do.
I don't see any signs of isolation. I do see lots of signs that many countries are turning to the US for leadership.

If you want to make a point, why don't you answer the questions that you've been asked?
...

zero substance
stop wasting our time

sure they are
and the moon is made of green cheese.

Why do you do nothing but post subject lines
with no backup, no information?

zero
you're a wster of time.

Still refusing to answer a simple question.
...

Still refusing to defend his assertions.
...

Why do you refuse to defend your assertions?
...

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