Implosion: The Collapse of the United Nations

The United Nations has a problem. A laundry list of recent corruption allegations and scandals has created a credibility gap in the 60-year-old organization that now worries even its staunchest supporters. Seasoned UN employees quietly admit that they hope United States ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, “feared but not revered,” will bring order to the internal chaos. Though European bureaucrats will surely try to salvage the UN as their global power center, others suspect the institution is beyond redemption.

Despite the dark cloud, the UN’s ambitious Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) drew scores of world leaders to New York last month. Not since the grandly styled Millennium Summit of 2000, when the goals were first presented, have so many heads of state agreed to attend a UN gathering.

But even before the red carpets were rolled down the corridors, the project raised a troubling question: Can UN bureaucrats be trusted to administer the massive MDGs without pilfering billions of dollars in aid intended to reduce world poverty? In the midst of the oil-for-food scandal, the seemingly impending resignation of Secretary General Kofi Annan, and the clamor for internal UN reform, the lofty MDGs look like another global shakedown scheme. Worse, from the Catholic perspective, each of the eight goals is designed to catapult abortion and population control to the forefront of global “development” programs.

Global Death Machine

At various times over the past few years, Crisis has exposed the UN conferences as the Pied Pipers of population control where unsuspecting nations sell their future citizens in exchange for UN aid and development assistance. (See sidebar at the end of this article.)

The fact is, no amount of hyperbole can overstate the death march of numerous UN programs. When nations need hydroelectric power and deep-water ports in order to compete in the global marketplace, UN officials offer aid with a barb: no development loans without population control. Of course, this control is masked as “sexual and reproductive health” (SRH) programs, a component of “human rights” and development. No “human rights,” no money.

Annan appointed a Millennium Project task force, and among its reports is “Population, Reproductive Health and the Millennium Development Goals.” The introduction by Project Director Jeffrey Sachs includes this coercive conclusion: “The required interventions for sexual and reproductive health are clear…and they need to be urgently implemented…. [M]onitoring progress and achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health services is essential to the attainment of the MDGs.” Women and girls— or more accurately, their fertility—are the real targets of the MDGs.

Catholic cynics familiar with UN projects point out that under the organization’s philosophy of sustainable development (from the 1992 Earth Summit), the quickest fix for the problems of starvation, education, and medical care is to reduce the number of people who need food, education, and medical care. “Want to cut poverty by half in just ten years? No problem—exterminate half the poor people!” quipped one pundit. He wasn’t far off the mark. According to Thoraya Obaid of the United Nations Population Fund, the promotion of abortion and contraception is necessary for the elimination of global poverty. In a 2003 press release she insisted, “We cannot confront the massive challenges of poverty, hunger, disease and environmental destruction unless we address issues of population and reproductive health.”

Controlling AIDS/HIV is another MDG, and the situation is grave. According to the U.S. National Intelligence Council, Africa faces a “demographic upheaval as HIV/ AIDS and associated diseases…kill as many as a quarter of their populations over a decade or less….” Yet some have begun to question certain UN assistance programs. No diplomat will speak on the record, but consider the 2002 tangle between the UN and Tanzania. According to Africa News, Tanzanian officials seized a shipment containing ten million condoms because the tested condoms purportedly leaked. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) shipped the condoms free of charge—their idea of “sexual health.”

Steve Mosher and the Population Research Institute have documented the most blatant evidence of coercive population control. Aggressive “aid” programs in Peru included bribes of food and clothing paid to poor women who submitted to sterilization. Thus, while trumpeting human rights the UN itself systematically ignores the rights of the poor under the guise of development. Such incidents, added to coercive programs like China’s one-child policy, have led the Bush administration to cut U.S. funding to the UNF PA.

Developing nations suffer cruelly from malaria. More than a million people die each year from this controllable disease, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Combating malaria and other diseases is a listed MDG. Observers note that the UN has a conflict of interest over malaria because it competes with another MDG on environmental sustainability. Divided efforts can have enormous consequences in a world where diseases, as well as markets, are globalized. But powerful environmental groups have won strict regulations against the use of DDT, the inexpensive pesticide most effective against malaria-causing mosquitoes. The problem for many nations is compounded by the crushing debt that gobbles money needed for health care. (Africa pays nearly $12.5 billion per year to service its IMF loans.) Thus, the poorest nations have the greatest need for UN assistance.

Clearly, much good work has been done by the World Health Organization (WHO) to alleviate the suffering caused by malaria. But where restrictions favor high-cost alternatives and billions more dollars are needed, WHO finds its hands tied by other parts of the UN system. Furthermore, like the oil-for-food program, control of malaria and other deadly diseases is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. The power to grant lucrative contracts to favored agents is part of the corruption at the administrative level— precisely because the UN lacks sufficient accountability and oversight.

‘Hell No!’

Kofi Annan assumed the reins of the UN in 1997 with skeletons already sliding out of the closet. The first secretary general to be elected from within the UN staff, Annan took the helm with 35 years of UN experience and a deep knowledge of its far-flung operations. His stated objectives as the new secretary general were to launch a comprehensive internal reform and “restore public confidence in the Organization.”

But Annan, a Ghanan, personally ignored pleas for help from UN personnel during the Rwandan genocide. Slapped with the first-ever lawsuit against the world body, the United Nations was accused of complicity in the 1994 genocidal massacre of 800,000 Tutsi people. The suit was preceded by an internal investigation of the UN’s activity during the Rwandan conflict. Chaired by former Swedish Prime Minister Ingyar Carlsson, the investigative team found that UN peacekeepers in Rwanda refused to respond to reports of genocide. Annan was assistant secretary-general for peace-keeping operations and elevated to undersecretary-general in March 1993; in short, Annan was head of UN peace-keeping at the time of the Rwandan massacre.

Evidence of his tragic mishandling of the Rwandan disaster was undeniable, and he admitted with “deep remorse” that the UN had ignored the Tutsi genocide. Reports in the Sydney Morning Herald indicated that Annan ignored urgent warnings of genocide wired to the New York headquarters by then–UN commander for Rwanda, General Romeo Dallaire of Canada.

Enter the oil-for-food scandal, possibly the largest financial fraud in history. Saddam Hussein allegedly grabbed $21.3 billion from the UN’s pantry while UN officials looked the other way in exchange for hefty crumbs. Hussein himself pocketed more than $2 billion and used the remainder to buy influence, protection, and pay bribes.

Paul Volcker, former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, was appointed by the UN to investigate the oil-for-food scandal—an exercise made more difficult when Annan’s aide, lqbal Riza, ordered relevant documents to be shred in the secretary general’s office. As the independent inquiry committee, known as the Volcker Commission, worked to unravel the trail of deceit and corruption at the highest levels, Annan’s own son, Kojo, refused to cooperate with the investigation. Kojo Annan was hired by Cotecna, the Swiss firm that won the UN contract to monitor the oil-for-food program. Michael Wilson, a company vice president and longtime friend of the Annan family, brought the younger Annan into the firm. When Cotecna won the multi-million-dollar contract, flags were raised. Was the fix in? At the very least the situation was a conflict of interest for the secretary general.

Pressed by reporters to comment on Kojo’s involvement with Cotecna, the secretary general responded, “I love my son and have always expected the highest standards of integrity from him. I am deeply saddened by the evidence to the contrary that has emerged, and particularly by the fact that my son had failed to cooperate fully with the inquiry. “In addition to Volcker’s work, a Senate investigation found glaring corruption at the highest levels of the UN, unrelated to oil-for-food. Not surprisingly, there were calls for Annan to step down. Senator Norm Carlson (R-Minnesota) led the Senate investigation. When reporters asked Kofi Annan about Carlson’s call for his resignation, CNN reports that Annan retorted, “Hell no!”

Despite his public confidence, each new revelation by the Volcker investigation brought troubling details of Annan’s complicity. Reports of top UN officials’ corruption included:

  • $500,000 in personal phone calls at the UN station in Eritrea
  • Sex abuse by UN peacekeeping missions worldwide
  •  Alexander Yakovlev of the oil-for-food staff pleading guilty in federal court to money laundering and soliciting bribes from UN contractors in a scandal unrelated to the oil-for-food matter
  •  The June 2005 discovery of the 1998 Cotecna memo that indicated the company had “brief discussions with the SG and his entourage” before the contract was awarded and believed “we could count on their support.”

According to a Washington Post story on the Senate investigation into the oil-for-food scandal, “Hussein ordered that Russians be rewarded for threatening in 2000 to veto a Security Council resolution to restrict illicit trade at Iraq’s borders…. The veto threat killed the resolution before it was formally considered, prompting more oil allocations for Russia as well as contracts for humanitarian goods….”

The inevitable question must be asked: Did the UN Security Council refuse to enforce its own resolutions against Hussein and attempt to stall American intervention in order to protect cozy under-the-sheet relationships with him? In the words of Iraq’s interim defense minister Hazem Sha’alan, “Where was Kofi Annan when Saddam Hussein was slaughtering the Iraqi people like sheep?”

New disclosures appeared almost daily as various Annan cohorts were sacrificed in an effort to spare the secretary himself. Finally, a June report in the Australian noted the obvious: “Speculation is mounting at UN headquarters in New York that Mr. Annan will announce his resignation at a summit of world leaders in the city in September, in the larger interests of the organization.”

As of this printing, Annan is still on the job.

Lightning Bolton and the Eurocrats

“Treaty-basher” and “unilateralist” are two of the lesser epithets that follow John R. Bolton, the new U.S. ambassador to the UN. A fellow Yale alumni, Bolton served under George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Detractors view Bolton as President Bush’s gunslinger. Journalists and Democratic senators have accused him of lacking diplomatic finesse. But of what use is the finery of finesse, ask UN detractors, when terrorist-run nations such as Libya and Syria sit on the UN’s Human Rights Commission?

Realists contend that the chaos at the United Nations is beyond mere diplomacy. The UN’s own committee has proposed more than a hundred reforms—some of them dangerous to U.S. interests. If the institution is to survive, it’ll require a massive overhaul that redresses power structure and administrative procedures.

Jan-Friedrich Kallmorgen of the German Council on Foreign Relations remarked, “Bush is committed to re-form. . . .He chose Bolton because he needs someone tough enough to take on the bureaucracy.” Others, jittery about mounting rumbles in Iran and North Korea, are secretly relieved that a man of Bolton’s toughness is on watch. “The appointment of John Bolton sends a signal to Iran that it will not be business as usual at the UN,” said a former delegation aide from Eastern Europe.

The simple truth is that Ambassador Bolton is not a fan of the UN and has said so repeatedly. In a 1997 essay for the Cato Institute he wrote, “Let us be realistic about the UN. It has served our purposes from time to time; and it is worth keeping alive for future service. But it is not worth the sacrifice of American troops, American freedom of action, or American national interests.”

In Bolton’s view, the UN is merely one of several possible instruments to address international issues. This isn’t the obsequious homage the UN believes it deserves. Eurocrats are particularly uncomfortable with Bolton’s arrival, which the German newspaper Spiegel Online described as a “slap in the face to Europe and to the UN.”

European delegates to the UN recall with horror the 2001 UN Conference on Small Arms. Bolton, then undersecretary of state, unflinchingly refused to sell out Americans’ Second-Amendment right to bear arms. That blunt and bold style is distasteful to many of the European elites who roam the halls of the UN.

“Old Europe” uses the UN as its power base and considers itself the check against “American hegemony.” European leaders fear Bolton will rein in their domination of key UN programs. Without a muscular military, the European Union wages “soft war” on its targets from UN headquarters in New York and Geneva. From the UN chambers, European bureaucrats work to control international law and trade, as well as social engineering programs riddled with anti-life, anti-family policies.

Despite their efforts (or perhaps because of them), economic woes are piling up in Europe. Pinched between falling birth rates—the fruit of abortion, contraception, and childless cohabitation—and heavy welfare commitments, Europeans will face a demographic nightmare in less than a generation. In light of that, many Europeans fear a demotion from first-world politics, especially with India and China rising on the global stage.

But the European-American fissure is deeper than economic envy and military might. Europe has lost her soul— lost all acknowledgment of God as the ultimate authority. During negotiations on the proposed European constitution, parliamentarians categorically refused to include any reference to God or Europe’s Christian and Jewish heritage—a vicious repression of the popular will.

Rome Eyes the Global Project

There are only two global institutions in the world, the Holy See and the United Nations. The Holy See occupies a unique position at the UN as a permanent observer. As such, it seeks to guard religious freedom and human rights in a world dominated by secularism. The Church deftly mounts the UN forum to urge the 191 member nations to eliminate the debilitating debt load of the poorest among them. The UN, for its part, seeks to harness the moral voice of the Church against “unilateral” and militaristic initiatives not sanctioned by the “international community.” But while the Church hopes to control the UN’s pernicious population control and social engineering measures, the UN tries to stifle the Church’s moral voice where health and reproductive rights (read abortion, sterilization, and contraception) are concerned.

This tension between the two has varied from year to year. At Cairo’s UN Conference on Population and Development (1994) and Beijing’s Fourth World Conference on Women (1995), the Holy See forestalled at-tempts by delegates—mostly European—to make abortion and contraception an international right. A corps of Catholic volunteer lobbyists, translators, and medical experts traveled to Cairo and Beijing to aid the Church in its efforts.

Later, the Holy See and numerous Catholic non-governmental organizations (NGOs) fought back against measures that would have weakened parental rights during a review of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Evagelical, Catholic, and Mormon lobbyists were able to stop the slide toward “reproductive rights” for children as young as ten. By the year 2000, at the Millennium Summit, pro- family groups accredited at the UN had become savvy, ever alert to stealth language and maneuvers.

It wasn’t always this way. Early in the UN’s history the Vatican had hopes that the international organization would truly foster dialogue and promote peace. Pope Paul VI addressed the UN in 1965, at the height of the Cold War, noting that it was perhaps the “last great hope for concord and peace.” The Church is learning a bitter lesson today at the hands of the same UN it once hoped would lead nations toward a genuine peace.

The former Cardinal Ratzinger, commenting on the “new anthropology” promoted by the United Nations’ anti-life policies, pointedly referred to these plans to re-organize the world as “the New World Order.” He added, “The Christian—and not only him, but especially him—is obliged to protest.”

It’s disturbing, then, to learn that Catholics who work at the international level and who are intimately familiar with the UN’s strengths and weaknesses have quietly voiced concern over new trends between the Holy See and the organization. The current delegation in New York, under Archbishop Celestino Migliore, perplexes Catholic organizations. “They’ve lost their spark. Martino [former nuncio to the UN] did not fear to walk into a negotiation and draw a clear line,” remarked a Catholic lobbyist from a European nation.

Each UN treaty, accord, convention, or platform for action carries a different degree of legal weight. Thus technical experts warn that a failure to eliminate certain language in a given document will open the door to a vast shift in the understanding of human rights. That shift changes international law on marriage, family, children’s rights, gender issues, and religious freedom. Heretofore, the Holy See has been sharp-eyed at negotiations and accomplished much.

That may have changed. While no one wants to speak critically of the Holy See’s nuncio on the record, it’s clear that many members of Catholic pro-life NGOs are dejected. “It is incomprehensible that he [Migliore] can be so sanguine on the language we’ve spent the last ten years trying to prevent,” said a female veteran of both the Cairo and Bejing conferences.

Both Catholics and Evangelicals familiar with the work of the Holy See suggest that efforts to defend the pro-life, pro- family positions have been set aside in order to cooperate with UN initiatives to combat poverty. “The Holy See delegation under Archbishop Celestino Migliore wants to work with other diplomats without the rancor of ‘doctrinal’ absolutes overshadowing their relationships,” commented a UN regular.

While criticisms of the Holy See delegation have surfaced in Europe, American pro-life warriors perceive another factor in the changed focus: “a European elitist disgust with U.S. policy on Iraq and terrorism.” This is the judgment of two veterans of the UN wars over abortion. “Migliore just does not want to be seen by fellow UN delegates as an American—make that a Bush—ally. He has not found a means to support pro-life stances while keeping his distance on American ‘unilateralism.'”

The nuances are complex, and simplified explanations should not be read as the whole picture. But the concern has moved beyond the halls of the UN and into the wider circle of Catholic commentary. The elegantly precise Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things, listed his brotherly quibbles with Migliore in his pages of that magazine: “Migliore affirms ‘the final goal of making war useless and outmoded.’ That is an interesting formulation…but to adopt, even as a goal, the proposition that war should be judged ‘useless and outmoded’…[is] to reinforce a pacifist sentiment that weakens the resolve to resist evil and redress injustice, if necessary by resort to just war.”

Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., professor of political science at Georgetown University and CRISIS columnist, amplifies that thought. “Naivete also causes bloodshed. It fails to understand the human condition as it exists among us. A world-wide tyranny, a real possibility, would in fact be a world without war. …This possibility is why some of us pay particular attention to the intellectual forces that motivate the United Nations.”

Can the UN Be Saved?

Catholic American thinkers must bear in mind that the American experience of democracy is different from that of Europe. The rise of the Third Reich and all its horrors grew in the bosom of European democracy. If a multilateral power structure doesn’t have authority to govern global events such as war, then what happens if a monster gains the White House and control of the planet’s mightiest arsenal? In short, most Europeans don’t believe democracy is necessarily a defense against tyranny. And yet, history demonstrates that in an imperfect world it is the best option. Indeed, imagine an alternate possibility—an oppressive and corrupt international organization with dominant military control that supports that military by taxing nations into ruin, decrees who may be born, and banishes public religious practice and speech.

Some have not yet given up on the UN. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Illinois), as chairman of the House International Relations Committee, has introduced the United Nations Reform Act of 2005, hoping to make the organization “more focused and accountable.”

But Jed Babbin, former deputy undersecretary of defense, has little hope that honest reform can be achieved. He notes that third-world staffers at the UN think the U.S. Treasury is “the common heritage of mankind.” Babbin, author of Inside the Asylum: Why the United Nations and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think, believes the UN’s flaws are insurmountable. “Trying to fix the UN is a fool’s errand, because in order to fix the UN you need the cooperation of states that are the problem.”

If the UN cannot be reformed, what happens to some of the worthy ideals contained in the Millennium Development Goals?

A senior aide on the Hill pointed to the Millennium Challenge Act, the American commitment to the MDGs. “Look, we are addressing the Goals via the Challenge Account—monies set aside for poverty reduction, education—the list. But here is the difference: U.S. economic security funds go to those nations that meet a threshold on key points; an independent judiciary, free press, transparent budget process, freedom of religion.”

“We think we have a better idea for world cooperation and assistance—one that will build up the number of free democratic states in the world,” he added.

Whether that approach will be deemed acceptable by the UN is yet to be seen.


  • Mary Jo Anderson

    Mary Jo Anderson is a Catholic journalist and public speaker. She is a board member of Women for Faith and Family and has served on the Legatus Board of Directors. With co-author Robin Bernhoft, she wrote Male and Female He Made Them: Questions and Answers about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions (Catholic Answers Press, 2005).

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