United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon steps down in December after two five-year terms. The General Assembly chooses his successor this fall. Does it matter?
The United States has been the United Nations’ largest donor since the organization’s founding by World War II Allies. America in 2015, with a little more than four percent of UN member nations’ total population but an estimated 24 percent of world gross domestic product, provided 22 percent of the world body’s regular budget and roughly 28 percent of peace-keeping supplemental expenditures, about $3 billion of approximately $13 billion total.
But exemplifying the UN’s non-transparent inner workings, its entire combined budgets tripled between 2002 and 2015 to $42 billion, according to Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaeffer, who specializes in UN affairs. U.S. taxpayers’ share has stayed relatively constant at 19 percent.
In the 1960s, occasional billboards along Midwestern roads declared: “The UN: Get U.S. Out!” Sponsored by the John Birch Society, their influence was marginal. In those days the United Nations in its bold, modernist headquarters on New York City’s East River registered—if at all—in public consciousness as the place world leaders debated, if not solved, Big Issues.
But its record on crises—from Biafra through Bangladesh to Bosnia—has been one of chronic haplessness. At his inauguration as secretary-general in January, 2007, with Washington’s support, Ban was supposed to be help turn things around. After a string of UN chiefs beginning in 1971 that included Kurt Waldheim, Javier Perez de Cuellar, Boutros Boutros Ghali and Kofi Annan and varied from feckless to functionally anti-Western, Ban came advertised as sympatico.
Ban, a veteran South Korean diplomat, and his United Nations continued to disappoint. From Russian aggression in Georgia and Ukraine and Beijing’s expansionism in the South China Sea through Syria’s civil wars and refugee crisis to climate change mania, Iranian nuclearization and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, Ban seemed to epitomize the UN’s post-national world bureaucrats: arrogant, dismissive of dissent and unperturbed by, if not in denial of, UN failure to contribute much constructive.
The United Nations and Annan received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. Annan led the UN’s Department of Peace-Keeping Operations during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. At the world body, nothing succeeds like failure.
In Surrender is Not an Option: Defending the United States at the United Nations, President George W. Bush’s UN ambassador, John Bolton, recounts the Clinton administration using Annan to block Boutros-Ghali from a second term. Then Annan, media-savvy and publicity hungry, undercut both the second Clinton and first Bush administrations.
In the Clinton years, Annan criticized the U.S.-led NATO bombing of Serbia. He claimed the UN Security Council, not national governments, was “the sole source of legitimacy on use of force.” “Wrong, dead wrong,” declared then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, now vice president, Joe Biden (D-DE). In the first years of George W. Bush’s presidency, Annan alleged the invasion of Iraq violated international law, never mind Saddam Hussein’s transgressions of 16 UN Security Council resolutions. That included three measures under the UN Charter’s Chapter VII, authorizing use of force.
In promoting Ban, the Bush team wanted an “anti-Annan,” a secretary-general focused on peace keeping, advancing democracy and deflating the UN’s self-aggrandizing bureaucracy. But as Heritage’s Schaeffer testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2015, UN professional staff are paid an average of 17 percent more than their U.S. counterparts in New York City; administer 9,000 often “outdated, duplicative or unproductive” General Assembly mandates, yet work under no effective inspector-general or whistle-blower supervision.
Bolton has noted that some senior UN types have come to see themselves not as a group of international civil servants but as world leaders in their own right. He said some had taken to referring to Annan as “a secular pope”—as if they were cardinals running an infallible neo-Vatican.
Ban himself neither advanced democracy globally nor curtailed the UN’s institutional grasping. Perhaps that was unavoidable, given the limitations of the job imposed by the five permanent members of the Security Council (the United States, Russia, China, France, and United Kingdom) and the need to conciliate the General Assembly. The latter is a creature of 193 countries, many with large ambitions, few resources and less self-responsibility. This includes the 118 countries of the constantly aggrieved, often anti-Western “non-aligned movement” and many of the overlapping 56 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. (The U.S. share of UN expenditures tops that of the 176 lowest General Assembly member-country contributors combined.)
Ban’s 2011 election to a second term—in essence re-nominated by the Security Council’s permanent members and endorsed by the General Assembly—was not without critics. While the secretary-general claimed as first-term achievements pushing climate change to the top of the world’s agenda, advancing UN reform and promoting human rights, a July 22, 2010 headline in The Guardian read “Disquiet grows over performance of Ban Ki-moon, UN’s ‘invisible man’; Leaked memo by senior staff describes secretary-general’s governance—now in its fourth year—as ‘deplorable.’”
Permanent bureaucracies instinctively sabotage temporary leaders threatening change, or even inadvertently challenging their position and privileges. In any case, in-house knives were out for Ban. The same day The Guardian reported “Disquiet grows,” a Foreign Policy commentary was headlined “Good Night, Ban Ki-moon: The UN Secretary-General must go.”
Writer James Traub opined that “the only force that can dislodge Ban is the White House. [But President] Obama has repeatedly said that he needs the UN in order to advance his agenda on nuclear non-proliferation, climate change, and other major issues.” So there was “no chance” the administration “would seek to deny a second term to the most pro-American secretary-general in recent memory, if not ever.”
If nuclear non-proliferation included Washington negotiating a dubious agreement with Iran and mostly rhetorical retaliation against North Korea for nuclear and missile tests, then apparently Ban could be counted on not to get in its way. If for the Obama administration climate change topped Islamic triumphalism, Russian destabilization of Eastern Europe, and Chinese intimidation of neighboring countries, then the secretary-general’s outlook complimented that of the president. Obama told CBS TV’s “60 Minutes” that leadership meant “leading on climate change.”
Ban’s senior climate change advisors agreed, and in doing so confirmed a supra-national, anti-democratic, anti-capitalist ideology. Slowing or reversing global warming is “probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the [global] economic development model for the first time in human history,” declared Christiana Figueres, head of the UN’s top climate agency from 2010 to 2016. Her target was “the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years….”
Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change working group III (an army of UN bureaucrats requires divisions of working groups) explained, “Climate change has almost nothing to do anymore with environmental protection.” He had acknowledged previously, according to Paul Driessen writing at Townhall.com (“The Climate Con Goes On,” Feb. 21, 2015) that a world summit on the subject “actually is an economic summit, during which the distribution of the world’s resources will be negotiated.” In other words, if you liked your free market capitalism, too bad.
If the devil’s in the details, a detail from one of Ban’s claimed successes illustrates the United Nations’ destructive weakness and lack of supervision. Before the 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 250,000 of Haiti’s 9.9 million mostly immiserated people, the secretary-general had cited the improvement UN peace-keepers had made in reducing kidnapping, gang violence and generally widespread crime after Haitian government crises. But a cholera epidemic (the disease had been unknown in the otherwise troubled country) followed the quake and has so far taken approximately 10,000 lives “and infected nearly one in ten people,” National Review noted in its May 9, 2016 edition.
The source of the outbreak? “A UN peace-keeping base, where the contaminated feces of UN soldiers from Nepal were unceremoniously dumped into an open pit near a major river system.” The magazine charged the Obama administration’s Centers for Disease Control with trying to suppress that information and stated that “the UN itself likewise declined to take responsibility.”
If Haiti reflects the United Nations in micro, the 2015 six-power agreement with Iran to temporarily constrain its nuclear weapons programs does so in macro. The world body can’t be blamed for the substance—or diluted nature—of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The JCPOA was largely the work of the United States, abetted by Germany, the United Kingdom and France, with collaboration from Russia and China, all hungry for renewed or enlarged Iranian trade.
About Iranian nuclear weapons, candidate Obama in 2008 asserted “the danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.” He also called the possibility of a nuclear Iran “profoundly destabilizing” and vowed he would do “everything that’s required to prevent it.”
Yet the JCPOA limits Tehran’s nuclear weapons efforts (but not ballistic missiles, needed for nuclear weapons delivery) for only a decade, mothballs but doesn’t eliminate elements of the program, lifts sanctions that Obama as a senator opposed but as president credited with compelling Iran to negotiate, and rewarded the cash-short mullahs for future compliance by freeing as much as $150 billion in frozen assets. The president claimed “Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.”
Recall U.S. intelligence’s history of surprise at either the existence or imminence of Soviet, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and North Korean nuclear tests. Consider that Iran developed its military nuclear program secretly for years, with Chinese and Pakistani assistance. Remember that the CIA discounted Israeli warnings to the Clinton administration about an Iranian nuclear weapons program until 1998. Note the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency’s habit of stumbling upon previously unknown Iranian nuclear facilities. These suggest the president’s warranty may not be persuasive.
Nevertheless, Ban welcomed and the United Nations certified the nuclear deal six days after it was announced by unanimously adopting Security Council Resolution 2231, July 20, 2015. The speed of this “world endorsement” of the plan bolstered the Obama administration’s effort to bypass congressional opposition.
On Israel, Ban and his institution nakedly discredit themselves. During the 2014 Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, Ban declared the “fighting has raised serious questions about Israel’s respect for the principles of distinction [between combatant and non-combatant] and proportionality.” But after the war, then Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told a New York audience, “I actually do think that Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties. In this kind of conflict, where you are held to a standard that your enemy is not held to, you’re going to be criticized for civilian casualties.”
Ban consistently holds the Jewish state to an invidious double standard. During the 2015-2016 Palestinian “stabbing intifada,” he seemed to justify the wave of knife, gun, rock and vehicular attacks, pointing to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank as a cause of “Palestinian frustration.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired back that “the UN Secretary-General’s words give encouragement to terrorism.” Ban replied with a New York Times Op-Ed, “Don’t shoot the messenger, Israel” (Jan. 31, 2016). The secretary-general trumped one of his pro forma assertions that “nothing excuses terrorism” declaring he had “pointed out a simple truth: History proves that a people will always resist occupation.”
If “the occupation” were such a problem, why had Palestinian leadership rejected offers to end it with a “two-state solution” including a West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem “Palestine” in exchange for peace with Israel in 2000, 2001 and 2008 and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s “framework” for negotiations in 2014? On that simple truth, Ban was mum.
He did, however, continue obsessive condemnation of “illegal,” “expanding” Jewish settlements in the disputed West Bank (Judea and Samaria). Never mind that “close Jewish settlement” on the land west of the Jordan River is legal, encouraged by the League of Nations’ Palestine Mandate, Article 6; incorporated by the UN Charter, Chapter 12, Article 80; and supported by other international pacts including the 1920 San Remo Treaty and 1924 Anglo-American Convention. And never mind that Israeli communities in the West Bank for years have expanded virtually not at all in territory, most population and construction growth being “in-fill.”
While the Secretary-General’s hectoring of Israel amplifies periodic comments from the Obama administration, the United Nations spews—and implicitly justifies—anti-Zionism and antisemitism. As this writer has noted previously, Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, has pointed out that just ahead of 2016’s International Holocaust Commemoration Day, the Security Council debated:
The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. The hate speech against the Jewish state flowed uninterrupted for seven hours and was broadcast around the world. Israel was said to be guilty of “crimes against humanity,” “execution of children,” “apartheid,” “racism,” “brutality,” “terrorism,” “war crimes,” “assassinations,” “torture of children,” and “Judaization”—the allegedly vile presence of Jews on Arab-claimed territory.
Downstairs, the Holocaust exhibit recounted how ordinary people did nothing while their neighbors were rounded up with cries of “Juden, Juden, Juden.”
B’nai B’rith International is a world-wide Jewish philanthropic and human rights organization. Present at the UN’s creation in 1945, two years later it became the world body’s first accredited non-governmental organization (NGO). Daniel S. Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith’s executive vice president, calls the UN’s stream of falsified anti-Israel resolutions Israel “outrageous.” He notes that UN founders hoped to prevent future world wars and genocides like the Holocaust. But, “the promise of ’45 was just not met.” The failure, Mariaschin says, owes less to secretary-generals as a group or Ban in particular than the fact the West, beginning with European democracies, “has lost its way.”
The United Nations turns out to be no better than the five permanent members of the Security Council, most importantly the United States, require. Choosing a new secretary-general from among the 11 candidates and—news media coverage notwithstanding—whether Ban’s successor is male or female matters less than whether an American president insists the United Nations strives to fulfill its founding aspirations. Doing so, not coincidentally, would supplement U.S. interests. Failing to insist would tolerate the world body’s often irrelevant, periodically toxic performance.