25 April 2017

Notes from Norm: Time for the U.S. to Assess Support of UN

The United Nations is made up of 193 member countries, in which the United States provides nearly 22% of its general funding – or roughly $3 billion a year.

Adding in other payments the United States makes to the United Nations we are on the hook for nearly $8 billion a year to the United Nations.

This week President Trump met with a number of ambassadors to the United Nations Security Council.

During his meeting, he called the United Nations “an underperformer” and in doing so underscored what all of our concerns should be about the world body.

I want to focus on three key elements that raise serious questions about our continued support of the United States at the United Nations.

In 2004 as the Chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations I called upon then Secretary General Kofi Annan to resign because of his failure to adequately police the so-called “U.N. Oil-for-Food” Program.

This program, began in 1996 to allow Iraq to sell oil to pay for food and other critical needs of its people, ended up being a source of ill-gotten gains for thousands, including Annan’s own son.

Saddam Hussein himself manipulated the program to pay himself nearly $2 billion in bribes.

In 2005 I began a series of hearings into the matter and shed further light on the fact that the United Nations was complicit in helping to help others make money off the suffering of the Iraqi people by trading oil for money and favors.

In the end, the United Nations itself did more to harm the people of Iraq by allowing others under its control, and within its own operations, to benefit financially from the program.

It also allowed other bad actors to not just walk away with untold millions of dollars that should have gone for food for the Iraqi people – but permitted Hussein himself to use money to buy more weapons for his military buildup.

But it wasn’t just the UN Oil-for-Food Program that exposes serious problems with the United Nations.

In 2008 the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a hearing regarding the United Nations Development Program in North Korea.  Reports in 2007 outlined massive management failures at the UN about this program.

Our hearings found inappropriate staffing, inadequate administrative and fiscal controls, inaccessible audits and insufficient whistleblower safeguards – confirming the worst fears raised in 2007.

The North Korea Development program proved what investigators had thought from the beginning:  It was nothing more than a massive money laundering program.

Months later the United Nations Development Program took the unprecedented step of suspending its North Korean operations.

In light of the tensions between the world and North Korea today one has to wonder what role the United Nations failures may have played in allowing the tyrannical regime to fund its illicit weapons program that now threatens global peace and stability.

If it were just fiscal mismanagement and corruption alone it would be in our nation’s best interest to have a debate about our commitment to the United Nations.

But recent revelations about sexual abuse and assaults by UN Peacekeepers in the Central African Republic numb the senses.

According to a February 2016 report by the Washington Post, The U.N. system responsible for handling and prosecuting such cases has been widely criticized as dysfunctional, even after scandals involving peacekeepers in other parts of the world. Only one criminal charge has been filed in relation to any of the 42 cases of sexual abuse or exploitation that have been officially registered in the Central African Republic, according to U.N. officials.”

A story in Bloomberg Kambiz Foroohar is even more disturbing.  This passage alone should make us seriously challenge the notion of the United Nations as an organization capable of being the forum to build world peace.   “

Sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers was first documented in Bosnia and Kosovo in the early 1990s. As the frequency has increased, so has impunity for the perpetrators, partly because responsibility for punishment falls to home countries. The UN can send troops home and document the reasons why, but it can’t impose criminal charges or jail offenders.

“The UN is famous as a place where rapists get away with rape,” said Paula Donovan, co-founder and director of Aids-Free World.”

We live in a dangerous world.  The United Nations was founded upon the belief that it could be a body capable of helping to make it less dangerous.

A place where nations could come and reason together and find common ground.  A place where world conflicts could be resolved by dialogue and discussion and compromise.

Today, the United Nations has become a favorite place for those with a beef against the United States and many of our allies, particularly Israel, to sound off and criticize us for our beliefs and support for freedom, liberty and democracy throughout the world.

It has become a bloated cesspool of corruption and decay that has failed to achieve this vision.

The President, in describing the United Nations as an underperforming body, also suggested that there remains potential for the organization to live up to its lofty goals and ambitions.

But, he also cautioned that “We must also take a close look at the U.N. budget. Costs have absolutely gone out of control.”

He is, of course, absolutely right in his assessment.  He would be wise to direct Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, to remain steadfast and unwavering in stating the United States position that accountability is a necessary by-product of our financial supported for the United Nations.

It is time for the United States to demand real reform at the United Nations.  Time for us to demand that its focus turn to bringing the world together rather than contributing to tearing it apart.

As the nation responsible for at least 22% of the United Nation’s budget, it is well within our right to demand accountability.

We owe it to the world.

We owe it to the taxpayers of the United States.