We Should Stop Funding the Offensive Absurdities of the United Nations

On Thursday, in a rare emergency session, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution (128-9, with 35 abstentions) calling on the Trump administration to rescind its decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which thereby recognized it as the nation’s capital.

The U.N. vote was just the latest in a decades-long series of actions that have shown disdain for U.S. policies and interests.

The resolution is nonbinding, so the action is symbolic. It is also pointless to insult and irritate the nation that not only hosts the United Nations’ headquarters—in prime Manhattan real estate —but also is the organization’s largest fU.N. der, contributing about $8 billion a year.

But the U.N. has a long history of committing unforced errors, which is hardly surprising, because it was designed to fail.

GettyImages-888405448 U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, at a United Nations Security Council meeting to debate the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on December 8. Stephanie Keith/Getty

Best known for its peacekeeping in areas of conflict—where it enjoys a mixed record at best—the U.N.’s agencies, commissions and panels have a dismal record of accomplishment, especially while acting as the world’s regulator-wannabe for all manner of products and processes.

The U.N. regularly panders to activists and, not coincidentally, adopts policies that expand its own scope and responsibilities. Science routinely gets short shrift; in U.N. programs and projects, everything becomes an exercise in public relations, politics and international horse-trading.

Two of the U.N.’s recent gaffes were committed by its Human Rights CoU.N.cil and World Health Organization, respectively.

The Human Rights CoU.N.cil published a report by Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, that called for a global “agroecology” regime, including a new global treaty to regulate and reduce the use of pesticides and genetic engineering, which it labeled human rights violations.

(As the U.N. uses the term, "agroecology" is a pseudoscience-based approach to farming that rejects modern biotechnology and synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and is highly critical of conventional agriculture, which is supposedly U.N. sustainable and environmentally damaging.)

The CoU.N.cil, which includes such stalwart defenders of human rights as China, Cuba, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, usually occupies itself by bashing Israel. But in 2000, at the Cuban government’s urging, it created the post of special rapporteur on the right to food.

Befitting the U.N. HRC’s absurd composition, the first person to fill the position, the Swiss sociologist Jean Ziegler was the co-foU.N.der and a recipient of the Muammar al Gaddafi International Human Rights Prize. (I am not making that up.)

For her part, according to U.N. Watch, Elver has cited works that claim the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were orchestrated by the United States government to justify its war on Muslims.

Her position on food reflects the same paranoid mindset. She opposes “industrial food production” and trade liberalization, and frequently collaborates with Greenpeace and other radical environmentalists, so, not surprisingly, her U.N. HRC report parrots the delusional ideological ravings of organic-industry-funded NGOs.

It blames agricultural innovations like pesticides for “destabilizing the ecosystem” and claims that they are U.N.necessary to increase crop yields.

The World Health Organization’s most recent blU.N.der was the appointment in mid-October of Robert Mugabe, the longtime (and soon to be former) president of Zimbabwe, as a “goodwill ambassador,” somehow overlooking that he is widely regarded as a tyrannical despot and faces international sanctions for human rights abuses.

The response was a torrent of condemnation and outrage, including a statement from the U.S. State Department that “this appointment clearly contradicts the United Nations ideals of respect for human rights and human dignity.”

Several days later, the WHO’s director general, who had made the appointment in the first place, rescinded it. Somebody should rescind his appointment.

In a recent article, two respected commentators called for the United States to cut fU.N.ding for the U.N.’s World Health Organization and its International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is plagued by incompetence and poor science on its good days, and is currently mired in a major scandal marked by corruption and conflicts of interest.

The United States has long been a hugely disproportionate funder of U.N. activities—our mandatory assessment and voluntary contributions total some $8 billion—but the era of America’s as the U.N.'s sugar daddy is about to end.

In the spring of this year, State department staffers were instructed to find significant cuts in U.S. funding for U.N. programs (above the mandatory assessment)—the first signal of long overdue belt-tightening.

Why are incompetence and profligacy rife within the sprawling organization? In several respects, it’s in the U.N.’s DNA.

First, the U.N. is essentially a monopoly. Inefficiency and incompetence are not pU.N.ished by "consumers" of their products or services spurning the U.N. and patronizing a competitor. On the contrary, it is not uncommon in these kinds of bureaucracies for failure to be rewarded with additional resources.

U.N.like in business, if a program isn’t working, government bureaucrats clamor to make it bigger.

Second, U.N. officials are rewarded for making the bureaucratic machinery rU.N.—that is, for producing reports, guidelines, white papers and agreements, and for holding meetings, whether or not they are of high quality or make any sense at all.

A related phenomenon is "glamour fever." The participants become so enamored of the trappings of the meetings—the formal and dignified proceedings, the simultaneous translation of the proceedings into various languages, and exotic venues—that they seem to forget why they're there.

(And they certainly don't want the activity, and the opportunity for all-expense-paid, luxurious travel, ever to end.)

Third, there's no accountability—no U.S. Government Accountability Office, House of Lords Select Committee or parliamentary oversight, and no electorate to kick the U.N. reprobates out when they act contrary to the public interest.

It's hardly surprising, therefore, that we see egregious examples of arrogance and corruption, let alone day-to-day featherbedding, laziness and incompetence in the thousands of individual U.N. programs and projects.

Fourth, in the absence of accountability, U.N. officials feel little need for transparency of policymaking, and the public relations offices simply spin, spin, spin the anti-technology, anti-capitalist party line, which often fails to take into consideration that modernity gives rise to greater prosperity and longevity.

Fifth, the pool of possible candidates for U.N. leadership positions is not a promising one. The organization is no meritocracy. The coU.N.try or region of origin of a candidate seems to be more important than his credentials and qualifications.

Also, if you were a head of state or government minister, would you wish to lose your best people to the U.N., or would you prefer to keep them close to make you look good and to benefit your coU.N.try? It’s hardly surprising that the U.N. ends up with the least competent and most disaffected and dysfU.N.ctional officials.

U.S. discretionary contributions should go only to U.N. programs that are highly relevant to the interests, and consistent with the values, of the United States, and we should withhold fU.N. ding and participation from U.N. agencies and programs that are foU.N.d to be corrupt or incompetent.

The annoU.N.cement last month that next year the United States would formally withdraw from UNESCO (the U.N.’s’ “educational, scientific and cultural organization”) to protest its chronic Israel-bashing (a popular U.N. pastime) is a promising development.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said about Thursday’s vote, "We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world's largest contribution to the United Nations.”

I hope so. We and other like-minded coU.N.tries should cease paying any dues at all until the entire organization undergoes fU.N.damental and genuine reform. That is the only language the international bureaucrats understand.

Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford U.N.iversity’s Hoover Institution. He was the foU.N.ding director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Biotechnology.

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