May 30, 2001 | Commentary on International Organizations

U.N. Wake-up Call?

Get this.

The day after the United Nations voted the United States off the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, National Public Radio's Juan Williams asked Mary Robinson, the U.N.'s high commissioner on human rights, if she worried the United States might withhold funding for the commission and the United Nations in general.

She said she hoped not. "I hope the Americans see it as a wake-up call to take a more positive approach," she said. "I hope they address the underlying reasons this happened and try to earn their way back on."

Oh, it's a wake-up call, all right. And Americans certainly should address the underlying reasons it happened-craven betrayal by our leftist "friends" in Europe, such as France.

Here we thought the United States and the United Nations were on their best terms in at least a decade. We were thinking about rejoining the United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which we left in 1984 to protest the organization's growing anti-Western bias, budgetary mismanagement and advocacy of policies that undermine freedom of the press and free markets. We had begun to pay past dues and to consider paying even more.

We know better now.

And don't forget that on the same day we lost our human rights seat, we also were voted off the U.N. commission that deals with anti-narcotics enforcement. Now, it's one thing to knock us off the Human Rights Commission-clear-thinking people still see us as the world's foremost guardian of human rights, and other countries that truly embrace human rights can keep the flame alive.

But when it comes to drug enforcement, no one else seriously tries. The United States attempted to involve European Union countries in Plan Colombia, the $3 billion effort to curb Colombia's lucrative drug trade. Cocaine-Colombia's chief export-has begun to ravage Europe as it ravaged the United States during the 1980s. And heroin, its No.2 product, has long been a staple of the European drug scene. But as the day to write checks drew near, our EU friends found other budget priorities took precedence.

So kick us off. Keep us locked out of the room where world drug interdiction policy is hashed out. As with the Human Rights Commission, apparently our money is important but our input is not.

We at The Heritage Foundation have received this "wake-up call" before. In the early 1980s-another low point for the United Nations-we launched the "U.N. Assessment Project" to examine our relationship with the world body and push for reforms. Longtime Heritage watchers still hail it as one of our most successful undertakings.

Before it was over, the United States had pulled out of UNESCO, passed the Kassenbaum-Solomon amendment-which tied full U.N. funding to specific reforms-and fundamentally altered our relationship with the United Nations.

Since then, Heritage has kept a wary eye on the United Nations. But it's clear that now we must take an even closer look. So, over the next several months, we plan to re-examine the gamut of U.N. ministries and programs and explain, both to Congress and to the public, what they're up to and why they do or don't merit continued U.S. support.

Our project in the 1980s worked in part because the U.N. ambassador at the time-Jeanne Kirkpatrick-supported our research efforts wholeheartedly. President Bush's choice for U.N. ambassador, John Negroponte, has yet to be confirmed, but we hope and expect he will be similarly helpful. We look forward to working with the new ambassador as we proceed with the project. But the review will go on regardless because, in light of recent events, it must.

Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

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