Delivered October 16, 2007
It is a particular pleasure for me to be participating in an
event hosted by my friend and former boss John Bolton. I have never
known a more dedicated public servant than John.
I also want to note the extraordinary contribution of Senator
Norm Coleman in helping us understand and deal effectively with the
United Nations. He follows in a line of distinguished
Senators-I think especially of Jesse Helms and Pat Moynihan-who
understood the nature of the U.N. and were able to distinguish in a
clear-eyed way between the idealistic hopes that we all share for
international cooperation to advance peace and prosperity and the
reality of a bureaucratic institution whose watchword, both for
staff and delegates, is unaccountability.
The Senator highlighted one of the main reasons for this
unaccountability when he talked about the free-rider problem-the
fact that a majority of states that collectively pay less than 1
percent of the U.N. budget can control the direction and level of
the activities of the organization.
The other main problem is a long tradition of sloppy
thinking about sovereign equality and democracy. Sovereign equality
is the basis for the U.N.'s one country/one vote
decision-making process. Unfortunately, sovereign equality has
nothing whatsoever to do with the characteristics that determine a
country's ability to assume responsibility for the maintenance of
international peace and security-things like size, wealth,
population, and military power.
U.N. advocates like to describe one country/one vote decision
making as embodying the best principles of democracy. Nothing
could be further from the truth. Democracy-"demos"-is about people.
One person/one vote is the democratic ideal. One country/one vote
is something quite different. The governments casting their equal
votes in the U.N. General Assembly represent vastly different
numbers of people, from tens of thousands to over a billion.
It's "state-ocracy" rather than "dem-ocracy," like having the U.S.
Senate without the House of Representatives. And when many of the
states casting those U.N. votes are not themselves democratic,
one may legitimately ask whose voices their votes represent.
The combination of this democracy deficit with the free-rider
budget problem is poisonous and at the root of U.S. hesitancy about
the U.N. and its decisions and programs.
The three groups on our agenda today-the Non-Aligned Movement
(NAM), the Group of 77 (G-77), and the Organization of the Islamic
Conference (OIC)-embody both the free-rider problem and the
democracy deficit. I want to talk about them from the perspective
of what seems to make them tick and what the future might hold for
The Group of 77
The G-77 is in some respects a creature of the U.N. and its crazy
decision-making rules. The tradition of one country/one vote
makes it useful to try to cobble together a coalition of 97 states
or more. If you have 97, you can control almost all U.N. decisions.
The G-77 has 130. When it was formed in 1964 and actually had only
77 members, it was still a number that commanded an absolute
majority in the U.N., which had only about 115 members at the
The original 77 were a disparate group. Most were united by a
relative lack of development, but the group included members across
the political and economic spectrum. Many were firmly
committed to socialism or Communism, but there were also a
few, even then, who embraced capitalism.
What they could all agree on, then as well as now, was that the
richer, more developed countries should give them money. Requests
for more foreign aid were and are the core of the group's platform.
The agenda was to institutionalize as an entitlement the transfer
of money from rich countries to poor. This went so far as to
include calls for a kind of tax-0.7 percent of a rich country's
gross domestic product-to be transferred irrespective of actual
needs or the ability of recipient countries to use the funds wisely
or effectively. Given the lack of democracy, respect for human
rights, and accountability in many of the poor countries, the
reality was that such transfers would actually reallocate resources
from the middle class in the North to the ruling elites in the
South-hardly something to inspire idealism or inflame humanitarian
The quest for resource transfers led logically, in the minds of
the Group of 77, to calls for special financial and trade
privileges for developing countries-a New International
Economic Order. We in the developed countries, of course, already
had an international economic order of which we were quite fond,
one that we knew worked well for most of the people most of the
time. We had no interest in replacing it with something based on a
socialist, centrally planned model that its supporters dreamed
could tilt the playing field in their favor, taxing the rich and
reallocating wealth and resources to poorer countries.
Unfortunately, the G-77 quickly learned the power of their
majority in the U.N. and didn't hesitate to use it. Soon the
Group was controlling not just economic decisions, but the
management of the organization as well.
This had a significant impact on the U.N. budget. For
countries that collectively pay almost nothing toward the
expenses of the organization-and that is the case with the G-77-the
easiest solution is always to grow and spend. After all, it's other
people's money! Also, there were lucrative U.N. jobs- 36,000
of them-to be had. For a country like the U.S., which was
frequently on the losing side of U.N. votes but required
nonetheless to pay the largest share of the costs of the activities
instituted by those votes, it often seemed like a tyranny of the
In any case, there was a powerful package of forces driving the
G-77: a desire for resource transfers-gifts-from the rich; the
ability to command U.N. spending without financial responsibility;
and, for many, an ideology based on Marxist ideas of class struggle
and economic betterment of the poor through redistribution of
wealth rather than economic growth.
Such forces might have had enduring power in a static world, but
life moves on. Capitalism, that great agent of evolutionary change
and the efficient allocation of resources, which had already
brought unheard-of levels of prosperity to the United States and
Western Europe, was continuously perfecting and extending its
markets, both domestically and internationally, with changes that
improved the responsiveness and transparency of the system.
By the 1970s, the gold standard was gone. In its place were
floating exchange rates to help regulate international flows
and better clarity and understanding about monetary policy. We
learned how to manage growth without inflation. The Uruguay Round
brought unprecedented liberalization of trade, and the
economic barriers between countries began to fall. Today we call
this process globalization, and it is bringing high rates of
sustained economic growth around the world, even in the poorest
countries. That's according to the World Bank, the IMF, and even
the United Nations itself.
So a strange thing has happened to the G-77, this group of
self-identified underachievers. Many of its members have begun to
succeed, and they have succeeded not because of the redistribution
of wealth-the aid flows they had so ardently championed-but
because they found they could compete in open international markets
and grow. They have not changed the system, but have found ways to
prosper within it. They have made themselves attractive targets for
foreign investment. They have instituted the rule of law and even
risked the true revolution of democracy and freedom-not all of
them, but many.
And the successes have begun to add up to the point that calls
for more aid, once the be-all and end-all of the Group's program,
have become almost silly in the light of the rapid expansion of
trade flows, foreign direct investment, and remittances sent home
by immigrants to foreign lands. We don't hear many calls these days
for a New International Economic Order. Why create a new order when
the current one is working so well for so many?
The future of the G-77 is uncertain. The disparities in the
group, already evident at its founding, are becoming ever more
striking as the countries that reform prosper while those that
don't are left behind. The socialist ideology that infected the
group at its founding is largely discredited, or at least a pale
reflection of what it once was. The G-77's ability to inspire or
coerce greater aid flows has become almost meaningless in light of
the massive transfers coming to them through capitalist
markets. What remains is the ability to direct and
control the U.N.
This may be enough to sustain the Group for some time to come,
but one need not look very far to see a new challenge for it on the
horizon. That challenge is the issue of climate change.
Whatever one believes about the science or economics of climate
change, it is clear that it will form a large part of the agenda of
the U.N. for years to come. It is also clear that the members of
the G-77 will have vastly different positions on the issue
depending on their size, their economic level, and their geography.
Already this summer, the Group became essentially paralyzed in
Economic and Social Council negotiations on climate change. There
is more of that ahead.
The Non-Aligned Movement
The Non-Aligned Movement is a little different. Created even
before the G-77, the NAM is really a product of the Cold War and
the desire of certain key Third World leaders for a larger voice in
world affairs, independent of competing powers.
It's not a bad strategy in theory, but in practice there have
been severe limitations. The benefits of Cold War alignment were
significant, in both security and economic terms, and countries,
including members of the Non-Aligned Movement, did align with
one or another of the superpowers. Most of them actually
aligned with the Soviet Union, but enough sided with the West that
on several occasions, most notably during the Russian war against
Afghanistan, the movement's cohesion was severely strained.
Today, with the Soviet Union and the Cold War things of the
past, the very concept of non-alignment makes no sense. As its
charismatic founders have passed from the scene, the NAM has had
little in the way of theory or philosophy on which to rely. What
the NAM stands for today, if it stands for anything, is opposition
to the United States; opposition to the U.S.-supported
international system based on Western values of respect for
human rights, democracy, and economic freedom; and opposition to
The puzzling thing is that the policies of the NAM as a
collective do not actually correspond to the policies of the vast
majority of the NAM members as individual countries. The
Movement has become, in many respects, the last haven for tyrants
and dictators. Cuba is the current chair, and the most recent major
conference was in Iran. A major supporter is Venezuela. The
increasing identification of the Movement with its most
radical members is costing it credibility and influence.
I was struck during the last General Assembly by the spectacle
of Cuba, the NAM chair, repeating the exact same statement
exhorting NAM members to oppose country-specific human rights
resolutions on at least a half-dozen occasions. Almost all the
resolutions passed anyway. Why? Because most of the people in most
of the NAM countries actually do believe in human rights and abhor
human rights abuses.
With the growth of democracy and advances in communication that
transmit U.N. debates and resolutions around the world, the
citizens of most NAM countries now have the ability to hold their
governments accountable in some degree for their actions. It is
hard to see how a movement like the NAM can long survive in an
open, transparent, and democratic world. Of course, we don't quite
have that world yet, and the demagogues and dictators who remain
will continue to do everything in their power to sustain and extend
the power of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The Organization of the Islamic
Finally, I want to say a few words about the OIC. It's not big
enough to command an absolute majority by itself, but its size is
significant in determining G-77 and NAM positions. In many ways, it
is the most challenging of the groups to deal with because its
rationale is so foreign to those of us used to freedom of religion
and the separation of church and state.
The OIC exists to promote Islam and Islamic values. It is
implacably opposed to Israel and committed to a system of
values, including Sharia, that is inconsistent with fundamental
tenets of Western philosophy, including some of those embodied in
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The OIC's strength comes not so much from its numbers as from
its focus and the strength of its belief in its own rightness. It
is not clear whether the West has, collectively, the courage of its
own convictions to match the OIC. This is one of the great
ideological, cultural, and political issues of our time. Its
resolution will influence lives and events far beyond the United
Miller is Director of the Center for International Trade and
Economics at The Heritage Foundation. These remarks were delivered
at an American Enterprise Institute program on "Who Leads the