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The U.N. & Its Lazy, Good-for-Nothing Diplomats

Donald Paneth Jan 30

UNITED NATIONS, N.Y., – What in hell do the high-flying diplomats at United Nations headquarters do all day?

The seriousness of this question is not generally recognized.

Despite numerous, urgent, frequently violent, global dilemmas, everything has been put on the backburner here.

And the quietude and inaction at the U.N. is connected directly with the Bush administration’s war policies and war plans. Each is backing up the other. The administration has succeeded with greater agility than in the past in immobilizing the U.N.

Members of the U.N. Security Council meet irregularly at 10 a.m. for perhaps an hour, then adjourn. Afternoon sessions are even more infrequent.

Most of the sessions are closed to the public and press, and the diplomatic participants are not accustomed to communicating candidly and clearly afterwards what might be going on.

“No thematic debate is expected,” Security Council Report, which is published with the support of Canada, Norway, and others, said in its Council forecast for January. “It is unclear whether there will be any major debate.”

The Council, for instance, is doing nothing in regard to the current debacle in Iraq. Council resolution 1511, adopted far-seeingly in the summer of 2003, deeded Iraq to the United States and the United Kingdom.

The new U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has discovered the secret virtue of traveling, that is, staying away from headquarters. Ban met on Jan. 16 and members of Congress in Washington, D.C. He discussed the Middle East, Darfur, Somalia, and North Korea with Bush, and said it was “a useful meeting.” But like his colleagues, he is not adept at communicating substance. Right now, he is circuiting Europe and Africa, and will stop in Washington on his return.

Ban, who has replaced Kofi Annan, is from South Korea, is its former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is accomplished at speaking lengthily in clichés and platitudes.

On Jan. 10, Ban addressed a joint meeting of the Business Council for the U.N. and the Association for a Better New York, and devoted two long paragraphs to how to pronounce his name, “Ban, not Baen.” Then he thanked the two groups for convening the meeting. Then he said New Yorkers “should be proud of their longstanding record of support” for the U.N. Then he spoke about the renovation of the Secretariat building.

Meanwhile, the sound of gun fire and bomb explosions, the screams of the wounded and dying on the battlefields and streets of Iraq could not be heard in the luxuriously appointed meeting room.

Meanwhile, Somalia, Darfur, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan also raged.

Jeffrey Gettleman observed in the New York Times on Jan. 19, “Somalia is definitely the wrong place to get a bullet in the brain.” Shortage of medical personnel.

Guy Dinmore wrote in the Financial Times (London) on the same day that “Increasingly tough talk on Iran from the Bush administration … has rattled politicians and diplomats in Washington,” who are worried that the war in Iraq is set to widen.

In the next world crisis, the U.N. will not be able to flex even a pinkie.

The U.S. has trundled it off the world stage. It continues to owe the U.N. more than $1 billion in dues and assessments. It has loaded the Security Council with countries whose votes it can count on – Belgium, Indonesia, Italy, Panama, Qtar. A Britisher has been named to head up U.N. humanitarian affairs. A Mexican diplomat has been appointed to the top U.N. management post.

Mona Juul of Norway, chair of the U.N. General Assembly’s First Committee, commented in the current issue of Disarmament Times that “Not much has been achieved in the field of arms control diplomacy in recent years.” Juul cited the failure of the NPT (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference, the failure on arms control measures of the 2005 World Summit, the failure of the conference against the illicit trade in small arms.

Then too observers had thought the U.N. might make headquarters on the issue of climate change, but it was not to be.

At the annual U.N. conference on climate in Nairobi last November, proposals to establish a timetable for cuts in greenhouse gases were stalled.

The conference agreed only to review the 1997 Kyoto Protocol by 2008. The protocol expires in 2012.

It is the same old, regrettable story. The U.S., the largest source of greenhouse gases, has refused to establish a limit on emissions. Bush withdrew the U.S. from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001.

The diplomats of the world are definitely not earning their pay, not putting in an honest day’s work for their wages.

Donald Paneth began covering the United Nations in
1946.