Cato Policy Analysis No. 61 October 24, 1984

Policy Analysis

Totalitarian Global Management: The Un War on the Liberal International Economic Order

by Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow of the Cato Institute. In 1981- 82 he was special assistant to the president and a deputy repre- sentative to the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea.


Executive Summary

The United Nations is celebrating its 40th anniversary amid much hoopla and endless expressions of goodwill. Last month dozens of heads of state descended on New York for the opening of the 40th session of the General Assembly; scores more are expected for the official commemorative festivities the week of October 21. Despite widespread and withering criticism of the institution in recent years--in September Singapore's foreign minister, Suppiah Dhanabalan, told the General Assembly that the UN's prestige "is at an all time low"[1]--hope burns eternal. Austrian ambassador Thomas Klestil recently reaffirmed his nation's support for the international body: "Give it a chance," he said, for "the U.N. is only 40 years old."[2]

For its part, the United States seems prepared to give the UN that chance. Secretary of State George Shultz called for rejuvenation of the organization when he addressed the General Assembly on September 23. Though the administration refused to sign the Law of the Sea Treaty and withdrew from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Reagan officials give no sign of reevaluating America's membership in or financial commitment to the UN itself. The administration, for example, is opposing congressional efforts to cut the U.S. share of the UN budget--now 25 percent--even though the smallest 85 countries, a solid voting majority, contribute less than 2 percent of the international body's budget.

The UN's most important failure--its inability to promote, let alone keep, world peace--is obvious. Though the organization's charter proclaims that the UN was created "to save suc- ceeding generations from the scourge of war," Singapore's Dhanabalan reminded the General Assembly that since the founding of the UN there have been some 150 armed conflicts, with 40 active ones in 1983 alone, involving half the members of the UN.[3]

As for the UN's extensive network of humanitarian programs, some, like the World Health Organization (WHO), predated the world body; others, including the refugee projects, have been drawn into fractious regional and international disputes. Even well-intentioned and successful agencies, like the international organization for children, UNICEF, merely duplicate the work of national agencies and private organizations. Some actually hurt their intended beneficiaries: the UN Disaster Relief Office, charges one observer, is "a cumbersome bureaucracy, which further delays the response to urgent requests, if it does anything at all."[4] There are few advances for peace, improvements in living standards, expansions of personal freedom, or increases in civil liberties anywhere in the world that can be cited as unique achievements on the part of the UN, even after 40 years of operation.

Those inclined to be charitable nevertheless argue that the UN is, at worst, harmless, providing a "forum to let off steam."[5] However, political debate on the world stage is not without effect, especially when more is involved than just idle chitchat. Indeed, by serving as a forum for vigorous and persistent attacks on the values of political and economic freedom that underly our system, the UN has become "a center of agitation against the democratic order."[6] For this reason the UN deserves a searching and critical evaluation by America's foreign policy establishment.

The result of such a review is disturbing. Under the control of the numerous Third World nations, the UN has been actively promoting a comprehensive and totalitarian system of global management. Attacked by UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick as a philosophy of "global socialism,"[7] it is that and much more. The overriding UN ideology is one of international control of natural, financial, and informational resources, as well as the global regulation of economic and even cultural activities.

Though support for international economic controls would exist without the UN and its alphabet-soup conglomeration of official organs (UNCTAD, UNITAR) and autonomous, though related, specialized agencies (UNESCO, WHO), the importance of these bodies in waging economic and political warfare on the West should not be underestimated. Without the UN system there would be no "institutional, concrete locale" that gives "substance to what might otherwise be merely an abstract wish."[8] In addition to providing a forum for the ideology of global management, the UN also helps underwrite the development and spread of redistributionist ideas. The highly paid, professional staffs of the myriad UN agencies "have discarded even the appearance of neutrality to become, in effect, union organizers for the Third World."[9] This sympathetic cadre has organized political blocs, developed and publicized specific proposals, focused international energies and resources on alleged problems, and directly assisted countries in implementing indigenous policies reflecting the international collectivist ideology. In this way the impetus for global management has sprung not from the masses of people in the Third World, nor even from a widespread consensus on global problems, but from an international elite artificially created and nurtured by the UN.

Of course, the UN does not have the power of an international parliament, but it provides more than a forum for abstract discussions--and even the UN's debates are part of an ongoing intellectual current that influences the direction of international political and economic relations. More important, the unending string of authoritative resolutions, conventions, conferences, and codes both provides models for and generates pressure on countries to expand state authority over their citizens' economic lives. The pressure to acquiesce in, if not enthusiastically accept, UN regulatory proposals is strong, especially within the international relations/foreign policy bureaucracies of the U.S. government.

Thus, as a wellspring for the ideology of global management, the UN is posing a serious threat to the liberal international economic order, as well as to the basic political values underlying the democratic nations of the West. The philosophy of world socialism logically requires the creation of large-scale coercive institutions--like international "authorities" to regulate the seabed and outer space--that would elevate to the international level the sort of totalitarian systems all too prevalent at the national level.

Nor is it only the citizens of Western nations who would suffer if the ideology of international control were translated into policy. The peoples of the developing world would also be victims, for they most desperately need protection for economic opportunity, social and cultural diversity, and political freedom.

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