- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 10, 2006

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown has a singular view of what constitutes diplomacy. He said in a speech on Tuesday that the American public is ignorant of the importance and effectiveness of the U.N. because of the U.S. government’s tolerance of “too much unchecked U.N.-bashing and stereotyping…. Much of the public discourse that reaches the U.S. heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.”

In fact, during its six decades, the overall record of the United Nations has been so rife with failure, corruption and incompetence — to say nothing of poor judgment and condescension, exemplified by Mr. Malloch Brown — that it deserves disdain.

The organization’s best-known interventions — attempts to attain and maintain peace — too often have been exercises in lowest-common-denominator diplomacy progressing at a glacial pace, and its essays into public health and environmental protection frequently have been disastrous. U.N. leaders and programs consistently lack an appreciation for the relationship between wealth creation and public and environmental health.

Even if the recent cases of corruption and profiteering — the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal and its cover-up, sexual abuse of refugees by U.N. officials and peacekeepers, etc. — are anomalies, it is hard to explain away the antisocial outcomes of business as usual.

The U.N. is relentlessly anti-technology, and the result of the excessive regulatory burdens created by its programs and agencies is vastly inflated research and development costs and less innovation and use of superior techniques and products.

How do such travesties arise? Through a kind of “Emperor’s New Clothes” process: At U.N.-sponsored meetings, self-interested and often inexpert participants move a flawed proposal step by step through the approval procedures, all the while pretending it makes sense. A triumph of bureaucratic process over substance.

Why are such arrogance, condescension and incompetence so pervasive in the sprawling organization?

(1) The U.N. essentially is a monopoly. Inefficiency and poor performance are not punished 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, according to the hypothesis, “Maybe it’s not working because it’s just not big enough.”

(2) Economists have long observed that if you want to understand the motivation of an individual or organization, follow the self-interest. Sadly, the self-interest of U.N. bureaucrats seems seldom to coincide with the public interest. U.N. officials are rewarded for making the bureaucratic machinery run, for producing reports, guidelines, and white papers, and for holding meetings — whether or not of high quality or credible.

(3) There’s no accountability — no House of Lords Select Committees, U.S. Government Accountability Office or congressional oversight, or an electorate that can throw the U.N. bums out if they fail to do what’s in 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.

(4) In the absence of accountability, U.N. officials feel little need for transparency of their policymaking; the PR offices simply spin, spin, spin. Last year, I attended a major World Health Organization conference in Geneva at which the nongovernmental organization I represented was denied accreditation because it was known to be an advocate of free markets and a critic of some of the U.N.’s policies. You get to participate in the U.N.’s marketplace of ideas only if what you’re selling is politically correct.

Finally, there’s the issue of the quality of senior U.N. officials. A candidate’s nationality or region of origin seems at least as important as his credentials: No meritocracy there. And consider this factor related to the quality of the pool from which potential candidates are selected: If you were a nation’s president, or its environmental or health minister, would you send your best and brightest people to work for the U.N.? That’s how the U.N. ends up with the Malloch Browns.

The U.N.’s assault on innovation and wealth creation demands a counterattack. The United States and like-minded nations can provide the firepower by withholding funds and participation from corrupt or incompetent U.N. agencies and programs. Better still, they should cease paying any dues until the entire organization is fundamentally and genuinely reformed, and someone washes out Mr. Malloch Brown’s mouth with soap.

Henry I. Miller, a physician and fellow at the Hoover Institution, headed the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Biotechnology, 1989-1993. His most recent book, “The Frankenfood Myth,” was selected by Barron’s one of the 25 Best Books of 2004.

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