The United Nations has been plagued at the core and from the beginning with huge problems of exactly the kind one might expect from a diplomatically immune, consensus-centered multilateral collective in which some of the world’s worst governments have a say in making policy and spending someone else’s money (especially yours, dear U.S. taxpayer). These problems have turned up in the form of such scandals as Oil-for-Food and rape by UN peacekeepers. They manifest themselves in the form of exploding UN budgets, accompanied by a continuing lack of accountability, and feckless promises of reform. From the morally bankrupt Human Rights Council (which this year welcomed Libya to take one of the 47 seats) to a General Assembly presided over last year by Libya, and increasingly a creature of the Jeddah-based Organization of the Islamic Conference, the UN is an institution with deep and serious flaws — and these translate into real trouble not just for the U.S., but for the people living under the jackboots of many of the UN’s less attractive member governments.
Among the UN’s 192 member states, the only one which has a strong record of even attempting serious supervision and good faith reform of the UN is the U.S. But that kind of oversight has gone largely missing these past few years, and Americans right now have quite enough to debate on the homefront, and little attention to spare for such potentially eye-glazing stuff as the latest news on derelictions within the UN’s internal audit division, or subtleties of horse-trading within the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee (which, in case you don’t have a crib sheet handy, deals with the General Assembly’s budget).
The profound problems involve such matters as UN enforcement (or lack of it) for Iran sanctions; over-reach in peacekeeping; and campaigns and policies which do too much to legitimize tyrants, and too little to keep the peace, as well as the endless climate-con drumbeat to shackle the world economy while transferring wealth by would-be UN fiat from productive democracies to governments that specialize in impoverishing their own people.
But human nature being what it is, what gets easy play in the news is more often the potentially ridiculous — the UN version of Lady Gaga gossip — such as the flutter last month over the interest displayed in extraterrestrials by the head of the UN’s Vienna-based office on “the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.” So it is that this month the latest hot UN story is…. bedbugs. Yes, the UN’s headquarter buildings in New York, currently undergoing a $2 billion-plus renovation, have developed a bedbug infestation. It’s hardly earthshaking stuff, but even on this, it seems the UN has had trouble coming clean on the full extent of the problem — which has been going on since at least last year. Take it as a metaphor for a great many other, much larger UN problems. And if you are curious about the bedbugs, here’s the tale, from Matthew Russell Lee of Inner-City Press — by UN lights, a gadfly; but in my view one of the best-informed members of the UN press corps. To follow the bedbug cover-up, just start reading Matthew’s coverage, and follow the links within: “At UN, Bedbug Finds... .”