A lot of the more workaday outrages at the UN were eclipsed last week by the performance of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, new celebrity of the General Assembly stage. But as the (radioactive?) dust settles, let us turn to largely unnoticed but imminent “election” of Iran as rapporteur for — of course — the General Assembly’s main committee on Disarmament and International Security, best known at the UN as the First Committee.
This Committee should not be confused with the UN’s Disarmament Conference in Geneva, the gridlocked body on which Iran held the rotating chair for four weeks this spring. As did North Korea in 2011 (that chair rotates alphabetically through the membership, the alphabet being apparently of greater weight to the Conference than the actual business of disarmament).
The First Committee, by contrast, is located at UN headquarters in New York, and is a relatively busy shop, populated by all 193 members of the UN General Assembly. This is where the members gin up scores of draft resolutions every year for consideration by the General Assembly, on subjects such as weapons of mass destruction, nonproliferation and disarmament. These are toothless in their direct import, but can swing considerable weight in shaping debates, and spawning conferences and conventions that lead to drumbeats for more of the same.
Every October, to coincide with the newly opened year-long session of the General Assembly, the First Committee elects a bureau, consisting of a chairperson, three vice chairs and a rapporteur. For the previous session, the chair was Indonesia, with vice chairs Lithuania, Peru and Kenya, and the rapporteur was Norway.
This year will be different.
A few months ago, news bubbled up here and there in the press that Iran and Kuwait were vying to be First Committee rapporteur for the General Assembly’s 68th session — which just opened in Manhattan. But on Iran’s candidacy for rapporteur of the First Committee, things then went quiet. The UN does not tend to advertise the candidates for these elections. But the election itself is on the UN schedule for this Tuesday, Oct. 1. So I checked, and was told by a UN General Assembly spokesperson that this has turned into one of those elections in which there is a “clean slate” — meaning all the competing and horse-trading has already been sorted out behind the scenes, and there is only one candidate for each slot. That makes it hard to lose the election.
As it now stands, the sole candidates are: Libya for chair. Ecuador, Germany and Montenegro for vice chairs. And, as sole candidate for rapporteur, Iran.
This is worse than the fox reporting on the henhouse. For starters, it is one more front on which the UN, while sanctioning Iran via the Security Council, lends legitimacy to Iran by giving it slots that imply it is a member in good standing of the fabled international community. And then there’s the problem that Iran’s regime has become highly adept at exploiting its UN beachheads in ways profoundly unfriendly to the free world, notably Israel and the U.S. It was Iran’s deft moves within the First Committee, for instance, that produced the charade of a nuclear disarmament meeting, starring Rouhani, at the UN General Assembly opening last week. For more on the machinations, here’s my column at Forbes on “Iran, the UN’s New Authority on Nuclear Disarmament.”
Can Iran’s “election” on Tuesday as disarmament committee rapporteur be stopped? Probably not. But with stunts like this figuring as yet more UN business as usual, American taxpayers could surely be forgiven for wondering why they are expected to pour billions into the UN system every year, including 22% of the General Assembly’s more than $2.5 billion annual budget.