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September 27 2019

United Nations: The good, the bad, and the ugly

by Beverly Hallberg and Claudia Rosett

On this episode of the “She Thinks” podcast, Claudia Rosett joins to talk about the United Nations – a timely topic given the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in NYC this past week. Claudia explains how the UN came to be, analyzes whether or not it’s been an effective body since its establishment in 1945, and reviews what happened at their latest meeting.

Claudia is a foreign policy fellow with Independent Women's Forum, and an award-winning journalist who has reported over the past 37 years from Asia, the former Soviet Union, Latin America and the Middle East. She is widely credited with groundbreaking reporting on corruption at the United Nations. She has contributed to numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. She makes frequent appearances on TV and radio, and has appeared before six U.S. Senate and House committees and subcommittees to testify on such topics as U.N. corruption and reform, and the Iran-North Korea strategic alliance.

Beverly H.:
And welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you're allowed to think for yourself. I'm your host, Beverly Hallberg, and on this episode we are discussing the United Nations, which is timely since the 74th session of the UN General Assembly gathered this week in New York City. Joining us to give us her thoughts on how it went, is Claudia Rosett. She's also going to explain the background of the UN, and whether or not it's been an effective body since its establishment in 1945.

Beverly H.:
Before we bring her on though, a little bit about Claudia. Claudia is a foreign policy fellow with Independent Women's Forum, and an award winning journalist who has reported over the past 37 years from Asia, the former Soviet Union, Latin America, and the Middle East. She is widely credited with groundbreaking reporting on corruption at the UN. And she has contributed to numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She also makes frequent appearances on TV and radio, and has appeared before six U.S. Senate and house committees and subcommittees to testify on such topics as UN corruption and reform, and the Iran-North Korea Strategic Alliance. Claudia, such a pleasure to have you on today.

Claudia Rosett:
Pleasure to be here, thank you.

Beverly H.:
And I first of all, want to let everybody listening know that you are joining us from Hong Kong today. Of course, Hong Kong has made a lot of news over the protests that are going on there. First of all, what are you seeing on the ground, and what did you make of the president's speech this week in which he referred to China in Hong Kong?

Claudia Rosett:
President Trump did a good thing in saying that the U.S. is watching very closely, how China is dealing with Hong Kong. I'd love to hear him say much more along those lines. It was a good thing to do on a world stage.

Claudia Rosett:
What's going on on the ground is the confrontation between people who want free elections here, and that would be a huge part of the population, of a city of seven and a half million, and the tyranny that is the government of China and it's [inaudible 00:02:18] chief executive here. That showdown continues to go on. This is going in... This has been the 16th week. And the government has given really nothing of substance, and the protesters are not backing down.

Claudia Rosett:
So it's quite a confrontation that's going on. And I would actually say Hong Kong has been on the front line of the showdown of our century right now, between tyranny and freedom, playing out in a lot of graffiti and protests on the ground at the moment.

Beverly H.:
And when you think about how long this protest has gone on, and obviously they think the whole idea of being extradited to China is a big deal. Even though the Chinese government, and even their own leadership in Hong Kong, wants to tamp down those fears that there's any issue with that. It seems like the people really know what's at stake. If they continue to protest, do you think they have a chance of winning this battle?

Claudia Rosett:
It's a very hard battle to win. They're up against the government of China, which next Tuesday will celebrate 70 years in power, the ruling communist party, which has been responsible for the deaths of millions, and the repression of the world's most populous country since it took power. So will they prevail? It seems, that's very hard to see how that works. And at the same time, if they can simply stave off the encroachment on their freedoms, that will be something that buys them more time.

Claudia Rosett:
Now, the thing that triggered this, this threat by the chief executive, who was appointed by Beijing, her name is Carrie Lam, her proposal to pass a law that would allow extradition to China, which would have left them naked to the Chinese system of so-called justice, which isn't a system of justice. It is law as a tool of repression by the Communist Party, not as a tool of justice.

Claudia Rosett:
That has been finally, after months of protests, that the chief executive said she would withdraw it. But the reason that the protest flared up to such an extent is, it was one more piece, it was a big bad piece, but of this gradual, not so gradual, of this erosion of Hong Kong's freedoms, over and since China took charge of Hong Kong in 1997, since the British handed it over to China, and China promised a 50 year grace period, in which the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong would be respected by Beijing. China has been violating that. And the extradition bill, which should never been introduced, that, now being withdrawn, doesn't actually address the problems that had already produced protest over many years, especially five years ago.

Claudia Rosett:
So you have a fundamental problem here, and that is Hong Kong's people were promised free elections. They understand why that's important, why it's important to choose your own leaders, and they want them, and they have received nothing on that score. There has just been zero compromise or concession from the government. So when Trump stood up in front of the General Assembly and called out China for many of its violations of a civilized world order, for its hostility to the free world, and specifically pointed out that we are really watching what's going on in Hong Kong and expect China to honor its treaty promises, now that was a good use of the UN stage. That was a good moment.

Beverly H.:
And often we'll take a look at the United nations and whether it's talking about how much the U.S. spends in relation to other countries, or you talk about whether or not any of the resolutions they pass, since they're not non-binding, are they really effective. I think, why don't we just start with a background of the United Nations in general. You're an expert in this area. When was it created, and why was it created?

Claudia Rosett:
UN was created in 1945 at the end of World War II, and the high sounding, high-minded, aim was to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. It was supposed to bring peace and prosperity and freedom and all these good things. And from the beginning it was just profoundly flawed. These are things that are hard to bring in any case, but it began by admitting to this brotherhood of countries that were supposed to promote things like freedom and individual dignity and peace, the Soviet Union's dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, as one of the victors of World War II. That was an alliance of convenience at the time, not an alliance of ideology. And that problem has multiplied ever since. The Soviet Union has collapsed.

Claudia Rosett:
But the UN is basically, it's not a democratic institution. It is a collective, stuffed with dictators, where the advantage goes to whoever is willing to exploit the UN system. Which fundamentally, once you're accounting to 193 member states, which is the UN, you're not accounting to anybody in the end. It's actually a quite dangerous, and rather perverse institution.

Beverly H.:
Well I even know the UN Human Rights Council is brought up quite often because you have countries where a leader may be running it, where there are human rights violations in their own country, yet they're supposed to be talking about the human rights of people across the world. That's one example of just the egregious nature. So, do you find that this actually helps allow or foster relationships of dictators that treat their people poorly, and foster relationships with other countries, and almost lifts them on a platform of seeming like a legitimate leader when they're not? So do you think the UN almost gives people legitimacy that should never have it to begin with?

Claudia Rosett:
Oh, of course, yeah. That's precisely what it does. In fact, when I began really reporting on the UN way back around 2002, one of the things that struck me was this is a clubhouse, and a very nice one, a very fancy, expensive one in Midtown Manhattan, with a great gilded chamber where they speak, is that it was a clubhouse for dictators, because they get the same privileges as free countries. They get a seat, they get votes, they get to sit on the boards of important agencies at the UN.

Claudia Rosett:
You know, one example would be Iran, is over and over turns up on the board of the UN's flagship agency, The UN Development Program, which Iran actually chaired that board in 2009. You get things like the biggest voting block in the General Assembly, has been headed in recent years by Venezuela, which is one of the most disastrously misruled countries on the planet right now with its socialist, horrible failure. You know, they don't have water or electricity, they're completely dysfunctional, but they're leading this group that's supposed to be involved in advancing development. They hosted a big meeting there of this voting caucus this past summer, and was praised for it by the President of the General Assembly, who praised Venezuela for its leadership. I mean that's a classic slice of what's wrong at the UN.

Beverly H.:
And I want to take a step back from that as well. You talked about the beautiful building that's based in New York, where everybody from across the world comes. What is the investment by the United States, especially in relation to other countries, when it comes to how much money we put into, probably just the cost of the building alone, let alone how we fund the UN itself?

Claudia Rosett:
Yeah, it's a multibillion dollar building. It was renovated some years ago... in recent years, at a cost of more than 2 billion. The U.S. usually picks up roughly one quarter of the tab for UN projects, because the UN doesn't have one budget, it has many. And the exact amount in that varies, sort of how much the U.S. chips in for each thing. But basically, we pay close to one quarter of the costs. And America is one vote of that 193 member General Assembly. So over and over, since the UN was founded, the U.S. not only hosts the UN, provides security for it, and provides the biggest share of the money from your tax dollars, more than 10 billion, for the last year, for which the UN gives consolidated figures, 10 billion out of a 53 billion system wide UN budget in 2017. That's an enormous amount of money in the hands of an unaccountable collective of governments packed with dictatorships.

Claudia Rosett:
But the other thing that the U.S. gives the UN is credibility. We legitimize this outfit that legitimizes dictators, because we host it, we keep it on our shores, we pour money into it, we treat it as if it were a very valuable institution, and the unfortunate truth is that it's an institution that is deeply entrenched, but it very often works on balance to undermine the interests of the United States, the free world, and so on.

Beverly H.:
And I want you to bring out some of those. So we talked about, first of all, it legitimizes dictators. So that's one problem. It costs us a lot of money. We're spending a lot more than any other country. Tell me, in your opinion, how does the UN undermine America's efforts, the idea of peace and freedom for all that we desire for everyone in this world, how does the UN specifically undermine that?

Claudia Rosett:
In a number of ways, they twist the definition of freedom, of human rights, and so on. You know, the Human Rights Council at the UN is a magnet for dictatorships, which sit on it and then try to redefine human rights, which is one of the reasons they're completely fixated on the only democracy in the Middle East, the country of Israel. They give a lot of these dictatorships, make sure that they get a pass. And this just permeates the UN.

Claudia Rosett:
The Security Council, which has 15 members, including five permanent members who get to veto resolutions. And that would be three free countries, the U.S., the UK, and France, and the victors or Victorious powers of world war II, and two that are the world's two leading, most powerful, prominent, predatory, dictatorships of our time, and of much less the post world war II era, Russia and China.

Claudia Rosett:
And in both cases, which inherited their seats from Russia, from the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991. China, the original China that belonged to the UN, was the Republic of China, the political... The China on Taiwan, that is now a democracy. They were supplanted at the UN in the early 1970s, by when President Nixon made his [inaudible 00:13:59] China, [inaudible 00:14:00] China, by the People's Republic of China, the TRC, the Communist China, that sits there today.

Claudia Rosett:
So you have two countries on the security council, which makes sure that they not only defend themselves and make sure nothing gets done at the UN that would sort of address the growing threat they pose to the free world, they also run interference for a lot of other countries, fellow dictatorships such as North Korea, where you see these levels of hypocrisy and abuse, basically.

Claudia Rosett:
China and Russia have both voted in favor of UN sanctions on North Korea over and over, but they then turn around and violate those sanctions, because the way the UN works it, is countries are responsible for enforcing their own compliance with UN dictates. So you know, China can say, "Yes, we are in favor." They do their horse trading so the U.S. will in some way reward them for voting in favor of sanctions on North Korea. This is just one example, and then they turn around and flagrantly violate them to China's benefit. And we end up with North Korea has a nuclear program, China has gotten nice things because it voted, in that case, with us, and world peace is certainly not served. We're now facing a nuclear armed North Korea.

Claudia Rosett:
At the same time in the General Assembly, which is the 193 member state, sort of, main assembly of the UN. A lot of these countries don't vote with the U.S. They vote along lines that basically breakout to supporting the policies of unfree states when they band together. I mean the coincidence of voting with the U.S. on important resolutions is very low and [crosstalk 00:15:58]

Beverly H.:
Well, let me jump in here. I have a question for you on that. So you talked about the history of the UN. It's been flawed and had issues from the start. We might be able to say that maybe there were good intentions behind creating it, even though those were not seen. So when you look at the UN, is there anything positive at all to the U.S., or to the ideas of freedom that the UN does bring, is there anything at all?

Claudia Rosett:
Well, I wish we could say there are also these wonderful upsides. No, I mean, there are some things they do that are useful and good. If you had a budget of $50 billion a year, you would probably manage to get some bed nets to children in Africa to help prevent malaria. You'd be able to do something. The question to ask though is, is this the best way to be doing it? In other words, the good things that it does, when it goes in on the ground and actually manages to get some blankets to refugees, and it is an incredibly cumbersome, corrupt bureaucracy, with a huge amount of simply venal financial corruption in there, because also, they're not very accountable, are there other ways that work better?

Claudia Rosett:
I mean, what we've seen over and over again with sort of natural disasters, tsunami relief for instance, is the UN immediately, the first thing they say is, "We need money to deal with this, more money." Even though they already have tens of billions rolling in every year from our people's tax dollars.

Claudia Rosett:
And the outfit that usually gets there and actually starts to really help is the United States. And similarly, the UN sort of likes to take credit for whatever peace and progress there has been since World War II. Over and over, if you look and ask, "Well how does this actually come about?" It was the United States, it was not the UN. It was the U.S. that won the Cold War, not the UN, where the Soviet Union sat on the Security Council and blocked anything it didn't like, and several groups of countries in the General Assembly to vote against the U.S. and the free world.

Claudia Rosett:
So the answer is, yes, it does some good things, but you look at something like UNICEF, the UN children's agency, and it has been involved in money laundering problems, in corruption cases, it has on its board dictatorships. You take the UN agency for women, UN Women, and that has on its board Iran and Saudi Arabia, which are places that were notorious for the mistreatment of women.

Beverly H.:
So, as you're talking about all these yeah-

Claudia Rosett:
[crosstalk 00:18:45] but-

Beverly H.:
Yeah, and that's like you were saying, it does good things-

Claudia Rosett:
[crosstalk 00:18:51]not enough.

Beverly H.:
But there would... There may be other ways to help in these areas as you were saying. So, the question that I have, with so much that we find fault in, and the ineffectiveness, and the lifting up of dictators. Is there ever, or has there ever been a real push, to try to dismantle the UN, or is it something that's so entrenched, there's not even that thought that we should get rid of it?

Claudia Rosett:
It's periodically discussed and then set aside as just impossible. It's sort of like trying to get rid of one of those old communist state companies, where it's so big that people just don't know how to get rid of it. And the answer with those, and I think, maybe the answer with the UN, is to simply try and pull it out, is really hard. There are so many vested interests, and it is so firmly hooked up to the money pipelines from, not only the U.S., but Japan, Germany, basically the developed nations, that that's very hard.

Claudia Rosett:
But what we can do, I think, is encourage any kind of competition from coalitions that are more functional. In other words, at the UN, they want to include everything. So you get North Korea, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Venezuela, Russia, China, Iran, sitting... have seats. They're included as if they were wonderful contributors to the world order.

Claudia Rosett:
The functional coalitions that have really done something useful, are outfits like NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which really did help hold the line against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. And more of those, anything that sort of diverts our resources, our reliance, our policy, into ways of actually addressing problems, rather than going to the UN where countries and coalitions that are in opposition to the free world will try and leverage their seats at the UN, into concessions from the free world. Anything that goes around that, or competes with it, is good. So it's not a deep clean solution, but I think that's the direction to go. The UN needs to become obsolete. Unfortunately right now, it's a real hindrance to the progress of free nations and of freedom in the world. And it's also very hard to see a way to actually get rid of it.

Beverly H.:
And final question for you, I think.

Claudia Rosett:
We can start by understanding what it is.

Beverly H.:
Sure, yeah, absolutely, which is why we're thankful that you're on the podcast to give us background on this, because I think there isn't a lot of quality information on the UN, and I want all our listeners to know that you have a great policy focused brief at iwf.org, on the UN. So people should good there, if you like what you're hearing today, read more. There's a lot more good information.

Beverly H.:
But I wanted to round out the podcast with probably the most fascinating scenes that we have seen at the UN in quite a while. And that is, we had a young girl from Sweden come to the UN, to scold the United States, to scold the President, to scold other leaders, about the issue of climate change. And one of the things I love about this country, is that people can come here and disagree and have the freedom to disagree, which I think is a wonderful thing. Of course, we can have our own critique about whether or not what she is saying is accurate, and that's reasonable for us to critique back. But I was just curious what you made of the whole issue, or the whole scene, because many people thought it was quite the spectacle.

Claudia Rosett:
Yeah, it was quite the spectacle. And, well one of the first things that jumps in my mind was, she sailed over on what was supposed to be an emissions free racing yacht, which sounds like a lot of fun. Wouldn't you love to do that at 16. If you actually ask, "Well, what did it take to manufacturer that racing yacht?" You get to the real emissions, okay? So the emissions free stuff, let's... That's nonsense. There's really no way to do it emissions free, you need to use energy. She could have swum, she still would have been emitting it. But that's just hypocrisy, which at the UN, we see all the time.

Claudia Rosett:
The deeper problem is that what she's doing, is basically lecturing the developed world on how they should conform to her vision. This is a classic piece of what's perverse about the UN. And the [inaudible 00:23:24] climate change thing is something that the UN has been pushing for years. The UN does extremely well out of it, and a lot of its so called science is highly politicized and extremely questionable. But the UN has these huge budgets, they pump out these reports that are so intricate, nobody could really understand them. So we all think, "Well, it must be science, since we don't understand it." And they kind of think like, " [inaudible 00:23:50] an expedition to inspect the snow level in ski resorts, again." Wouldn't you love to be on that particular excursion?

Beverly H.:
Sounds amazing. Yeah.

Claudia Rosett:
[crosstalk 00:24:00] Yeah, They have climate meetings to which everyone has flown in in Bali, because you couldn't, while lecturing the rest of us to Skype in and stay home, and those of us who can't afford racing yachts to cross the Atlantic when we want to go to New York, we had to travel back and forth. The UN itself, what is the heighth of hypocrisy, the head of the UN Environment Program based in Nairobi, was first... had to resign not so long ago, when the UN's own auditors discovered he'd spent almost half a million dollars jetting around in less than two years, at taxpayer expense, on flying around, some of that apparently for his own pleasure, even out at Paris and Oslo. Again, that's the UN.

Claudia Rosett:
On the issue of what's going on with the climate. Something that this young woman, who is lecturing us all in exactly how she'd like us to live, didn't mention, and the UN doesn't mention, is that one of the reasons where they were all sitting there in such comfort, able to fly in to New York City and enjoy all the amenities, one of the reasons for tremendous progress that has lifted hundreds of billions of people, into better standards of living and so on, is precisely the freedom, the capitalism, the things that are damned under this climate change sort of scheme that, and she applies to everything, are damned as carbon emitters. My God, they used energy in order to get there. By this measure, the most virtuous countries in the world are the ones that are poor and produce almost nothing.

Claudia Rosett:
Now, the problem there is, why are country's poor? Their people are capable of doing what other people are capable of doing. It's not that there's some group of people that's just born to be poor. Actually mankind generally, and womankind, have tremendous potential. The problem is, how are they ruled? And when you look at why a country is poor, almost always, the answer is misruled by dictators. Again, it's that classic problem at the UN. And here in the climate change scheme, the idea is that these sort of sainted countries are the ones where the governments have done terribly for their own people, have not allowed their own people to prosper. And they come to the UN and they're praised because they don't emit much.

Claudia Rosett:
And further to that, how has mankind adapted to the climate, which has always been changing? My own view is, I don't think we actually understand what's going on with the climate. It's immensely complex. But we do understand this much, or we should, I think. The way that human beings have adapted to climate, and we live in extremes all the time, from people who live above the Arctic Circle to the equator, is invention, creativity, we discovered fire, we made cars, we built buildings, we invented all sorts of ways of dealing with weather and climate. You'll notice that in, one of the then classic examples, North and South Korea, when there are bad floods, when the weather is terrible and the great floods come in, in North Korea, people starve and die, and in South Korea, just the other side of the 38th parallel, they're usually, okay.

Beverly H.:
Well Claudia, we so appreciate you joining us today, and also all your work in reporting on behind the scenes what goes on at the UN, giving us the history, and also pointing out so many of the egregious aspects of the UN. I look forward to reporting on Hong Kong. Do stay safe while you're there, and thank you so much for doing this even though you're on the other side of the world. So thank you so much.

Claudia Rosett:
Pleasure talking with you. Thank you, and everybody be well.

Beverly H.:
And thank you all for joining us. Again, do check out Claudia's work, specifically her policy focus brief on the UN at iwf.org. I also wanted to let you know of a great podcast that you should subscribe to, in addition to She Thinks. It's called Problematic Women, and it's hosted by Kelsey Bolar and Lauren Evans, where they both sort through the news to bring stories and interviews that are of particular interest to conservative leaning, or problematic women. That is women whose views and opinions are often excluded or mocked by those on the so called feminist left. Every Thursday, hear them talk about everything from pop culture to policy and politics, by searching for Problematic Women where ever you get your podcasts.

Beverly H.:
Last, if you enjoyed this episode of She Thinks, do leave us a rating or review on iTunes, it really does help, and I'd love it if you shared this episode. And do let your friends know where they can find more She Thinks episodes. From all of us here at Independent Women's Forum, thanks for listening.





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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