President Trump delivered a fitting rebuke to the U.N.'s cult of global governance in his remarks to the General Assembly on Tuesday.
"We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism around the world," he said. "Responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty. And not just from governments, but from other newer forms of coercion and domination."
This followed the excoriation delivered in June by our ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, when the United States withdrew from the misnamed U.N.'s Human Rights Council. She called it a "hypocritical and self-serving" organization that actually protects rights abusers and a "cesspool of political bias."
Thankfully, gone are the days of "let's all join hands and sing Kumbaya."
Although best known for its peace-keeping in areas of conflict – where it enjoys a mixed record, at best – the U.N.'s agencies, commissions and panels have a dismal record of accomplishment, especially while acting as the world's regulator-wannabe for all manner of products, processes and activities.
Along with failing to defend human rights, the U.N. regularly panders to activists and, not coincidentally, adopts policies that expand its own scope and responsibilities. Science and free markets routinely get short shrift; in U.N. programs and projects, everything becomes an exercise in PR, politics and international horse-trading.
In an article published last December, two respected commentators called for the United States to cut funding for the U.N.'s World Health Organization and its International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is plagued by incompetence and poor science on its good days, and failed to address a major scandal marked by corruption and conflicts of interest.
The United States has long been a hugely disproportionate funder of U.N. activities – our mandatory assessment and voluntary contributions total some $8 billion annually — but the era of America as the U.N.'s sugar-daddy is waning.
Last year, State Department staffers were instructed to find significant cuts in U.S. funding for U.N. programs (above the mandatory assessment) — the first signal of long-overdue belt-tightening.
Why are incompetence and profligacy rife within the sprawling organization? In several respects, it's in the U.N.'s DNA.
First, the U.N. is essentially a monopoly. Inefficiency and incompetence 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. Unlike in business, if a program isn't working, government bureaucrats clamor to make it bigger.
Second, U.N. officials are rewarded for making the bureaucratic machinery run — that is, for producing reports, guidelines, white papers and agreements, and for holding meetings — whether or not they are of high quality or make any sense at all. And they are often worthless; the bureaucrats commonly sacrifice veracity for consensus – sort of like letting third-graders vote on whether a whale is a fish or a mammal.
Third, there's no accountability — no U.S. Government Accountability Office, House of Lords Select Committee or parliamentary oversight, and no electorate to kick the U.N. reprobates out when they act contrary to 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.
Fourth, in the absence of accountability, U.N. officials feel little need for transparency of policymaking; and the PR offices simply spin, spin, spin the anti-technology, anti-capitalist party line, which often fails to take into consideration that scientific progress and modernity give rise to greater prosperity and longevity.
Fifth, the pool of possible candidates for U.N. leadership positions is not a promising one. The organization is no meritocracy: The country or region of origin of a candidate seems to be more important than his credentials and qualifications.
Also, if you were a head of state or government minister, would you choose to lose your best people to the U.N.'s permanent staff? Wouldn't you prefer to keep them close, to make you look good and to benefit your country? It's hardly surprising that the U.N. ends up with the least competent and most disaffected, dysfunctional and dishonest officials.
John Bolton, President Trump's national security adviser and former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. once said about its headquarters: "The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference." Actually, it might make a lot of difference: It might be a significant improvement.
The president and Ambassadors Bolton and Haley clearly apprehend the U.N.'s manifest deficiencies, so future U.S. discretionary contributions to the U.N. should go only to programs that align with the interests and values of the United States. And we should withhold funding and participation from U.N. agencies and programs that are found to be corrupt or incompetent.
Maybe we'll be able to lop off more than 10 floors of the U.N.'s headquarters.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.