UNA-USA Conference with


May 21, 1996

On the morning of May 21, the United Nations Association-USA held a major Conference on the future of U.S.-UN relations. The Conference filled the elegant Starlit Roof of the St. Regis Hotel with over 300 specially-invited guests. Vice President Al Gore provided the major attraction, but many other high-level speakers and guests attended as well. National Security Council Director Richard Clarke, UN Representative Madeleine Albright, and former Secretaries of State Cyrus Vance and Henry Kissinger were present, as well as foundation heads, business executives, NGO leaders, UN officials and a large corps of press.

UNA organized the event in the early stage of the presidential election campaign in an apparent effort to organize support among the elite for a more pro-UN policy in Washington. The Clinton administration was offered the opportunity to make a stronger commitment to the UN in its campaign, but also as part of a bipartisan effort to give the world body greater backing. Behind the discussions lurked the growing UN fincial crisis. In its post-conference press release, UNA affirmed that the turnout showed that "powerful constituencies strongly support the United Nations."

Many speakers sharply criticised the high U.S. debt to the UN. Former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance said that the U.S. is "woefully behind in paying our dues" and he described the arrears as "shocking." UNDP Administrator James Gustave Speth said that the US failure to make its payments is a "poison in the reform discussion" and US Representative Madeleine Albright commented that the "decline in U.S. funding has created great damage across the board." Vice President Gore said "the U.S. must pave the way by paying its way." Even former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gave the UN a grudging pat on the back, opining that "a vast range of UN activities are indispensible."

Comments by Gore, Albright and others made it clear, however, that they favored a drastically reformed and downsized UN. The UN's first priority must be reform," asserted Gore, who went on to say that the UN must "waste less and produce more." He saluted Under Secretary Connor and Pamela Johnson "a former member of the reinventing government team at the White House" for their work to "apply fiscal discipline" to the UN and make it "efficient." In her comments, Ambassador Albright drew up a list of what she considered positive recent developments at the UN, including "budget shrinkage," further proposals by Under Secretary Connor to reduce costs, new packages of reforms in the UN's social and economic activities and other cases of what has come to be euphemistically called "streamlining" of the UN.

Gore affirmed the U.S. policy of linking U.S. dues payments to "progress in reform"--a policy that most member states consider outrageous and illegal. And he concluded by stating that U.S. policy aims to promote "freedom, human rights and open markets around the globe." Peace and social justice got scarcely a mention during the morning's proceedings.

Nearly every speaker placed the UN in the framework of the U.S. "national interest." Ironically, a major funder was said to be the Industrial Bank of Japan Foundation. That's globalization for you!

Note: In July 1996, UNA-USA published a 55-page record and verbatim transcript of the event. Copies may be obtained from UNA at 485 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10017.

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