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The Necessity of a Building

The UN’s ambitious renovation project has, predictably, attracted the attention of bloggers questioning the cost of the building and the value of the UN in general. Writing at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey thinks that the construction of the new building poses a broader question.

The renovation really isn’t the issue here…Either the UN is a worthwhile use of American funds or it isn’t. If it is, the renovation doesn’t make it less so, and the building obviously needs a lot of work…

True, but this is not the entirety of the matter. Of course the construction of a new building doesn’t make the UN less of “a worthwhile use of American funds.” Renovation of its headquarters doesn’t make it more deserving of American funds either. The relevant point here, which needs to be made more emphatically, is that, if the is UN indeed “worthy” of U.S. funding — which we here at UN Dispatch firmly believe it is — then it affirmatively needs a new building in order to continue its mission.

Ed also objects to the cost of the renovation, calling it “a rather expensive project even for the United Nations.” This, however, neglects to mention the reason that the building’s costs have expanded — namely, because the U.S. has dragged its heels throughout the process, raising pedantic objections as the costs of construction continued to rise.For those who oppose the UN, the real point in highlighting the costs of the replacing the old building — which even Ed admits is in decrepit condition — is to call into question the entire notion of supporting the international organization. According to Ed:

If the UN isn’t a worthwhile expense, then the renovation makes no difference, either. One has to wonder why nations don’t simply put their money towards the programs that actually deliver benefits and forego the fancy building and standing bureaucracy that adds little to the benefit of anyone…

The problem here is that, in order for the programs that Ed lauds to be able to function, they need to be able to operate out of, yes, a building — and preferably one without asbestos. The people working in the 39 floors of the UN Secretariat are not simply faceless bureaucrats; they are the individuals that make the UN machinery run, and that, though they are far from the field, enable many life-saving programs to thrive.

So if the building isn’t necessary, then what is?

What the UN needs is an overhaul of its membership, its leadership, its bureaucracies, and the HRC [Human Rights Council] most of all. Unfortunately, it’s easier for everyone to renovate the building without considering the cancers within it.

Critiques of the UN — its members, leaders, bureaucracies, etc. — can be legitimate and constructive. Assuming that constructing a new building to meet fire and safety codes precludes pursuit of reform in these areas, however, is misguided. It will be very difficult for reform to succeed if there is no place to house the fruits of that reform. The U.S. should take the lead on both of these initiatives — reforming both the UN’s headquarters and its substance — rather than balking at funding programs that the U.S. itself calls for. Ed is right to remind us that the building can be no more than the Member States it contains — but that doesn’t make the building any less necessary.

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Major UN Renovation Officially Underway


It is only slight exaggeration to say that visitors to the United Nations HQ in New York can sometimes see asbestos dripping from the walls. The building is old and decrepit. City officials would have condemned the building long ago if not for the fact that it falls under international jurisdiction. The sad fact is UN HQ, an international symbol and New York landmark, has not undergone a major renovation in fifty years. That is, until now. From the UN News Center:

Shovels in hand and donning blue hard hats, members of the United Nations community, led by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, today broke ground for the construction of temporary conference venue at the world body’s New York Headquarters, marking the beginning of a five-year, $1.9 billion overhaul of the landmark complex.

“Today, we turn the soil which the United Nations stands on to mark the rebirth, or renovation, of our Headquarters,” Mr. Ban told representatives of Member States, the Host Country, staff and the private sector gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony on the North Lawn.

The construction of the temporary conference building is the first phase of the project, known as the Capital Master Plan (CMP), which aims to make the five-decade old Secretariat and adjacent buildings — plagued by leaks, safety violations and outdated systems — safer, more efficient, greener and more modern.

Read more.

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Tuesday Morning Coffee

The death toll in Myanmar is now over 22,000.

Top Stories

>>Sudan – Two aid agencies have accused Sudan of bombing the village of Shegeg Karo in Darfur, destroying a primary school and a market and killing 13 people, including 7 children. Such an action would violate the UN Security Council resolution banning all offensive flying in the area. UNAMID is mobilizing helicopters to evacuate the wounded.

>>China/Japan – Hu Jintao arrived in Japan today for the first visit by a Chinese president in a decade. He will spend five days in Japan; to kill the time there is even a scheduled game of ping pong with the Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. Last year, China became Japan’s biggest trading partner, eclipsing the U.S. Controversial issues, like Japan’s wartime record, Taiwan, and Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the Security Council, will be avoided, despite the fact that recent polling shows that the Japanese want their government to take a harder line on China. The big question is whether Hu will offer Japan another panda to replace Ling Ling.

>>Iran – Yesterday Iran called off a pending fourth round of talks with the U.S. that was intended to address security in Iraq. The Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said that continued talks “make no sense” as long as the U.S. continues attacks in Sadr City, a stronghold of the Shia Mahdi Army. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said, oddly, “It is meaningless to have talks on anything with Iran as long as they don’t change their behavior. That said, we have continued to be willing and ready, and are willing and ready, to have additional discussions with the Iranians through this tripartite channel.”

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Middle East

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No Fuel, No Food

Thumbnail image for gaza map.gif

Caught between Hamas rockets and an Israeli blockade, Palestinian refugees in Gaza are bearing the brunt of a tense geopolitical standoff. For the second time in a week, the UN has been forced to halt its provision of food aid to 1.5 million Gazans due to a shortage of fuel caused by the blockade.

Unlike the situation in Eritrea, where the Eritrean government withheld fuel out of animosity for UN peacekeepers, Israel is not deliberately trying to starve the UN of fuel. Nor, of course, is it expressly targeting Gaza’s refugee population. Rather, the motivation of the blockade is to deter Hamas — which an Israeli official accuses of “deliberately holding up supplies for its own political reasons” — from launching rocket attacks into southern Israel. Yet the UN special envoy to Gaza, while condemning Hamas’ attacks, also identified Israel’s blockade as effectively “collective punishment.”

Apportioning blame in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is inevitably a politically contentious endeavor. While both sides surely deserve censure, in this case it is ultimately unproductive. The ultimate losers in this battle are the million-plus innocent Gazans who rely on humanitarian relief, and both Hamas and Israel should recognize that these civilians will require some degree of cooperation to ensure that their dire needs can be met.

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Lies and the Lying Liars

File this under dog bites man: conservative critics are falsely accusing Barak Obama of supporting a non-existent UN plan to impose a global tax on American citizens.

Here’s the story. A number of right wing blogs are suddenly re-circulating months old columns by anti-UN propogandists Phyllis Schlafly and Cliff Kincaid which excoriate Barak Obama for introducing the Global Poverty Act. Kincaid Calls it “Obama’s Global Tax Plan” and Schlafly says its “Obama’s Sovereignty Giveaway Plan.”

So which is it? Neither, of course. In December 2007, Obama sponsored the thoroughly bi-partisan Global Poverty Act, which does not impose a global tax on Americans. It would, however, “require the President to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to further the United States foreign policy objective of promoting the reduction of global poverty, the elimination of extreme global poverty, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one-half the proportion of people, between 1990 and 2015, who live on less than $1 per day.”

The UN-bashing horde quickly seized on the bill’s reference to the Millennium Development Goals to advance one of their favorite canards: that the organization will impose a tax on American citizens. Says Schlafly,

“By adopting the Millennium Goals in 2000, the U.N. escalated its demands to impose international taxes. Specifically, the Millennium called for a “currency transfer tax,” a “tax on the rental value of land and natural resources,” a “royalty on worldwide fossil energy projection — oil, natural gas, coal,” “fees for the commercial use of the oceans, fees for airplane use of the skies, fees for use of the electromagnetic spectrum, fees on foreign exchange transactions, and a tax on the carbon content of fuels.” to the UN to tax American citizens.

No, it doesn’t. The Senate bill states specifically that by “Millennium Development Goals” it is referring to the goals set out in this document, a General Assembly Resolution adopted in September 2000. No where does the document say anything about a currency tax, royalties on fossil fuels, or airplane fees. No where. Search for yourself. She’s just making this up to tarnish the United Nations and her domestic political rivals.

Why bloggers are deciding to re-circulate this dreck right now, I have no clue.

UPDATE: Via Kathy G, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri is planning to award Phyllis Schlafly with an honorary doctorate. Oy.

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UN stands ready to assist after deadly cyclone batters Myanmar

From the UN News Center:


The United Nations has offered its assistance to Myanmar authorities in responding to the deadly cyclone which struck the South-East Asian nation on Friday, leaving death and widespread devastation in its wake. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Cyclone Nargis made landfall in the Irrawaddy delta region, some 250 kilometres southwest of Yangon around 4 pm on 2 May. With winds of over 190 kilometres per hour, the storm hit Yangon later that same night, tearing down tears and power lines and causing widespread flooding. Thousands have reportedly been killed.

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