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No Oil for Food
Wendy McElroy, ifeminists.com
5 May 2003
Around the globe,
the U.N. uses "humanitarian aid" as a vehicle to impose politically correct
policies, from gender feminism to gun control. But the crisis in Iraq reveals
another aspect of the U.N.: a money-hungry institution that hides behind
a mask of compassion.
the globe, the U.N. uses "humanitarian aid" as a vehicle to impose politically
correct policies, from gender feminism to gun control. But the crisis in
Iraq reveals another aspect of the U.N.: a money-hungry institution that
hides behind a mask of compassion.
The political purposes to which the U.N. uses food and medical programs has been the subject of much research and comment.
Even the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) is guilty. In 1996, the Vatican suspended
contributions to UNICEF and warned against the agency's promotion of feminist
policies, especially abortion. More recently, UNICEF's Executive Director
Carol Bellamy proposed a major program for African women and girls that explicitly
excluded men — a clear violation of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, which prohibits sex discrimination. Bellamy's program addressed not
only "the immediate needs of women," but also long-term ones, such as "access
to productive assets" and the elimination of "destructive social norms."
The humanitarianism is attached to a social agenda. The wielding of food
and medicine as a form of political control has become blatant, even in UNICEF.
Any legitimate, non-political agency that wants to provide aid to Iraq should
be allowed into the secured areas of the country. But "non-political" is
not a word that describes the U.N. And its main purpose is not aid. Consider
just one of the U.N.'s unfolding maneuvers. It is an open grab at power and
The U.N. desperately wants back into Iraq in the role of a weapons monitor.
Since Bush has said "no," the U.N. is seeking to enter through the back door
with the oil-for-food program.
Oil-for-food was established by the U.N. in 1995. It allowed Iraq to sell
oil to finance the purchase of humanitarian goods for its people who were
dying from a lack of basic supplies. (This hardship was largely due to the
economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. in 1990.) The money from the Iraqi
oil went into a U.N. escrow account with the French bank BNP-Paribas, which
was then used to buy goods from suppliers. The Security Council had to approve
all oil contracts, which gave the U.N. effective control over the second-largest
proven reserves of crude oil in the world.
The U.N. richly benefited in several ways. First and foremost was the flood
of oil money. One U.N. report reads, "Total [oil] exports for the week [13.2
million barrels] generated estimated revenue of ... $370 million." The U.N.
grew in size: oil-funded employees, such as the weapons inspectors, led some
to dub the program "Oil-for-U.N. Jobs." Moreover, the individual members
of the U.N. Security Council richly benefited. France, Russia and Syria received
oil contracts on extremely favorable terms.
But it was not merely the producers of oil who fattened themselves. William
Safire writes in the April 24 New York Times: "U.N. Under-Secretary Sevan
admits that the French bank BNP Paribas was chosen to issue letters of credit
to most of the favored suppliers, but brands as 'inaccuracies' charges ...
of secrecy. He cites a hundred audits in five years. But details of which
companies in what countries got how much — that's not public." Nevertheless
reports should be made available to U.S. members of the U.N. And, as Safire
observes, Sen. Arlen Specter of Senate Appropriations wrote to Powell about
"reports that these funds are a slush fund," saying, "I urge the State Department
to demand an accounting."
The U.S. is also calling for an end to both the sanctions and oil-for-food.
This would eliminate U.N. control over Iraq's economy. The U.S. undoubtedly
intends to profit handsomely from control of the Iraqi oil. But those who
view the U.N. as a non-political or altruistic alternative to the "greedy
Americans" are flatly wrong.
The U.N. is scrambling to retain its cash cow. Last Thursday, the Security
Council unanimously extended U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's authority
over the oil-for-food program through June 3. The extension had nothing to
do with humanitarian concerns.
Members of the Security Council do not want to lose their oil contracts.
Thus, in the coming dispute between the U.S. and U.N., the Security Council
will almost certainly advocate what France's Jean-Marc de La Sabliere calls
"transparency in the sale of oil and awarding of contracts," which will be
a condition for lifting sanctions and oil-for-food. "Transparency" is a vague
and odd word to use, allowing for many interpretations. But, whatever meaning
emerges, it will almost certainly involve protecting the members.
During the negotiations, the U.N. will yell "humanitarianism" but it will
not be true. If it were true, then the U.N. would immediately remove the
sanctions it imposed against what is now a non-existent regime. Those sanctions
now punish only innocent civilians.
The U.S. should take the true humanitarian stand and encourage the entry
of private charities like The Red Cross and the Red Crescent, and of organizations,
such as Doctors Without Borders. The Pennsylvania-based Save the Children
has been clamoring to help.
Private charities are not perfect but they have no long-term ambition to
control the economy and the social policy of nations to which they minister.
Unlike the U.N., a private charity does not give children a bowl of food
or a vaccination in exchange for control over their futures.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research
fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author
and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for
Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent
Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada. Reprinted with permission of ifeminists.com.
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