One of the truly heart-warming reactions to the suffering wrought by Hurricane Katrina is the response from the international community. The Red Cross received thousands of donations from individual foreigners—rich and poor—whose hearts went out to the victims. The governments of over 60 nations offered everything from helicopters, ships, water pumps and generators to doctors, divers and civil engineers. Poor countries devastated by last year’s tsunami have sent financial contributions. Governments at odds with the Bush administration— Cuba, Venezuela and Iran—offered doctors, medicines and cheap oil. The international response has been so overwhelming that the United Nations has placed personnel in the Hurricane Operations Center of the US Agency for International Development to help coordinate the aid.
Unbeknownst to the US public, however, at the very time impoverished Americans are being showered with support from the world community, the Bush administration’s newly appointed UN ambassador, John Bolton, has been waging an all-out attack on the global poor.
Tomorrow, September 14, over 175 heads of state will gather in New York for the World Summit. One of the major items on the agenda is global poverty. Back in 2000, 191 nations listened to the desperate cry of the world’s poor and developed a comprehensive list to eradicate poverty called the Millennium Development Goals. The goals, to be achieved by 2015, were to reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, improve maternal health and reverse the loss of environmental resources. To achieve these ambitious goals, the rich countries made a commitment to spend 0.7 percent of gross domestic product on development. The upcoming Summit was supposed to review the progress toward achieving these goals.
But even before the first world leader landed in New York, John Bolton threw the process in turmoil. In a letter to the other 190 UN member states, Bolton wrote that the United States “does not accept global aid targets”—a clear break with the pledge agreed to by the Clinton administration. (While some countries, including Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Luxembourg have already reached the aid target of 0.7 percent, the United States lags far behind, spending a mere 0.16 percent of its GDP on development.)
Bolton wanted these goals to be eliminated from the document being prepared for the World Summit leaders to sign. In fact, Bolton stunned negotiators when less than one month before the Summit, he introduced over 500 amendments to the 39-page draft document that UN representatives had been painstakingly negotiating for the past year.
The administration publicly complained that the document’s section on poverty was too long and instead called for greater focus on free-market reforms. But those free market reforms did not include encouraging corporations to promote the public good. On the contrary. Bolton wanted to eliminate references to “corporate accountability.” And he went even further, trying to strike the section that called on the pharmaceutical companies to make anti-retroviral drugs affordable and accessible to people in Africa with HIV/AIDS. Bolton’s message that corporate profits should take preference over social needs offers no comfort to the 30,000 poor who die daily from needless hunger and curable diseases.
In another area that severely impacts the world’s poor—climate change— Bolton has been equally brutal. While Hurricane Katrina was lashing the Gulf states, Bolton was slashing the global consensus that “climate change is a serious and long-term challenge that has the potential to affect every part of the world.” Not only did he attempt to wipe out any references to meeting any obligations outlined in the Kyoto Protocol, but he also stunned negotiators when, in the section on the UN’s core values, he tried to cut the phrase “respect for nature”.
Finally, with global resources that could used to alleviate poverty instead going into the never-ending arms race, Bolton’s agenda moves us in the direction of an even more dangerous and violent world. He tried to eliminate the principle that the use of force should be considered as an instrument of last resort, slash references to the International Criminal Court and calls for the nuclear powers to make greater progress toward dismantling their nuclear weapons, and cut language that would discourage Security Council members from blocking actions to end genocide.
John Bolton’s slash-and-burn style has convinced many global leaders that the US agenda is not to reform the United Nations but to gut it. In fact, Bolton even called for deleting a clause saying the United Nations should be provided with “the resources needed to fully implement its mandates.”
The Bolton/Bush agenda reflects a misguided belief that absolute US sovereignty should take precedence over international cooperation. It also sends a message that the US government feels no responsibility towards—or compassion for—the world’s poor.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has urged the United States to back down and reaffirm its support for the millennium development goals, goals that he says have been embraced by the whole world as a way to help poor people who want to live in dignity. Even U.S. allies like Tony Blair have stepped in to try to stop Bolton from wrecking the Summit.
The outcry from the global community is forcing Bolton to back down on some of his more outrageous demands. But the Bolton/Bush agenda still refuses to seriously address the critical issues of our times, ranging from global warming to the arms race to grinding poverty. We citizens must demand that our government’s face to the international world not be that of a mean-spirited, aggressive bully but one that reflects the compassion and commitment to alleviating suffering and environmental devastation that the world has shown us in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Please take a moment to fax John Bolton at http://www.globalexchange.org/getInvolved/actnow/bolton.html.
Medea Benjamin is Founding Director of the international human rights group Global Exchange.