An Annotated Explanation of the GOP’s UN Platform

Ahead of today’s Republican National Convention in Florida, the Republican National Committee has prepared its official party platform. The document was posted to the Politico website, and is expected to be officially released later today.

Most of the platform deals with domestic issues. However, in the foreign policy section (titled “American Exceptionalism”) there’s a five paragraph statement on the UN and international treaties.

Here is an annotated explanation of the GOP’s platform on the UN. Intense parsing to follow!

Sovereign American Leadership at International Organizations

Since the end of World War II, the United States, through the founding of the United Nations and NATO, has participated in a wide range of international organizations which can, but sometimes do not, serve the cause of peace and prosperity. While acting through them our country must always reserve the right to go on its own. There can be no substitute for principled American leadership.

The United Nations remains in dire need of reform, starting with full transparency in the financial operations of its overpaid bureaucrats. As long as the scandal-ridden management continues, as long as some of the world’s worst tyrants hold seats on its Human Rights Council, as long as Israel is treated as a pariah state the U.N. cannot expect the full support of the American people. 1

The United Nations Population Fund has a shameful record of collaboration with China’s program of compulsory abortion. 2 We affirm the Republican Party’s long-held position known as the Mexico City Policy, first announced by President Reagan in 1984 which prohibits granting of federal monies to non-governmental organizations that provide or promote abortion. 3

Under our Constitution, treaties become the law of the land. So it is all the more important that the Congress — the Senate through its ratifying power and the House through its appropriating power — shall reject the agreements whose long-range impact on the American family is ominous or unclear. These include the UN Convention on Women’s Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, and the UN Arms Trade Treaty as well as various declarations from the UN Conference on Environment and Development. 4. Because of our concern for American sovereignty, domestic management of our fisheries, and our countries long-term energy needs, we have deep reservations about the regulatory, legal, and tax regimes inherent in the Law of the Sea Treaty and congratulate Senate Republicans for blocking its ratification. 5 We strongly reject the UN Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty,6 and we oppose any form of UN Global Tax. 7 We oppose any diplomatic efforts that could result in giving the United Nations unprecedented control over the Internet. International regulatory control over the open and free internet would have a disastrous consequence for the United States and the world.8

To shield members of our Armed Forces and others in service to America from ideological persecutions overseas, the Republican Party does not accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. We support statutory protection for US personnel and officers as they act abroad to meet our global security requirements.9

1. The UN Human Rights Council replaced the old, discredited UN Commission on Human Rights in 2005. The Bush administration, however, believed that the criteria for membership was not stringent enough so it remained on the sidelines. The Obama administration sought and won membership to the Council, which was among the earliest and most visible signs that Obama was starting a new era of engagement at the UN.

In the past four years, the Council has a number of important accomplishments: it has approved a human rights special rapporteur for Iran; it has reversed the harmful practice of commingling defamation of religions with freedom of speech; it passed a first-ever resolution on the protection of LGBT persons; and backed a landmark resolution that says people have a right to freedom of expression on the Internet. All the while, the Obama administration has worked behind the scenes to make sure that particularly egregious human rights offenders are kept off the council. This includes building a coalition that blocked Iranian membership and swiftly booted Libya off the council as Gaddhafi’s intentions became clear. There is virtually no chance Sudan will gain membership.

2. This is a particularly egregious mistruth, the consequences of which could imperil the lives of millions of women around the world.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) supports maternal and reproductive health in the developing world. It emphatically does not support either abortion or China’s one child policy. In 2002, as the Bush administration weighed cutting American contributions to UNFPA, it sent a State Department fact-finding mission to investigate. The report, which was signed by Colin Powell, says explicitly: “We found no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in the PRC.” That should have settled it, but the George W. Bush administration nonetheless used the charge as a pretext to block funding.  When Obama restored funding to UNFPA, Congress was still not swayed by Colin Powell’s report and enacted legislation that requires the USA to automatically deduct from its payments to UNFPA what UNFPA spends promoting maternal health in China.

Beyond China, the steering document that drives the entire work of UNFPA very clearly states “In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning.” This should be intuitive to anyone who knows how the UN works: the UNFPA is membership organization and there are several countries in the world in which abortion is illegal. It would be institutional suicide to support abortion services.

Every day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. In many countries complications from childbirth and pregnancy is the leading cause of reproductive aged women. Messing with the UN Population Fund, particularly over false accusations that it supports abortion, is dangerous and irresponsible.

3.  The Mexico City Policy (sometimes called the Global Gag Rule by opponants) is a political football that gets dismissed with Democratic administrations and implemented with Republican administrations. It stipulates that federal dollars cannot be directed towards NGOs that even mention abortion. It has the practical effect of dissuading charities and NGOs from working in the family planning sector, for fear they may lose precious American support. The thing is, there is a set of superseding laws passed by congress that prevents US dollars from supporting any organization or entity that offers abortions–even in cases of women raped in war.  This has not changed under the Obama administration.

4.  There’s no such entity called  the “UN Convention on Women’s Rights.” I have to assume that the framers are referring to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, better known as CEDAW. Along with the USA, Iran Somalia and Sudan are also non-members. On the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the USA has but one country as company as a non-member: Somalia. The Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities is a newer treaty, which aims to “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”

Some Republicans believe that these three treaties would somehow influence American family or, in some instances subject things like homeschooling laws or domestic rules about abortion to international scrutiny.

The Arms Trade Treaty is being negotiated at the United Nations and seeks to regulate the legal transfer of arms and armaments to reduce the chances that guns and the like end up in the hands of child soldiers, terrorirsts, or would be human rights abusers. It has absolutely nothing to do with the second amendment or with domestic firearms regulations. It deals exclusively with the international legal arms trade. That’s all, but it has been demagogued to death by groups like the National Rifle Association, who call it a “UN Gun Grab.”

The UN Conference on Environment and Development is the outcome of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. It gave birth to the Kyoto Protocol and efforts to create an internationally binding treaty to climate change. No surprise here that it’s being rejected by the GOP.

5. As you can tell from the text, the GOP platform does not reject the Convention on the Law of the Sea quite as adamantly as the other treaties. That may be because it has many Republican supporters (including George W. Bush). The military establishment is also strongly supportive of the Law of the Sea, as is the US Chamber of Commerce and the mineral extractive industry, which is typically part of the GOP’s constituency. These industries support the Law of the Sea because it provides standardized rules of the road for things like underwater mining rights, and shipping lanes. Businesses (and the military) very much like this clarity. Incidentally, environmental groups also support Law of the Sea for its marine life protections.

6. Agenda 21 is sort of like the boogey man hiding in the closet of Americans frightened by the UN. It is not a treaty or anything of the sort. Rather, it is an anodyne declaration of support for principals of environmental sustainability signed by heads of state (including George H.W Bush) at the 1992 Earth Summit. As the Tea Party movement gained traction, Agenda 21 has been resurrected in very local debates over things like bike lanes and smart meters as a way to scare opponents into believing sustainable development is a foreign idea.

7. I don’t know where this idea of a “UN Global Tax” comes from. It’s something that you read about on right wing outlets on occasion, but it is a total myth.  The UN has no ability to impose taxes on countries or individuals.

8. This idea of the UN trying to control your Internet is the newest canard being floated around certain quarters. The kernal of truth here is that there is an entity called the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the ITU will update its charter at a meeting of member states in December this year. A couple of outlier member states have suggested that they want the ITU to have more control over the Internet. The ITU emphatically does not want this, and neither do the most of the important member states.  The Obama administration has been very clear that it supports the current “multi-stakeholder model” of Internet governance.  The irony here is that the best way to ensure that the ITU does not accept any Internet governance responsibilities is by having the USA remain deeply engaged in the negotiations over the ITU’s new charter. More engagement means more American influence over the direction of the ITU.

9.  The American Service Members Protection Act was a piece of legislation championed by the late Senator Jesse Helms which stipulates that American federal agencies cannot cooperate with the International Criminal Court in anyway without the expressed consent of the President. The thing is, when the rubber hit the road, the previous Republican administration happened to find the ICC to be a useful foreign policy tool. In 2005, the Bush administration let a resolution pass at the Security Council giving the ICC jurisdiction to pursue the people who committed the genocide in Darfur. The Obama administration has been similarly supportive of the ICC as foreign policy tool. Most notably, it supported a Security Council resolution to give the ICC jurisdiction to indict the late Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi and his inner circle.

There is a strong American impulse to want justice for victims of genocide or mass atrocity, which crosses party lines.  When a crisis arises, setting up new courts to deal with these cases on an ad hoc basis is expensive and ultimately unnecessary because the ICC is a ready-made for the job.  Even though his party’s platform specifically rejects it, I suspect a President Romney would still consider the ICC as a potentially useful foreign policy tool.