The summit isn't sustainable

Debra J. Saunders

8/28/2002 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
President Bush was right to skip the U.N. "Earth Summit" now convening in Johannesburg, South Africa, and send a delegation headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell instead. It would have been an improvement to nix the delegation completely, but why give the Euros another excuse to sniff and moan about U.S. "unilateralism"? U.N. conferences tend to be an exercise in diplomatic self-gratification as it is. This summit -- which nonsensically addresses poverty under the rubric of "sustainable development" -- is especially irrelevant. So you have the usual America-bashing and demands for more Western money, without the summit really taking on corrupt African policies that threaten to starve 13 million Africans. The Bush administration wants to donate 500,000 tons of grain to fight African starvation. This is supposed to be a good thing. But Zambia and Zimbabwe have rejected humanitarian shipments of grain, and Mozambique has restrictions on them, because the grain was genetically modified. "We would rather starve than get something toxic," Zambia President Levy Mwanawasa has proclaimed. Sure, something toxic like the same food Americans eat. Apparently, in the face of famine, he's afraid of obesity. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has been evicting and arresting white farmers -- blind to the damage he is inflicting on his famine-ravaged people. And where is the summit's focus? South African President Thabo Mbeki opened the conference with a rant against wealthy nations not sharing enough -- of what? The scorned grain? Mbeki called the division of wealth "global apartheid." U.N. envoy Jan Pronk bemoaned the West's "inward-looking values" in not giving more to poor nations. Pronk was referring to wealthy nations' resistance of the Earth Summit push for wealthy nations to increase their fo reign aid to poor countries from 0.2 percent of national income to 0.7 percent -- and it will never happen. Now you tell me which activity would save more African lives: outraged denunciations of the famine-friendly policies of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique from their African neighbors? Or rants about why America should give three times as much aid to developing countries, including corrupt governments that act as if it's a favor to accept their food? The whole setup stinks. By making poverty a function of "sustainable development," the United Nations guaranteed that the focus would be on getting Western nations to dole out more aid -- as opposed to shaming dysfunctional governments to be more democratic and less corrupt so that their people can live healthier lives. Why would Americans go along with the summit agenda? Do the U.N. types believe that Americans don't think there are enough ingrates in the world? Or are Americans supposed to want more Third World countries to reject our food? Bush would have to have been a masochist to show up in Johannesburg after what happened to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson in Barcelona last month. At the 14th International AIDS conference there, critics drowned Thompson out, shouting "shame, shame" as he spoke. Oh, yes, the shame. The United States has committed $500 million to the U.N. Global Fund to Fight AIDS and another $500 million to prevent mother-to- newborn transmission of AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. And apparently the U.N. folks simply haven't figured out that they can't guilt more money from the United States for sustainable development. Americans understand that no matter how much we give the rest of the world, we'll hear scolds like "shame, shame" far more than we'll ever hear "thank you."