Tags: Fred Fleitz: NKorea Chairs UN 'Costanza' Committee

Fred Fleitz: NKorea Chairs UN 'Costanza' Committee

Friday, 15 Jul 2011 09:35 AM


What do you call a UN body that has done nothing for 14 years but continues to hold regular sessions at its palatial headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland from January to August, allowing its well paid but underemployed diplomats ample opportunity to enjoy lavish meals in France and Switzerland and weekend ski trips to the Alps? The UN calls this the Conference on Disarmament (CD). I call it the “George Costanza committee” after the Seinfeld character whose purpose in life was freeloading, living the good life, and avoiding jobs that involved any work.

The CD emerged from obscurity this month when North Korea became its chairman. Perhaps no nation on earth has such a poor record of abiding by arms control agreements. As Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in unclassified testimony to Congress last February:

“Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile programs pose a serious threat to the security environment in East Asia . . . North Korea’s export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries, including Iran and Syria, and its assistance to Syria in the construction of a nuclear reactor, destroyed in 2007, illustrate the reach of the North’s proliferation activities . . . We judge North Korea has tested two nuclear devices.”

Despite the absurdity of North Korea chairing the world’s leading arms control forum, the CD followed its normal practice of rotating its chairmanship alphabetically, allowing Pyongyang to head the committee. This travesty did not have to happen and stands in sharp contrast to the Bush years when pressure from Washington and its allies prevented Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq taking the CD chairmanship in 2003. To its credit, Canada is boycotting CD sessions during the North Korean chairmanship. Regrettably, no other CD member has made such a sensible move.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee called North Korea’s chairmanship of the CD “a classic example of the fox guarding the henhouse.” Why did the United States not walk out of the CD when North Korea took the gavel? Why did the State Department do nothing to stop this from happening? Congress will be pressing the Obama administration to answer these questions.

The Conference on Disarmament meets in ornate UN buildings in Geneva known as the Palais des Nations which were built after World War I for the equally useless League of Nations. I’ve attended about a dozen CD sessions during my government career. It is a UN body on autopilot, which helps explain why no nation tried to stop North Korea from becoming its chairman. CD sessions are all the same. Its ambassadors go through the motions of doing work, give long speeches that no one reads, and hold dinners that often last into the wee hours of the morning to discuss what the CD should be doing. These monotonous dinners are the epitome of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

In fairness, the CD is not alone among wasteful international bodies and conferences. International arms control conferences are especially notorious for avoiding politically sensitive debates – such as calling out states like North Korea, Iran, and Syria for pursuing WMD programs – and instead issuing meaningless diplomatic pabulum and focusing on after-session socializing. From this perspective, it doesn’t matter that North Korea is chairing the CD since the body has never passed a resolution critical of North Korea.

The practice of U.S. Government agencies to cram large numbers of superfluous personnel on arms control delegations to Geneva and Vienna was so bad that my former boss Ambassador John Bolton, when he was State Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, liked to refer to them as “nuclear tourism” and drastically cut these delegations back. Aside from saving tax dollars, Bolton’s cuts made these delegations much more effective. Unfortunately, U.S. arms control delegations ballooned in size soon after President Bush left office.

I met some exceptions to George Costanza-like CD delegates. One who first comes to mind is former U.S. CD Ambassador Jackie Wolcott who was sent by Ambassador Bolton to keep an eye on the CD and coordinate multilateral organizations that dealt with nuclear issues. Another was an Australian ambassador to the CD who once told me that he would prefer to go to the gym rather than attend another pointless CD meeting.

I spoke to Ambassador Wolcott this week about the Conference on Disarmament. She was very concerned about North Korea assuming the CD chairmanship but also warned me that the CD has the potential to do real damage to U.S. security interests. According to Ambassador Wolcott:

"This is an organization that did absolutely nothing productive while its ambassadors and staff enjoyed life in Geneva. It should have closed down years ago. But a do-nothing CD was at least better than an active CD might have been – members like North Korea and Iran pushed some very bad proposals that could have hurt U.S. security interests had we not been there to stop them."

North Korea’s chairmanship of the Conference on Disarmament has given the UN a serious black eye. It is time to shut down wasteful international organizations like the CD and force its George Costanza-like diplomats to earn their generous taxpayer paid salaries elsewhere. Obama officials need to explain not only how this happened but how it will deal with the perception that allowing North Korea to assume this high profile arms control position suggests that the United States and its allies have accepted North Korea as a law abiding member of the community of nations and no longer regard it as the world’s worst rogue state that is actively pursuing and proliferating dangerous WMD technology.


[Fred Fleitz recently joined Newsmax after a 25-year career with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the US Department of State, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence staff. He served as Chief of Staff to Ambassador John Bolton and as a Senior Adviser to former House Intelligence Ranking Member Peter Hoekstra.]



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Fred Fleitz: NKorea Chairs UN 'Costanza' Committee
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Friday, 15 Jul 2011 09:35 AM
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