Conservatives Lose When They Shun U.N. Conferences, by Bishop Council Nedd II

Since long before I became involved in Washington politics, my fellow conservatives have sought an American withdrawal from the United Nations.

Reasons for getting the U.S. out the U.N. include revulsion over allowable human rights abuses by member nations such as Thailand and China.  Conservatives also note the U.N. props up dictators and manages failed and corrupt relief efforts.  Then there is the U.N.’s preferential treatment of less developed nations while the U.S. pays a substantial amount of the U.N.’s bills.

For these reasons and more, conservatives have generally not participated in the U.N.’s many international conferences as non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  This, I believe, is a dire mistake.

Conservative leader Paul Weyrich once suggested the U.N. is “not the organization that we once trusted, even revered.”  By abandoning it, however, conservatives are leaving an entrenched institution to those who have contempt for what Ayn Rand called “the men of the mind.”

I was recently in Geneva, Switzerland for a meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) – the U.N. agency for international public health matters.  An issue at this conference was the licensing of prescription drugs, an issue of importance to conservatives.  Several countries and many NGOs want the WHO to endorse a plan whereby governments could subvert patents and produce medications without compensating the company that developed them simply by declaring a state of emergency.

My organization and other patient rights advocates opposed this, noting such an action was akin to theft and would stifle future health care innovations.  After all, why would a company go to the expense of developing new medications if their work can be stolen with the stroke of a pen?

Imagine my surprise when I arrived in Geneva to find that a number of other NGOs objected to our presence and our request to participate in discussions on public health, innovation and intellectual property.

Normally, WHO conferences – and all U.N. conferences, for that matter – are a forum where left-wing ideology and rhetoric dominate because it is essentially the only viewpoint represented.  We crashed their party with our free-market outlook!

And, quite frankly, we were caught flat-footed in our uniqueness.  We were not really prepared to go it alone against the socialist hegemony permeating the NGO community.

As I was an author of already-accepted testimony, those running things were initially inclined to honor our participation.  U.N. bureaucrats were nonetheless pressured by an extreme leftist group to silence us.  Working with a delegate from Thailand, that group’s spokesman pushed a motion to have my testimony and the testimony of others sticken from the record.  The motion failed, but it was a clear example of their outrage about us playing in their public sandbox.

Others in attendance later credited patient advocates such as ourselves with delaying what was expected to be a forgone conclusion.  WHO has yet to rule on this proposal, yet it had been assumed that the event would be a rubber-stamp to infringe upon intellectual property rights had we not participated.

I agree with many conservative arguments against the U.N., but I also realize it remains an international authority.  When it comes to conferences where international laws may be made, the debate over conservative participation should not be “why?” but “why not?”

Our voices can make a difference.  I am proof of that.  Our silence, to the contrary, leaves George Soros, Ralph Nader, Greenpeace and their ilk the run of these conferences.

In describing National Review magazine, the recently-departed William F. Buckley initially wrote, “It stands athwart history, yelling stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”  Likewise, conservatives should not cede the U.N. to those who believe intellectual property, national sovereignty and other things conservatives value are things to be plundered and pillaged as spoils of class warfare.

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Bishop Council Nedd II is a member of the national advisory council for the Project 21 black leadership network and Chairman of the Alliance for Health Education and Development.  Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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