The U.N. should never forget that after World War II, the United States could have made the world its taxpayer, but instead... chose to tax its own citizens to help friends and former foes rebuild their cities... The U.S. and The U.N.: The End of a Bad Romance

By Bruce Herschensohn

It should be understood that from the beginning she wasn’t faithful and had no intention of being faithful. After the United States of America and its World War II allies created the United Nations Organization, the United States fell in love with her. He thought the two of them had a lot in common. But the United Nations Organization, dressed in apparel given her by the United States and wearing jewelry given her by the United States, spent many New York nights of romance with enemies of the United States. And so it went for 59 years of hand-holding beneath the moonlight and stars on the East River near the magnificent home that John D. Rockefeller of the United States had given her.

She was having exactly the style of life she wanted. She was having fun, and at the same time she wanted enough affection retained between her and the United States so that the United States would give her what she wanted. Her long-range plan was to eventually make the United States a "fair and equal" Third World Country while current Third World Countries would then inherit a world leadership position. There would be no rich and poor countries. They would all be poor.

That gleam in her eye called for an outrageous percent of the U.N.’s budget paid by the United States which the United States had already agreed to pay, plus the grandest scheme of all: a "global tax" to go to the U.N. from citizens of the United States and other industrial countries. That tax, collected each year by the U.N. would then be redistributed to less industrial countries of the world — with a nice administrative budget for her colleagues working in her 39 story mansion.

As absurd as all this may seem, there is more truth than fiction in the summary above.

The first I heard about such a U.N. tax was in the early 1960s when U Thant was the U.N.’s Secretary General. Like most others, I laughed it off because such a tax was so absurd that it seemed to be one of those subjects that was dead before it lived, advocated only by the most radical and anti-U.S. bureaucrats of the U.N.

The subject was not dead. The subject was just in hibernation. It kept waking up every September when there was a new session of the U.N. Each time it woke up, it seemed to gather more support.

The next Secretary General, Kurt Waldheim put the subject on the calendar. Early in his reign in 1972, both the U.N. Conference on the Human Environment and the Club of Rome advocated a tax on industrialized countries. (The Club of Rome is a global think tank that has had great influence on the U.N., often asked by the U.N. to supply studies and advice. It is composed of scientists, economists, former heads of state and others. In 1972, it warned that the world would run out of gold by 1981, mercury by 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, petroleum by 1992, and copper, lead and natural gas by 1993.)

The 1980’s saw Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar propose the establishment of a U.N. Peace Endowment Fund with an initial target of one billion dollars, not only from voluntary funds but from assessed contributions as well.

Following Javier Perez de Cuellar as Secretary General in 1992 was Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who made the subject of a tax more prominent than ever before. He proposed a tax on arms sales throughout the world, a tax on international travel, and a general tax exemption for contributions made to the U.N. by foundations, businesses and individuals. He said, "The question of assuring financial security to the Organization over the long term is of such importance and complexity that public awareness and support must be heightened."

Although Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali spoke and wrote highly of the sovereignty of the State, he added in his article, "An Agenda for Peace," that "The time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty, however, has passed; its theory was never matched by reality. It is the task of leaders of States today to understand this and to find a balance between the needs of good internal governance and the requirements of an ever more interdependent world." At the time, there was such enthusiasm for a tax that there was serious argument over whether industrialized nations such as the United States should simply be taxed as nations or citizens of the selected nations should be taxed directly by the United Nations Organization.

The first years of the 21st Century have seen the most serious threat of what is now called a "global tax" to be administered by the United Nations Organization. Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote a paper in which he itemized proposals for global taxation, including a "bit tax" on the volume of data transmitted through the Internet. Secretary General Annan noted that at one U.S. cent on every 1,000 kilobytes of data, that tax "would have generated $70 billion U.S. dollars."

Expanding on a Bhoutros Bhoutros-Ghali idea, Kofi Annan argued for an international air transport tax since "experts recognize air transport of passengers and cargo as a key source of environmental pollution due to emissions and noise."

Other proposals of the Secretary General duplicated old proposals of Bhoutros Bhoutros-Ghali and some new ones: taxation of arms exports from one country to another, a carbon tax which could "contribute to a global public good, namely the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions." Kofi Annan noted that "a gallon of gasoline or a ton of coal cannot be readily disguised." Another proposal is for a currency transaction fee calling for taxation of foreign exchange markets "probably collected at the point of payment or settlement in the banking systems."

The Global Policy Forum, a tax-exempt organization that has consultative status and advises on financial matters for the United Nations, added other proposals for "the changing role of states and sovereignty." It stated, "The international community cannot allow the United States government to hold the world hostage and block vitally important progress. Like-minded governments and citizen groups must advance together towards the goal of global taxes." Proposals noted by the Global Policy Forum include a fee for the use of radio/television/mobile phones and other items within the electronic spectrum, a tax on the profits of transnational corporations, a tax on international advertising, and a "parking fee" for earth-orbiting satellites (although Kofi Annan said "the satellite use of outer space would not generate significant revenue at any reasonable tax rate.")

In 2002, Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed a "U.N. High Level Panel on Financing for Development." Its Executive Summary stated that "the Panel proposes that the international community should consider the potential benefits of an International Tax Organization."

Throughout all the proposals are three consistent objectives: to redistribute wealth from rich to poor countries, to influence policy by increasing the cost to consumers of products and services the U.N. opposes, and to inaugurate a new avenue for income to the United Nations Organization.

The implications are, of course, tremendous to the United States, There is the obvious damage to U.S. sovereignty and its place in the world, and there is something else: even if the tax is well-spent by the U.N., (which the U.N.’s history tells us is outrageously unlikely) such taxation would take away the ability to do those things the United States has done through voluntary actions and turn them into mandatory obedience. The U.N. should never forget that after World War II, the United States could have made the world its taxpayer, but instead the United States chose to tax its own citizens to help friends and former foes rebuild their cities, as well as finance governments that fought against us to construct the foundations of democracy. Foreign aid from the United States has never stopped in the years since then through the U.S. Government and through considerable private charitable contributions.

No one should assume a global tax is far-fetched. Unsurprisingly, French President Jacques Chirac said, "We cannot avoid setting up a system of international taxation."

The Global Policy Forum wrote, "As recently as the 1990s, global taxes seemed a distant hope — bedeviled by technical concerns, opposed by powerful interests and blocked by an intractable United States government. But today the political balance has shifted."

Some moonlit night near the end of 2004, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Danforth, should go to the great mansion on the East River with the mission of telling her, "Sorry, Sweetheart. I just came by to tell you to gather your things."

I know, I know. Ending a bad relationship is tough.


Bruce Herschensohn teaches foreign policy at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and is a Member of the Center’s Board of Directors.

September 9, 2004
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