Printer Friendly Page Not Isolationists, Not Unilateralists ~ #6

Not Isolationists, Not Unilateralists ~ #6

By Alan F. Kay, PhD
2002, (fair use with attribution and copy to authors)
Aug. 14, 2002

In the U.S. for decades people have held opinions about the United Nations far from what the mainstream media and political leaders think they hold. It is true that the U.S. public is hazy about the UN's functions and believes the UN to be an organization draining U.S. taxpayers and for the most part not doing a good job. Knowing that, U.S. officials are inclined to cut the UN budget. If the story stopped here, media and leader views of the public seem quite justified.

The whole picture turns around when the public is asked questions that most pollsters with their elite, commercial biases never ask. While feeling that the UN is not doing a good job with most of its functions, the public also believes that it is very important that the UN be strengthened so that it can do a good job. They believe that the UN's job is a job the world needs done and the UN (and not some new organization set up to replace the UN) should be funded and restructured to do it. The U.S. public favors authorizing the UN to obtain its own funding in a variety of reasonable ways. This surprising, unreported public view is 180 degrees apart from media and leaders' understanding of the public's view. The disconnect short changes the vital role of the UN and is unhealthy for U.S. democracy.

While individual opinions vary widely, the majority of people in the U.S. collectively make some sensible distinctions on how the UN should be financed and restructured. The public is dead set against allowing the United Nations to issue its own bonds for any purpose no matter how worthwhile — a sensible position since the repayment would have to be made by the taxpayers of nation states that are already mired in debt.

Requiring countries to pay interest on overdue UN payments and reducing their participation in UN affairs as long as they are dead-beats, are proposals favored by supermajorities, 65%-68%. This is so even when the survey makes clear that the U.S. itself withholds large overdue payments. If the money goes to global demilitarization, support increases. Allowing the UN to collect a tax or fines on various forms of global pollution, like

(1) ocean dumping of toxic waste, and
(2) carbon emissions from power plants, cars, and industries

get a whopping 79%-82% support. But many other proposals do not do so well.

Various taxes on international activities that are facilitated by UN oversight and rule making, whose size and impact are explained in the survey, get less support, but still many in the supermajority range 62%-69%. These include a 1% tax on international air travel and a half percent tax on international currency transactions. A 1% tax on international arms sales, asked seven times from March 1991 through June 1995 in many different ways, is very highly regarded. It never received less than supermajority support, 67+%.

Various proposals on restructuring the UN, such as enlarging the permanent membership of the Security Council (the only UN body that can act without member approval) and increasing the dues of newly selected members are also supported by supermajorities of 80%-81%.

The full picture of the public's view of the UN came from many surveys, largely conducted during 1993-1995 by teams of polling and issue experts led by me and my colleagues. More recent confirmations of enormous public support for strengthening, cooperating and working through the UN include:

(1) December 1998, a Gallup survey found that 84% of the U.S. public believes strengthening the United Nations is important.

(2) October 2000, just before the U.S. presidential election, a University of Maryland survey found 81% saying it is important (41%, extremely important) for the U.S. to cooperate with other countries by working through the United Nations.

Turning to world public opinion, little on the UN is yet available. Canadian pollsters, Environics International, in a June 2001 survey covering many topics included one relevant question on the future of the UN. Given five choices the global public (averaged over 20 countries) favors:

    (total response)
(1) reform UN, either by
    (a) increasing powers/budget, or
    (b) not
(2) replace UN with new international structures
(3) no changes 14%
(4) don't know/no answer 10%
(5) shut down UN with no replacement 4%

In only 8 of the 20 countries are there majorities supporting reform, including the U.S. at 55%. This is in stark contrast to U.S. findings, noted previously, showing 80+% (a 35+% increase) in favor of certain specified reforms, (by no means all reforms), and certain specific increases in powers/budget, (by no means all increases in powers/budget). At least for the U.S., but undoubtedly for many other countries too, the explanation is simple. The June 2001 question did not allow reform choices that the public would have preferred. It is virtually impossible to find the public's most highly supported reform proposals in a single question. More global data on UN reform will be forthcoming.



>>> 2.5  The Polling Critic

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