Recent columns by Barbara Crossette:

As Chile Reaches High Development Level, UN Shifts Strategy (February 17, 2004)
"While the world may hear more from Brazil, a much larger nation in both land and population, Chile ... cannot be underestimated as a potential hemispheric leader or an important voice for the wider global South."

The Cost of U.N. Whistleblowing (February 9, 2004)
"Three whistleblowers whose warnings helped draw attention to incompetence and abuses.... all lost their jobs, unfairly, because they complained."

Those U.N. Inspectors Were Not Wrong About Iraq (February 2, 2004)
"The crucial question not being asked is why the public or the media should be surprised and outraged by Kay's empty-handed return from Iraq. The answer is that nobody bothered to ask the real experts—those maligned U.N. arms inspectors, who could have predicted all this more than a year ago."

Much of World's Conflict Fueled by Small Arms (January 28, 2004)
"In the heightened climate of fear over more spectacular strikes by international terrorists, it is difficult to convince nations that the threat of ordinary guns should not be overlooked."

Breathing New Life Into an Old Federation (January 13, 2004)
"A little more than three years ago, a few prominent Americans thought it was time to reinvigorate the World Federation of United Nations Associations, a body created in 1946."

IAEA Chief Out Front on Arms Control (January 5, 2004)
"Since the departure of Hans Blix, Mohamed ElBaradei has been the U.N. system's most visible arms controller. Some Bush administration officials have begun trying to undermine his authority."

More from U.N. Notebook.


U.N. Notebook | February 23, 2004
 
from U. N. Wire Saving the U.N. From Utah

by Barbara Crossette
 
....

UNITED NATIONS—Just a couple of weeks ago, the U.S. state of Utah came close to asking the U.S. Congress to consider pulling the country out of the United Nations. A bill accusing the United Nations of endangering American sovereignty and bleeding the national treasury cleared the state House of Representatives easily, then stalled—but did not die—in a state Senate committee, where it could be revived and sent to the floor at any time.

Pat Cutting
The U.N. Association
of Utah's Pat Cutting
What is it with Utah? In the summer of 2001, La Verkin, Utah, decided to declare itself a "U.N.-free zone" and would have required supporters of the organization to post a sign saying so outside their homes. Before this ball could get rolling anywhere else, however, the state attorney general declared the action unconstitutional.

Yet here is a state with an active interest in staging model U.N. sessions in high schools and colleges, where a U.N. Association, though small, is very active and where internationalism thrives in two great universities, Brigham Young and the University of Utah.

"If you took a vote in Salt Lake City, you'd have three-fourths of the people supporting the United Nations—at least," said Ed Firmage, a professor of international and constitutional law at the University of Utah law school who has been in and out of U.N. work in New York and Geneva since the early 1970s. "I've been associated with the U.N. since Noah built his boat," he said in a telephone interview from Salt Lake City.

In Utah, the most Republican state in the country, he added, "you'd have a majority of the Republicans supporting the United Nations, and a huge majority of the Democrats, and all the rest who didn't give a damn about either party. Basically their feelings would be based around the humanitarian work of the U.N."

And that includes the Mormons, said Firmage, a great-great grandson of Brigham Young.

The Deseret Morning News, a leading Utah newspaper, said in an editorial: "Most Americans, at least those who think Elvis is dead, see international isolationism as a recipe for more conflict. The United Nations has its flaws. It also offers, in its best moments, a glimmer of hope. Fortunately, Utahans still believe in hope, even as they believe less and less in the wisdom of their Legislature." Other commentators warned that aggressive anti-internationalism could damage Utah's place in world commerce and investment.

But to get back to that episode in the Utah Senate: Pat Cutting, the head of legislative advocacy of the U.N. Association of Utah, also knows a lot about the complexity of Utah's relationship with the rest of the world, and she is surprised by the level of misinformation that fuels the political debate. "It's basically rumor, folk tales, myths," she said. "There's really a gut feeling—and it sounds like paranoia—but there's really a gut feeling that they want to protect their own selves and to heck with the rest of the world."

This month, on the crucial day for the anti-U.N. measure in the state Senate, Cutting spoke to the committee discussing the resolution and heard a stream of arguments against the United Nations, she said in a telephone interview. "I felt it was sort of incomprehensible what I was hearing. One witness was very frank in saying that the U.S. Constitution is God-given, whereas the U.N. Charter is godless. That's a very, very strong feeling."

Cutting, a retired philosophy teacher—her Ph.D. dissertation was on the Danish existentialist Soren Kierkegaard—has found, as so many others have discovered around the United States, that certain topics have inflamed many of the most conservative Republicans, who have dragged the United Nations into culpability in those issues. Abortion is one, the control of natural resources is another.

There are critics, not just in Utah, who believe that the United Nations promotes abortion worldwide and wants to take over the national parks through UNESCO's designation of exceptional places as World Heritage Sites or areas of important biodiversity. The anti-U.N. campaign in La Verkin took off in part over fears that the United Nations had designs on nearby Zion National Park.

Cutting said that some local politicians have become convinced that the United Nations has caused the United States to "lose" every war since World War II—and that includes Korea, Vietnam and the first war against Iraq.

The resolution in the Legislature listing the reasons why the United States should consider leaving the United Nations, available at www.le.state.ut.us, contains a long indictment of the new International Criminal Court. Firmage, who supports the court, which is now beginning to operate in The Hague to try individuals on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, does see some legal issues about jurisdiction that could be cause for concern. But these, he adds, could be carefully addressed.

Outside the state's urban areas, he said, "We are still enormously isolated from the world. The patience that the world has to have with us is to remember that we didn't come here because we wanted to. We were driven into the Badlands. We were pushed out 150 years ago from points in New England and New York and the Midwest, and made a trek into the great desert." After a while, the itinerant Mormons and other outcasts who found their way to the expanses of Utah took on a fierce independence. Eventually, he said, outcasts tend to behave like outcasts.

And so Pat Cutting combs through what information she can extract from the United Nations and puts together packets of facts and organization charts to give to politicians and anyone else willing to consider how the United Nations may actually safeguard, not threaten American sovereignty, or Utah's independence. People receive these materials politely, sometimes eagerly, she said. They really want to know.

Holding her position can be tough. "It's part-time and it's volunteer, but it's very, very important," Cutting said. "The solution is to try to inform," she said, admitting that critics are both numerous and vocal. "But it's not everybody in Utah. I'm not alone."


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More on foreign affairs in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

Barbara Crossette, a writer on foreign affairs and columnist for U.N. Wire, was The New York Times bureau chief at the United Nations from 1994 to 2001. U.N. Wire is a free daily online news service covering news about and related to the United Nations. It is sponsored by the U.N. Foundation and appears on the foundation site, but is produced independently by The National Journal Group. For information on National Journal Group publications, see NationalJournal.com.

Copyright © 2003 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.