from National Journal U.N. Notebook
Weekly Columns by Barbara Crossette

Lessons the U.N. and U.S. Have Learned in Iraq (July 26, 2004)
"I have more than a suspicion that the U.S.-led coalition didn't want the United Nations to get credit for its rehabilitation of schools and hospitals, for purifying 11 million liters of water or providing seeds and fertilizer for this year's crops, among other accomplishments."

The UN's Top Envoy Speaks Out, but Who's Listening? (July 18, 2004)
"Prominent columnists, led by William Safire of the New York Times, have vilified [Lakhdar Brahimi], but for what? Is his wisdom and effectiveness too much to be tolerated in a U.N. official? Is it because he is an Arab? Or just a foreigner?"

Blunt Approach Needed to Tackle India's AIDS Crisis (July 12, 2004)
"India, with 5.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS, is poised to overtake South Africa as the nation with the most cases in the world."

Fighting World Poverty: Count the U.S. Out (July 7, 2004)
"What is going on when the United States, home to a lot of the freest, most powerful women on earth, is represented by people who quail at words like 'reproductive health' and want to excise language that gives a woman control of her own body?"

Out of School and Cleaning Toilets: Kids in Domestic Servitude (June 28, 2004)
"Children trapped in low-paid or unpaid labor are robbed of schooling and, for that matter, of childhood."

Changing Mindsets and Fortunes in the Poorest Nations (June 21, 2004)
"To potential investors and aid agencies, the stirrings of hope say: Don't stop now. And to the people of any number of nations willing to give it a try, the tentative signs of progress say: It can be done."

When Peacekeeping Turns to Despair (June 14, 2004)
"A new and disturbing book is getting a lot of attention around the United Nations—so much that two of its three authors fear they will be dismissed."

McAskie One of UN's Few Women Special Representatives (June 7, 2004)
"Women, few as they are in this line of work, seem to get the toughest assignments."

Low-Tech Solutions Often Key to Third World Problems (May 31, 2004)
"Creativity born of necessity can help make life longer and better in the poorest countries."

A University in a Class by Itself (May 24, 2004)
"Not many people know that the UN has a university of its own. It has no basketball team nor even a traditional campus. It is a research institution that serves as a think tank for the United Nations."

Millions of People Worldwide on the Move (May 17, 2004)
"Migrations, particularly illegal movements of people, are cause for concern in every region. There has never been a migration study this big or ambitious. The topic has some built-in tensions, and opening it up for world scrutiny risks some hazards."

No Simple Place to Pin Blame for Iraq Oil-For-Food Problems (May 10, 2004)
"The U.S. General Accounting Office is documenting what a shambles the U.S. made of the oil-for-food program after it took over in November, and warning that the new Iraq must be watched closely or history will repeat itself."

Reducing Poverty Takes More Than Just Money (May 3, 2004)
"Poverty has so many other facets beyond what it takes to live from day to day.... Unless all countries and international financial institutions look at the big picture, people in developing countries don't stand a chance of significant gains."

Losing Faith In Democracy: A Warning From Latin America (April 26, 2004)
"The publication last week of an alarming report ... from Latin America will only confirm for many that the euphoria of the early 1990s over the spread of democracy is now history."

Oil-For-Food: Where Was the Security Council? (April 19, 2004)
"Some U.N. officials may have been complicit in Saddam Hussein's illegal profiteering from the 'oil-for-food' program that sustained Iraqi civilians from 1997 until last November."

Corruption's Threat to Democracy (April 12, 2004)
"In March Transparency International released a list of ten top corrupt leaders of the last quarter century. Except for Ukraine and Yugoslavia, all were in Africa, Asia, and Latin America."

The UN's Real Blunder in Iraq (April 7, 2004)
"It has been demonstrated that irresponsibility, a lack of integrity, and a careless inattention to duty can, tragically, carry a deadly price."

Sri Lanka on the Edge Again (March 29, 2004)
"This relatively small island nation will hold an election Friday that many Sri Lankans believe will decide whether ethnic conflict is really over or has only paused before plunging into a disastrous new phase."

Banker Plans To Put UN Show on the Road (March 22, 2004)
"'When the truck comes into a city, I want it to blow people away.' A senior vice president at Morgan Stanley has designed a rolling exhibition—a sort of U.N.-mobile—that he hopes to put on the road before the end of the year."

Afghanistan Prepares to Choose a Government (March 15, 2004)
"The creation of a democratic culture and democratic institutions is the hard part. The ubiquitous international election monitors almost always arrive too late to see the confusion and intimidation that has preceded the opening of polling booths."

Putting ECOSOC Back in the Loop (March 8, 2004)
"The UN's Economic and Social Council sank into obscurity over the decades, upstaged by the Security Council, the General Assembly, and a host of agencies working on what should have been primarily ECOSOC's issues: development, health, and human rights."

Arab Women Leaders Exerting Growing Influence at UN (March 1, 2004)
"If leading Arab women at the United Nations seem to be in the background, that is no reflection of a meekness or deference to male-dominated cultures."

Saving the U.N. From Utah (February 23, 2004)
"What is it with Utah?... Some local politicians have become convinced that the United Nations has caused the United States to 'lose' every war since World War II."

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."

Challenging Year for U.N. Brings Renewed Media Attention (January 20, 2004)
"The 'year of Iraq' may have not done much harm [to the UN]—it got more television footage than it has enjoyed for a long time."

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."

Refugees in Limbo Where the U.N. Isn't Welcome (December 29, 2003)
"For about a dozen years, tens of thousands of people, claiming to be Bhutanese citizens, have been languishing in refugee camps in Nepal. Few officials believe they are all Bhutanese. Then who are these people, now numbering more than 100,000?"

Book on U.N. Creation a Welcome Reminder of Early Lessons (December 16, 2003)
"Here's the perfect holiday gift for your favorite member of the U.S. Congress."

Too Soon To Count the U.N. in on Iraq (December 9, 2003)
"The United Nations is not going to jump at the chance to take over the management of Iraq. Too much needs to change not only in Washington but also on the ground in Baghdad."

Sixteen Wise People and the Future of the U.N. (December 1, 2003)
"This could be a last-chance opportunity to reinvigorate a battered United Nations."

Saving Congo, One Woman at a Time (November 24, 2003)
"The impunity enjoyed by anyone with a gun, and the savagery of the sexual assaults women suffer as a result, has stunned and sickened aid workers."

Oil for Food: A Great Experiment Ends (November 17, 2003)
"The oil-for-food program wasn't perfect. It was manipulated by both the Iraqis and the West. None of that, however, should obscure the essential value of the concept."

A New-Look Security Council: What Makes a Winner? (November 11, 2003)
"The question of which countries might rightly claim new permanent seats is becoming less hypothetical. A group of newly emerging powers is already circling the chamber demanding a permanent presence."

Leveraging Private Money for the United Nations (November 3, 2003)
"Since the late 1990s, the U.N. Fund for International Partnerships has been playing matchmaker between small, innovative U.N. programs in need of cash and an increasingly wider world of private corporations and foundations willing to give them a boost."

U.N. and U.S. in Iraq: Nobody Won This Round (October 27, 2003)
"There is, in plain words, no great desire to help the United States out of a more difficult postwar period than the U.S. Defense Department apparently planned for."

AIDS, Asian Values and States of Denial (October 20, 2003)
"Asian leaders often acknowledge only that infections happen in what they call 'deviant populations.' Yet it is well known that sex industries across the region attract men from every level of society."

U.S. Rebuffs to Neighbors Should Raise Concerns (October 14, 2003)
"Ever since the epochal terrorist attacks on the United States two years ago, no two countries have been more important to American security than Canada and Mexico. So why has the United States been so indifferent to its neighbors?"

Testing the U.N. in Afghanistan, With Iraq in Mind (October 6, 2003)
"The United States has now given the Iraqis six months to conjure up a constitution.... In Afghanistan, time to write a constitution has run out. Nearly two years after the United States toppled the Taliban, the publication of the promised new charter is behind schedule."

Fighting AIDS by Changing Attitudes in Africa (September 29, 2003)
"Workers in government health agencies, private organizations and churches need every possible kind of logistical support to take the warning message out to people who do not know or do not believe that their own sexual behavior can save or condemn them."

For Countries Big And Small, A Diplomatic Marathon (September 23, 2003)
"Over the years, autumn at the United Nations has evolved into a huge hive of diplomatic activity, making New York the capital of the world, as Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor, used to say."

German Teacher Provides Much-Needed Guide To The U.N. (September 15, 2003)
"[For] years, scholars, journalists and interested citizens of all kinds have had to scrounge for an easy-to-understand, jargon-free compendium of information on an organization that seems to revel in making itself hard to penetrate."

Human Rights at U.N. Obscured by the Shadow of Politics (September 8, 2003)
"Human Rights Watch lists only a handful of countries (among them Canada and Mexico, leaving a big hole in between) that act out of principle and not political expediency."

UNICEF in the Crosshairs (September 2, 2003)
"The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, noting the appearance of frank educational materials about sex in UNICEF-supported programs and a greater emphasis on the education of girls ... worries that 'UNICEF has moved beyond simple, and universally acceptable, programs.'"

The Wrong Kind of American Exceptionalism (August 18, 2003)
"The Europeans are powerful enough to stand down the United States, but many other countries are not. They are left to fight lonely battles against a punitive American government that has already suspended military aid to several dozen countries."

Bush Close to Backing $1 Billion Loan to U.N. (August 11, 2003)
"U.N. headquarters was built for an organization of about 50 members. It now has 191 member nations. In some offices, there is barely room to push back a desk chair without hitting the next desk."

Equal Rights For Homosexuals Contentious at U.N. (August 6, 2003)
"Gay U.N. employees say that the organization not only will not recognize long-term relationships in providing benefits but also does not help a gay partner get a visa to accompany an employee to a new posting."

Ahead of Information Summit, U.N. Should Examine Itself (July 28, 2003)
"At headquarters, information specialists are constrained by the refusal of member nations to invest in bringing the United Nations fully into the age of electronic media."

Academic Council on U.N. System Leaves U.S. for Canada (July 21, 2003)
"The United States may be the biggest world power, but it is not much of an international player."

Guess Who's Sustaining Iraq (July 14, 2003)
"Nine U.N. agencies are now operating in Iraq, doing many of the jobs the U.S. military was apparently not prepared to tackle."

A New Step for the U.N.—an Ombudsman (July 8, 2003)
"Until now, most employees had to wait until an internal dispute provoked administrative action—and then appeal it."

U.N. Still Battered by U.S. Action On Iraq (July 1, 2003)
"Americans seem to hate the United Nations for not supporting the war, while a lot of the rest of the world hates the organization for not preventing it."

AIDS, Other Trends Give New Prominence To U.N. Population Division (June 23, 2003)
"Ethnic wars, epidemic diseases, huge migrations of people have helped make [the U.N. Population Division] one of the busiest offices in the U.N. Secretariat."

Fixing The Security Council (June 16, 2003)
"If the United States and the rest of the world seem to be looking at the same Security Council and seeing two very different images, most governments can agree on one point:  the council needs fixing."

Peacekeeping's Unsavory Side (June 10, 2003)
"Among the uglier stories surrounding international peacekeeping in recent years is that U.N. operations too often fuel booms in local prostitution."

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

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