The Nanny State Goes Global

Dulles, Virginia — “We know big government does not have all the answers. We know there’s not a program for every problem.” Perhaps Bill Clinton wouldn’t mind sharing those sentiments from his 1996 State of the Union Address with his friends at the United Nations. In recent years, the UN has taken to heart Tip O’Neil’s observation that “all politics is local,” and embarked on a series of initiatives that would be best left to city councils the world over. 
Article 1 of the UN Charter informs us that the United Nations was created “to maintain international peace and security,” but today, the subject consuming the global guardians is traffic safety. War is raging in the Middle East. Genocide persists in Sudan. International trafficking in sex slaves is a growth industry, and food shortages are hurting the most vulnerable populations. Yet, a few weeks ago the UN General Assembly approved the first global conference on roads and traffic to be held next year in Russia.  

Delegates to the conference will undoubtedly organize a new UN Meter Maid Brigade as an auxiliary to the vaunted Peacekeeping Department. And we can only hope that the U.S. delegate raises for discussion all those unpaid parking tickets diplomats have racked up in New York City.

Don’t get me wrong, the utility of public education regarding traffic safety is significant, but filling pot holes and preventing jay walking is not the role of the UN Security Council or the General Assembly. Critics will argue that there is nothing wrong with government representatives discussing traffic issues. In theory, no. But when nations assemble under the supervision of the UN, innocuous discussions often turn into formal conferences, which produce binding treaties.

The UN’s traffic safety conference could result in global mandates for community planners in Peoria. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon explained it thus: “Now we must ensure that the UN Conference [on road safety] is not just another talking shop, but secures real commitments and takes real action to reverse the tide of global road deaths.”

What looks like an innocent conference to urge drivers to wear their seat belts is really a Mack Truck speeding down the highway toward an International Traffic Treaty. The signs are all present. A commission has been created (The Commission for Global Road Safety). It has written a report (Make Roads Safe). The report declares road conditions in “crisis” and traffic fatalities an “epidemic.” The World Bank has created a “Global Road Safety Facility” to collect funds. The traffic safety agenda has been adopted into the Millennium Development Goals – the golden calf of UN utopians. All that is needed now, we are told, is an “Action Plan,” – i.e., a treaty – and a $300 million budget, of which the United States will be expected to fund the largest portion.

But crosswalks and speed limits are not the only local issues that have lately grabbed the attention of the international aldermen.

In 2005, the UN Framework Convention on Tobacco Control took effect after being ratified by only 20 percent of the world’s nations. The United States signed the pact in 2004. Last month, Senator Dick Durbin and nine of his colleagues sent a letter to the President urging him to send the treaty to the Senate for ratification. The treaty demands curbs on advertisements and hefty taxes on sales of tobacco products and is particularly egregious because it seeks to do that which opponents of tobacco in the U.S. have not been able to do — ban cigarettes.  

Nations that ratify the convention are required to “implement tax policies and…price policies, on tobacco products so as to contribute to the health objectives aimed at reducing tobacco consumption.” Another provision of the treaty mandates the size, shape and language of warnings that are to be placed on tobacco product packaging. 

The UN is now working on a follow-on treaty to prevent tobacco smuggling and some countries, according to Reuters, are insisting it include a “licensing system” for suppliers and distributors, as well as a mechanism to track shipments of cigarettes.    

The nanny staters at the UN are also trying to wrap their arms around the issue of obesity. Professor Philip James, the chairman of the International Obesity Taskforce, recently suggested that the only way to trim the fat is to beef up the bureaucracy by adopting an international treaty. He called on the UN to do just that. This is global government gone wild.
Shortly after he was sworn in as Secretary General in 1997, Kofi Annan told the International Women’s Forum in New York: “We have to show that [the United Nations] deals not in dusty abstractions, but in crucial life-and-death matters affecting the well-being of all women, men, and children, every citizen of this planet.” 

This is where the UN is headed. The global body shows little interest in the greatest challenges of our time because its desire is to wet-nurse the world.