Abandoning its customary aversion to outsiders, the foreign policy community burst into applause Friday over billionaire Ted Turner’s stunning $1 billion pledge to the United Nations.
And, in a world beset with daunting ills, champions of global causes ranging from clearing land mines and assisting refugees to curbing hunger and purifying water began anticipating a shot in the arm for their projects as a result of the Atlantan’s largesse.
The Clinton administration, beginning with the nation’s top diplomat, quickly affirmed the United Nations’ claim that Turner’s gift had not reduced the need for the United States to pay it’s debt to the United Nations - between $1 billion and $1.5 billion, depending on how it’s calculated. And private analysts stressed that the donation would not offset the organization’s chronic budget woes.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggested, however, that there was much individuals could do to help the United Nation’s global mission, saying that Turner had “shown the way” for prospective donors.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright waxed effusive to reporters, praising Turner’s “extraordinarily generous gift” and hailing the media magnate’s “brilliant approach to how to solve problems.”
No less ebullient was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who proclaimed Turner “one of America’s most impressive citizens,” brimming with “benevolence.”
Albright, who endured daily scolding from Third World leaders annoyed with the U.S. arrears during the four years she served as ambassador to the United Nations, phoned Turner on Friday to discuss his gift.
“It was great fun,” she said of the conversation. “He’s very excited about what he has done, and we, obviously, are very excited also.”
Albright later huddled with National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Richardson at the White House to discuss President Clinton’s Monday address before the 52nd General Assembly of the United Nations, an appearance likely to be energized by Turner’s unprecedented pledge.
The White House was already groping on Friday with the question of how to play Turner’s gift to full affect, without appearing to tether U.S. policy to the altruism of a private citizen.
Convincing a budget-conscious Congress to pay up the U.S. debt to the United Nations has been one of Albright’s top priorities since becoming Secretary of State eight months ago.
Under a bill now in a joint House-Senate conference committee, Congress would pay $819 million in arrears - in addition to it annual assessment which is calculated at 25 percent of the United Nations’ budget. Under the bill, the debt would be paid off over three years, provided that the United Nations carries out administrative reforms Congress has been seeking for years.
In announcing his intention to donate $100 million a year to the United Nations over the coming decade, Turner offered only sketchy guidelines as to how it might be used. He stressed that the money, to be allocated through a yet-to-be-established nonprofit foundation, not be spent on administrative costs but go directly to projects aimed at addressing environmental and humanitarian problems.
“It’s for things that will make the world a better place,” he said.
There’s no shortage of worthy causes being addressed by the United Nations.
Three likely beneficiaries are the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Program.
UNICEF has projects in more than 100 countries aimed at improving health, welfare and human rights for children and women. Asserting that 12 million children die each year from preventable causes, UNICEF has programs addressing a wide range of children’s maladies.
Improving life for women is another UNICEF priority. It estimates that more than 60 million women have vanished, most of them dead, over the past several decades due to female infanticide and domestic abuse. UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy recently called the problem “the most pervasive human rights violation in the world today.”
UNHCR confronts the staggering array of problems stemming from the global refugee population. At last count, 22 million people had been run off from their homes by genocide, famine, disease or war.
The UNHCR is also helping to clear former war zones of more than 10 million live land mines still lying in wait to maim, cripple or kill.
And the World Food Program struggles to feed millions of starving people around the world, from Azerbaijan to the former Zaire, now the Congo. One of its most urgent areas of concern is North Korea, where an estimated 800,000 children are at serious risk of starvation.
A possible natural for Turner’s donation could be the chronic need for clean drinking water across the developing world, a cause that twins environmental and humanitarian concerns.