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<nettime> NGOs: The Growing Power of an Un-elected Few
Kermit Snelson on Sun, 15 Jun 2003 04:45:59 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> NGOs: The Growing Power of an Un-elected Few

Many of you will recall that the phrase "NGOs are the future oppressive
postgovernments of the world" has been a nettime trope since early 1997.

Well, this concern about "the growing power of an unelected few" is now
shared by a powerful ally:  the democracy-minded people who just brought
us the war on Iraq.


Bringing the War Home: Right Wing Think Tank Turns Wrath on NGOs
By Jim Lobe

June 13, 2003

Editor: John Gershman, Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC)
Editor's Note: This piece was commissioned under the auspices of the
Project Against the Present Danger.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Having led the charge to war in Iraq, the American Enterprise Institute
(AEI), an influential think tank close to the Bush administration, has
added a new target: international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
AEI and its partner in the project, the Federalist Society for Law and
Public Policy Studies, are setting their sights on those groups with a
"progressive" or "liberal" agenda that favors "global governance" and
other notions that are also promoted by the United Nations and other
multilateral agencies.

The two organizations announced June 11th that they are launching a new
website (www.NGOWatch.org) to expose the funding, operations, and
agendas of international NGOs, and particularly their alleged efforts to
constrain U.S. freedom of action in international affairs and influence
the behavior of corporations abroad. The organizations are especially
alarmed by what they see as the naiveté of the Bush administration and
corporations that provide NGOs with funding and other support. "In many
cases, naive corporate reformers, within corporations and in government,
are welcoming them," complained John Entine, an AEI fellow.

To mark the site's launch, AEI, which is funded mainly by major
corporations and right-wing foundations, also held an all-day conference
entitled NGOs: The Growing Power of an Un-elected Few, which featured a
series of presentations depicting NGOs as a growing and largely
unaccountable threat to the Bush administration's foreign policy goals
and free-market capitalism around the world. The conference was
co-sponsored by the right-wing Australian think tank, the Institute of
Public Affairs (IPA). "NGOs have created their own rules and regulations
and demanded that governments and corporations abide by those rules,"
according to conference organizers. "Politicians and corporate leaders
are often forced to respond to the NGO media machine, and the resources
of taxpayers and shareholders are used in support of ends they did not
sanction. The extraordinary growth of advocacy NGOs in liberal
democracies has the potential to undermine the sovereignty of
constitutional democracies, as well as the effectiveness of credible
NGOs," they added.

Both the website launch and Wednesday's conference might normally be
dismissed as a pep rally of a far right obsessed with left-wing and
European conspiracies to impose world government on the United States
and destroy capitalism. But the fact that no less than 42 senior
administration foreign policy and justice officials have been recruited
from AEI and the Federalists and that AEI "fellows" include such
prominent figures as Lynne Cheney (the vice president's spouse), former
UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and the influential Iraq hawk and
former chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle,
suggests that Wednesday's events may herald a much more antagonistic
attitude toward NGOs on the part of the government.

Global Governance a "Stalinist Concept"

The conference was also held on the heels of harshly critical remarks
late last month by Andrew Natsios, the director of the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID), which often contracts with NGOs for
relief and development work. Natsios reportedly charged that NGOs
receiving USAID funding for projects in Afghanistan and elsewhere were
not giving sufficient credit to the U.S. government as the source of the
aid. His remarks coincided with moves by USAID to use more private
contractors, instead of NGOs, for work in Iraq and other countries, and
to impose stricter rules regarding contacts between NGOs working on
USAID projects and the press that would reduce their independence. In
that context, according to one international NGO official who asked not
to be identified, the AEI conference could be seen as part of a
troublesome pattern. "There are a number of things we're seeing that we
want to be sure are nothing more than coincidence," he said.

The general message at Wednesday's conference was that while NGOs like
Amnesty International, CARE, Oxfam, and Friends of the Earth have
performed valuable work in promoting human rights, development, and
environmental protection, their general policies, particularly at the
international level, may be inimical to U.S. interests and free-market

According to George Washington University political science professor
Jarol Manheim, international NGOs are pursuing "a new and pervasive form
of conflict" against multinational corporations, which he calls
"Biz-War," the title of his forthcoming book. NGOs, for example, work
with like-minded institutional investors, such as union- and church-
based pension funds, to sponsor shareholder resolutions demanding that
corporations adopt more environment--or human rights--friendly policies.
Such efforts, he said, should be seen as "part of a larger, anti-
corporate campaign," which includes consumer boycotts and other efforts
to influence corporate behavior. Companies are increasingly engaging in
joint projects with NGOs, using them as consultants, or even hiring
former NGO officials to protect themselves against negative publicity.

This was echoed by John Entine, an AEI adjunct fellow, who called the
"social investing" movement, a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and argued
that "anti-free market NGOs under the guise of corporate reform are
extending their reach into the boardrooms of corporations." Cornell
University government professor Jeremy Rabkin was particularly
contemptuous of corporations that tried to establish good relations with
NGOs by, for example, working on joint projects or contributing money or
other kinds of support. "Why are NGOs in a position to confer
legitimacy?" he asked. "A lot of this is a kind of protection racket."

On the political front, international NGOs, which in recent years led
the fight for the global ban on anti-personnel mines, the Kyoto Protocol
to fight global warming, and the treaty establishing the International
Criminal Court, are pursuing a "liberal internationalist" vision that
"wants to constrain the United States," said American University law
professor Kenneth Anderson.

The groups prefer a world order based on "global governance" and the
rule of international law to one that is based on "democratic
sovereignty," where nation-states whose governments are subject to the
vote of the people are the highest authority. In this quest, they are
aided by UN agencies, which see in international NGOs and the global
civil society they claim to represent an "alternative form of legitimacy
beyond democracy," Anderson said.

"If you think about it, of course this is a left-wing program," added
Rabkin. "The whole enterprise of global governance is going to appeal
more to the parties of the left ... If it is global, it is anti-
national," he said, at one point noting that the original notion of a
nongovernmental organization was a "Stalinist concept."

(Jim Lobe is a political analyst with Foreign Policy in Focus (online at
www.fpif.org). He also writes regularly for Inter Press Service.)

Published by Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF), a joint project of the
Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC, online at www.irc-online.org) and
the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS, online at www.ips-dc.org). ©2003.
All rights reserved.

Recommended citation:
Jim Lobe, "Bringing the War Home: Right Wing Think Tank Turns Wrath on
NGOs," (Silver City, NM & Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, June
13, 2003).

Web location:

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