by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - While non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and
Oxfam have made significant contributions to human
rights, the environment, and development, they are
using their growing prominence and power to pursue a
"liberal" agenda at the international level that
threatens U.S. sovereignty and free-market capitalism.
the message delivered by a series of speakers at an
all-day conference, "Nongovernmental
Organizations: The Growing Power of an Unelected Few,"
Wednesday sponsored by the American Enterprise
Institute (AEI), a Washington think tank that has been
particularly influential with the Bush administration.
"NGOs have created their own rules and regulations
and demanded that governments and corporations abide
by those rules," according to AEI and the conference
co-sponsor, the rightist Institute of Public Affairs
of Australia. "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."
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 warned.
more light on NGOs, AEI announced the launch of a new
website, NGOWatch.org (www.ngowatch.org),
that will provide information about their operations,
funding sources and political agendas. Brian Hook of
the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy
Studies, which is co-sponsoring the site, said it will
cover those NGOs "with the most influence in
which have proliferated at the local level since the
1980s--particularly in developing countries--have
become major players at the United Nations and other
multilateral agencies, such as the World Bank, which
had traditionally dealt only with governments. Several
thousand NGOs now enjoy "consultative status" at the
UN, which entitles them to participate in some
debates, while their image as representatives of
"global civil society" has endowed them with a moral
and political legitimacy, which they have used as
leverage in dealing with the other major global
actors, governments and corporations.
unlike corporations and governments, they are largely
unregulated, and their internal processes often lack
transparency and accountability, according to their
critics and even to many NGOs themselves. Indeed, a UN
commission on civil society chaired by former
Brazilian President Henrique Cardoso is expected to
recommend the adoption of guidelines or other
mechanisms to ensure that NGOs recognized by the UN
are transparent and accountable.
groups who gathered at AEI Wednesday, however,
international NGOs raise concerns that go far beyond
transparency and accountability. To them, the
international NGOs are pursuing a leftist or "liberal"
agenda that favors "global governance" and other
notions that are also promoted by the United Nations
and other multilateral agencies.
inherently a project that is tilted to the left,"
according to Cornell University government professor
Jeremy Rabkin, who argued that NGOs are using the
multilateral system to try to regulate corporations
want to be players. They want to be regulators,"
agreed Institute of Public Affairs's Gary Johns. He
cited NGO lobbying for the adoption of codes of
conduct for multinational corporations. "Before long,
you have a degree of regulation that no one thought
according to George Washington University political
science professor Jarol Manheim, international NGOs
are pursuing "a new and pervasive form of conflict"
against corporations which he calls "Biz-war," the
title of his forthcoming book. NGOs, for example, work
with sympathetic 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."
echoed by John Entine, an AEI adjunct fellow, who
called the "social investing" movement, as it is
called, a "wolf in sheep's clothing. "Anti-free market
NGOs under the guise of corporate reform are extending
their reach into the boardrooms of corporations," he
said. "In many cases, naive corporate reformers,
within corporations and in government, are welcoming
the strategy is working. "Big shareholders are getting
embarrassed to be associated with some companies,"
said Manheim, who noted that companies are
increasingly using NGOs as consultants or even hiring
former NGO officials to protect themselves against
negative publicity or consumer boycotts.
global political front, international NGOs, which led
the fight for the global ban on anti-personnel mines,
the Kyoto Protocol to curb greenhouse-gas emissions,
and the treaty establishing the International Criminal
Court (ICC), are pursuing a "liberal internationalist"
vision that is very much at odds with that of the Bush
administration, according to American University law
professor Kenneth Anderson.
efforts are intended in part to further a world order
based on "global governance" and the rule of
international law, rather than one based on the
sovereignty of democratic nation states. The leaders
of international NGOs are part of a culture that
"wants to constrain the United States" and whose ideas
about world order "are not congenial to the ideas of
this administration," according to Anderson.
speakers praised the work of NGOs in providing
services and humanitarian aid to needy people in
developing countries but stressed that, at the
international policy level, much of what they did
actually hurt the intended beneficiaries. Roger Bate,
director of Africa Fighting Malaria, cited NGOs'
opposition to the use of DDT to fight malaria and to
the delivery of genetically-modified maize in southern
Africa as examples of policies which amounted to
"eco-imperialism" and showed a "callous disregard for
definitely provide benefits in the short run, but in
the long run, their influence is almost always
malign," he said.
Nahan, Institute of Public Affairs's executive
director, charged that international NGOs supported
secession movements in East Timor and Aceh, Indonesia;
put Papua New Guinea "on the road to bankruptcy" by
forcing out the mining industry; and is "destroying
civil society in many of these countries."