The United Nations is a pretty fun place. The headquarters hosts all kinds of cultural events. Everyone's open-minded about the dress code. Delegates can even show up hammered to budget negotiations. Or at least they used to be able to.
At a General Assembly budget committee meeting on Monday, the United States ambassador for management and reform at the UN stood up to scold his colleagues for always showing up drunk to negotiations. said Joseph "The Fun Police" Torsella. "We make the modest proposal that the negotiating rooms should in future be an inebriation-free zone." While my government is truly grateful for the strategic opportunities presented by some recent past practices, let's save the champagne for toasting the successful end of the session, and do some credit to the Fifth Committee’s reputation in the process."
This is apparently not a new problem. The budget committee meetings tend to run late into the night at this time of year, as delegates struggle to meet deadlines. Some diplomats spoke up after Torsella's very public shaming and said it's not uncommon for delegates to show up visibly drunk to negotiations. We're not talking about cheerful, oops-I-had-a-glass-of-chardonnay-at-dinner drunk either. "There has always been a good and responsible tradition of a bit of alcohol improving a negotiation, but we're not talking about a delegate having a nip at the bar," one unnamed diplomat told the press, mentioning one incident where a delegate got so hammered that he barfed, though it's unclear where. Another explained, "On one occasion the note-taker who was meant to be recording the talks was so intoxicated he had to be replaced." One more unnamed diplomat said that delegates were showing up "falling down drunk."
What's sort of silly about Torsella politely asking these leaders of the world to show up sober to work is the simple fact that's it's just a request. It's not like the US ambassador can dissolve the committee due to misbehavior, though he did say "we will respond accordingly" if the party animals can't clean up their acts.
On that note, leave it to the country with the high drinking age and fewest vacation days to tell other countries how to get stuff done. Like Torsella said, a couple drinks can really take the edge off of tense negotiations, and everybody knows it. Heck, the Houses of Parliament in London is home to several pubs and bars.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misattributed the "nip at the bar" quote to Joseph Torsella. In fact, it was one of Torsella's colleagues that made the comment. We've pasted Torsella's remarks in full below for added clarity:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The U.S. delegation has no objection to the draft program of work as prepared by the bureau. Despite the heavy workload, which includes many agenda items left incomplete from the main session as well as some new items, my delegation is committed to working with all delegations to complete the work of the first part of the resumed session as scheduled.
In order to do so, however, we are convinced that the Committee must stop a number of practices that have become commonplace and which have contributed to the inability, in recent sessions, of this Committee to conduct its important work in a timely and appropriate fashion. My delegation would like to take this opportunity to comment on several important process-related issues.
The commitment of the U.S. delegation to completing the work of the Committee on time is not mere lip service. We wish to make clear, especially after the experience of our last session in December, that we fully expect to conclude before the Good Friday holiday, and believe this goal is easily achievable.
We are prepared to take all appropriate steps to achieve this, including working outside of normal working hours and making the necessary arrangements to facilitate parallel meetings as required. If, however, negotiators do not arrive on time for meetings scheduled on nights and weekends, or simply refuse to meet on a specific item in order to run down the clock, we must conclude that they do not share a commitment to negotiating in good faith, and we will respond accordingly. It will be difficult, we know, to tear ourselves away from the North Lawn Building at three in the morning, but we will manage somehow.
As for the conduct of negotiations, Mr. Chairman, we make the modest proposal that the negotiating rooms should in future be an inebriation-free zone. While my government is truly grateful for the strategic opportunities presented by some recent past practices, let’s save the champagne for toasting the successful end of the session, and do some credit to the Fifth Committee’s reputation in the process.
As we have often said, the United States remains firmly committed to consensus-based decision-making in the Fifth Committee. We believe that consensus, which in the UN context is commonly defined as the absence of objection, is the best way to ensure that the interests of all parties to a negotiation are met. This assurance has long been and remains fundamental in securing the confidence of major financial contributors such as the United States in the work of the Organization. In the management and financing of the Organization, only those Fifth Committee resolutions agreed by all stakeholders by consensus can be considered legitimate, and as such we caution our colleagues against the major consequences to the UN that would follow from substituting “majority” for “consensus”.
Therefore, Mr. Chairman, my delegation believes the submission of an L-document, or a threat to that effect, before a draft resolution on an agenda item has been adopted informally to be in clear contravention of the principle of consensus-based decision-making.
Finally, Mr. Chairman,
The work of the Fifth Committee is, by the nature of its broad remit, inextricably linked to the work of all of the bodies of the Organization. As such, the U.S. delegation approaches its participation in the Fifth Committee in the context of its broader multilateral engagement at the United Nations and in line with the normal conduct of United States foreign policy. In line with this Committee’s oversight role, in the coming session we hope that all delegations will use scheduled formal meetings, as appropriate, to request senior Secretariat officials to provide on-the-record clarifications on administrative and budgetary matters of particular interest. As we have said here before, the UN will benefit from more Fifth Committee attention to the larger issues and trends driving UN costs and performance. We intend to do our part toward that goal through our conduct in these sessions, and hope we will be widely joined in that effort.
My delegation remains fully committed to working constructively with all colleagues under your able leadership to reach decisions on time and by consensus on all of the agenda items scheduled for consideration during the first part of this resumed sixty-seventh session.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman.