U.S. to U.N. Delegates: Stop Negotiating Drunk

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 5 2013 10:20 AM

The U.S. Would Really Like It if U.N. Delegates Would Stop Getting So Drunk

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Members of the UN General Assembly applaud after a 2012 vote

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Joseph Torsella, the U.S. ambassador for management and reform at the United Nations, gave an unusual censure to his U.N. colleagues yesterday, asking them to cut back on their drinking before delicate budget negotiations. Really. Here's Foreign Policy with the ambassador's pull-quote:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

"As for the conduct of negotiations, we make the modest proposal that the negotiation rooms should in future be an inebriation-free zone," Torsella said in a meeting of the U.N. membership's budget committee, known as the Fifth Committee. "While my government is truly grateful for the strategic opportunities presented by some recent practices, lets save the champagne for toasting the successful end of the session, and do some credit to the Fifth Committee's reputation in the process."
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From the sounds of it, diplomats have a somewhat long history of having a drink or two before and during budget negotiations as a way to ease tensions, but for the most part have been able to keep things in moderation in the past. However, things reportedly got a bit out of hand at one particular meeting last December during marathon talks that routinely kept the international body's budget committee working late. FP:

As the United States sought to rally support for a proposal to freeze U.N. staff pay in December, it found that key negotiating partners, particularly delegates from the Group of 77 developing countries, were not showing up for meetings. When they did arrive, they had often been drinking. ...
Throughout the budget negotiations, delegates maintained a stock of booze in a negotiating room, according to the U.N.-based diplomat. The diplomat said that the heavy drinking reflected a wider ethos that was aimed at stymieing changes at the United Nations.

One unnamed diplomat compared the meetings to a circus, during which at least one of his colleagues drank so much that he became ill. "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," the diplomat said.

It should be noted that the so-called Group of 77 (which now actually includes 132 countries) has a long-standing problem with how the U.N. hashes out its budget—a process that gives the body's wealthiest members a veto not offered to poorer nations—so any excessive boozing may have been about protesting as much as partying. You can read more about the tensions behind the budget negotiations that apparently forced the diplomats to turn to the bottle over at Foreign Policy.

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