The United Nations is a product of another time, a post World War II era when excessive drinking was just good fun and smoking was cool. Now as the world around it has changed, including the size of soft drinks at nearby restaurants, a culture of drinking persists among UN diplomats.
“As for the conduct of negotiations, we make the modest proposal that the negotiation rooms should in future be an inebriation-free zone,” Joseph Torsella, the US ambassador for management and reform at the UN, said in a meeting of the UN membership’s budget committee Monday. “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.”
There is plenty of blame to go around. Diplomats suggest that Canadians bring whisky. The Russians bring vodka. The French? Wine. But the provision of alcohol would not be an issue without the motivation to drink it.
The UN budget is usually approved by consensus, but many of the members would prefer to vote by majority. Wealthier nations, such as the United States, Japan, and Western Europe, prefer the veto power that a consensus vote provides them. They supply the bulk of the budget, and they do not want the direction of the budget determined by the developing nations that outnumber them but provide less money.
The negotiation process is long and grueling, often lasting late into the night. Some suspect that delegates, especially those from less influential nations, drink to numb the monotony. Others view their drinking as an act of protest. Others drink simply because it is what diplomats do.
“The UN has been cleaning itself up physically, but there is still a sort of residual 1950s, 1960s feel to the culture,” Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations at New York University’s Center for International Cooperation and the son of a diplomat, said in The New York Times. “You do sort of feel that you are sort of stuck in the past.”
There have been efforts made to clean up the culture of the UN. Smoking was banned in the building in 2008. Building renovations in 2010 have made getting a drink difficult after 3 pm.
As negotiations take longer, the hours more numerous, and the holidays move closer, the challenge of finding alcohol becomes a minor inconvenience. Inside the United Nations building, some delegates are just going to drink, and others will drink too much.