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U.N. Influence on Domestic Policy

By Michael Coffman Ph.D., and Henry Lamb



The United Nations now administers more than five hundred treaties, of which 175 treaties and protocols directly influence policies of the federal, state, and local government. These treaties and agreements often have noble goals and seem to address a real need within the global community. However, obscure or statist language inherent within the treaties often results in U.S. law, and subsequent regulations, that conflict with the principle of individual sovereignty interwoven into the Constitution of the United States (hereafter called the Constitution).

An Example

For instance, to meet the letter of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the DOI had to cut off irrigation water to 1400 farmers in the Klamath River Irrigation District in Southern Oregon during the growing season of 2001. While at best unpleasant for the Bureau of Reclamation which was initially responsible for cutting off the water at the head gates, it was devastating for the 1400 families who saw their land value plummet from around $850 per acre, to $50 per acre.

Their means of making a living was denied by a law that gave higher priority to sucker fish than American citizens. All the while, the farmers claim that they had legal entitlement to the Klamath River water rights that should have been protected under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. The farmers were not the only ones harmed in this action. Those businesses that depended on local agriculture were also hard hit, impacting the economic base of the entire county by hundreds of millions of dollars and an estimated 6,000 jobs.

Yet, a close review of the five international treaties that authorized the ESA would have revealed a potential conflict with the Constitution.

The Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere (hereafter called the Western Convention) calls for preserving,

"in their natural habitat representatives of all species and genera of their native flora and fauna, including migratory birds, in sufficient numbers and over areas extensive enough to assure them from becoming extinct through any agency within man's control..."

To assure that the species have "natural habitat...over areas extensive enough to assure them from becoming extinct" the treaty calls for the establishment of national parks, national reserves, nature monuments and wilderness areas. While the protection of endangered species is a legitimate use of these designated areas, Article V of the treaty calls for the government to also control land use "within their [the nation's] national boundaries but not included in the national parks, national reserves, nature monuments, or strict wilderness reserves," i.e. all affected private land.

It seems likely that such language led directly to Section 4a(3) of the ESA whereby

"The Secretary (of Interior) the maximum extent prudent and determinable - shall...designate any habitat of [an endangered] species... [as] critical habitat."

Such habitat, by definition in Section 3(5)(A)(i and ii) means "the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species, at the time it is listed in ..., on which are found those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation of the species and (II) which may require special management considerations or protection; and specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is..., upon a determination by the Secretary that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species."


Such land use restrictions on designated critical habitat are to be applied to private land as well as public land, just as stated in the Western Convention. Such land use restrictions "for public use" are Constitutional under the Fifth Amendment providing the government pay "just compensation" for the use of the land. After all, most endangered species listings consider the species as being endangered because of human destruction of its sustaining habitat.

The application of the Fifth Amendment in this case would justly compensate a landowner (or property owner in the case of water rights) for using their property to restore to health a species that is endangered because of the actions of all citizens. Society caused the species to become endangered, so society should pay the bill to restore it. That enormous financial cost should not be imposed on the few property owners who still have some of the habitat remaining, as has been the case until recently. This is but one recent example of many in which international treaties are systematically undermining the Constitution needlessly. The question then becomes, why?

Two Opposing Philosophies at Play

While the intent and goals of international treaties and agreements are noble, they are almost invariably statist in their application. In almost every instance, private rights are lost to the direct control of government authority. The emerging statist approach to creating and applying law in the United States has enormous implications and threatens the very foundations that have made America the greatest nation in history. Indeed, the seriousness of the threat to America, its people, and its environment cannot be appreciated without at least a rudimentary understanding of the dynamics of two historical philosophies that have been struggling for supremacy for the past 250 years; those of John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau.

America's Constitution is rooted in the thought of John Locke (1632-1704), whose Two Treatises on Government (1689), provided a framework for England's Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the American Revolution of 1776. This political philosophy, with its basis in individual rights and embodiment in limited constitutional government, has been under attack for nearly two centuries by the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), whose Social Contract (1762), with its focus on the abstract "general will" of the people, was hailed by the extremists of the French Revolution. (1)

Locke demonstrated that the foundation of a progressive civilization, as outlined in his Second Treatise of Government, begins with natural rights - rights to what Locke terms "life, liberty and estate." These rights do not derive from government, according to Locke, but are essential to mankind as part of the scheme of nature.

The great scholars Frederic Bastiat and Sir William Blackstone refined these ideas until Thomas Jefferson made them the cornerstone of the Declaration of Independence. The underlying principle of this enlightenment was simple. Civilization is governed by certain natural laws. Violating these laws does not break nature's physical laws, but only results in man breaking himself. Blackstone claimed that these natural laws are: "superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times; no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this.... no human legislature has power to abridge or destroy them, unless the owner shall himself commit some act that amounts to a forfeiture." (2)


The purpose of government, according to Locke is to join with others to: "unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estate, which I call by the general name, property. The great and chief end, therefore, of men uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property." (3)


Since much of the Constitution was based on Locke's pattern of governance, it is not surprising that James Madison claimed this belief as the backbone of the Constitution, "Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well as that which lies in the various rights of individuals.... this being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures, to every man, whatever is his own." (4)


Except for a very few instances, such as the government of the Anglo Saxons, the American form of governance based on property rights and individual sovereignty within a constitutional republic has stood nearly alone in history.

In contrast, the statist approach has dominated the governments of almost every nation for millennia. It is best expressed in recent history through the writings of Rousseau who provided the foundational philosophy that spawned the bloody French Revolution and inspired the writings of Immanuel Kant, Georg W. F. Hegel and Karl Marx (5), thereby planting the seeds for the European model of socialism and Russian communism.

Rousseau attacked the Lockean model in the name of the wholeness of man, arguing that it divides man by focusing on self-interest, individual rights, and property. Instead, Rousseau sees "man as a malleable creature; he favors primitive man, the noble savage who lives in simple equality with his fellow man, with few needs, a limited appetite, over man in civilized society." (6)


Rousseau seeks to achieve this equality through a vague metaphysical concept called the "general will." To overcome the tension between individual interests and the community, Rousseau argues for the creation of the common good as embodied through an abstract, objective public will, a will that is free from our subjective selves and personal interests. The state determines the general will, or common good of the people.

Rousseau likewise places strict social control on private property to prevent the inequalities that he believes will lead to social division and private interest. In the Social Contract, Rousseau acknowledges the great force of the state by admitting that raw force can be used to bring consent to the general will; "That whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be constrained to do so by the entire body.... In this lies the key to the working of the political machine; this alone legitimises civil undertakings." (7) In doing so, Rousseau states the individual "will be forced to be free."


So much is Rousseau against property rights that he states that "you are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all, and the earth to no one!" (8)

Property rights, claims Rousseau, was designed by the rich to place "new fetters on the poor, and gave new powers to the rich; which irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, eternally fixed the law of property and inequality, converted clever usurpation into unalterable right, and, for the advantage of a few ambitious individuals, subjected all mankind to perpetual labour, slavery and wretchedness." (9)


Hence, the state should be supreme over its citizens; "The state, in relation to its members, is master of all goods through the social contract, which, within the state, is the basis of all rights.In the struggle between these two major philosophies of governance, nowhere is the Rousseau model more evident than in the United Nations and the international and national environmental movements.

International Treaties and the Rousseau Model

Rousseau's model of the general will, land policy and property rights was officially articulated by the United Nations in Agenda Item 10 of the Conference Report for the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat I), held in Vancouver, May 31 - June 11, 1976: "Land...cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the market. Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice; if unchecked, it may become a major obstacle in the planning and implementation of development schemes. The provision of decent dwellings and healthy conditions for the people can only be achieved if land is used in the interests of society as a whole. Public control of land use is therefore indispensable...."

Throughout this United Nations document, Rousseau's model for private property rights is set forth as the basis for future United Nations policy: Public ownership or effective control of land in the public interest is the single most important means of...achieving a more equitable distribution of the benefits of development. Governments must maintain full jurisdiction and exercise complete sovereignty over such land. Change in the use of land...should be subject to public control and regulation of the common good. (10)

In 1976, when Habitat I was held, there was no unifying science to justify the need for having government control of property rights to protect the global environment. Hence, during the 1980s a new science was created by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Wildlife Fund, both science advisors to the United Nations.

The IUCN, consisting of 112 governmental agencies - including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. National Park Service and NOAA - and 735 mostly environmental non-governmental organizations, created the holistic science of conservation biology, (11) ostensibly to develop a science with "a new ethic, embracing plants and animals as well as people." (12)

Conservation biology is based on the unproven assumption that nature knows best and that all human use and activity should follow natural patterns within relatively homogenous soil-vegetation-hydrology landscapes called ecosystems. (13)

Since ecosystems cross man-made property lines, and since conservation biology called for holistic management of entire ecosystems to ostensibly protect the perceived fragile web of life, environmental law had to be superior to property rights.

To legitimize this unproven science, the Society of Conservation Biology was created by the IUCN in 1985 and was initially funded by various foundations. The true goal of conservation biology was made clear when the journal Conservation Biology began publication in 1987. Michael Soulé, founder and then president of the Society of Conservation Biology, outlined the radical purpose of conservation biology:

The society is a response to the biological diversity crisis that will reach a crescendo in the first half of the twenty-first century. We assume implicitly that the worst biological disaster in the last 65 million years can be averted. We assume implicitly that environmental wounds inflicted by ignorant humans and destructive technologies can be treated by wiser humans and by wholesome technologies.


While it is true that we have local and global environmental problems, there is little hard empirical data to support such a negative, hopeless statement. The standard by which Soule made this astonishing statement is based more on the unproven belief that nature knows best. Since man has had such an impact on nature, it must consequently lead to an ecological disaster. At the same time, the theory of conservation biology serves a very useful purpose to highlight an emerging, and in some local cases, a real problem that needs to be addressed.

As an emerging science, therefore, not all within conservation biology is necessarily wrong. It does provide a way of looking at environmental problems on a larger scale. Yet, it is an immature science and much of conservation biology is pseudoscience based on unproven assumption after unproven assumption. The lack of empirical evidence is justified by the precautionary principle, "Even in the face of uncertainty about the extent or timing of environmental damage, prudent action is required when the outcome of continuing along the same path could be severe or irreversible damage." (14)

Unfortunately, conservation biology has been used politically to justify numerous international treaties national laws, and regulations. These invariably follow Rousseau's model of state control in antithesis to the foundational intent of the Constitution of individual sovereignty and property rights. Entire programs have been developed around these theories within the federal government in the past thirty years, especially the past nine.


At the international level, the IUCN, the World Resources Institute (WRI), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), are responsible for proposing many of the international environmental treaties that affect the United States. Most, if not all of these international treaties are premised on Rousseau's model. A study of publications from these groups reveals that the concepts of sustainable development, ecosystem management, water basin management and other Rousseau-based solutions to perceived environmental problems all originated in these three international organizations, especially the IUCN.

That both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service are official members of the IUCN, along with most major national environmental groups and United Nations agencies, raises a question that U.S. agencies could be unduly, and perhaps unknowingly, influenced by Rousseau's model to the detriment of the foundational principles of the Constitution and the people of the United States.

The IUCN has provided many laudable services since its creation in 1946 as is its current mission statement; "To influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable." The problems originate in its very peculiar vision of "equity," "sustainability," and natural "diversity."

The Spring 1996 issue of the IUCN's Ethics Working Group's publication, Earth Ethics, candidly admits that the IUCN "promotes alternative models for sustainable communities and lifestyles, based in ecospiritual practices and accelerate our transition to a just and sustainable future...humanity must undergo a radical change in its attitudes, values, and behavior.... In response to this situation, a new global ethics is taking form, and it is finding expression in international law." (Italics added)

Despite its pretensions of being a scientific body, the IUCN eschews the scientific method when doing so is convenient. The organization's Commission on Environmental Strategy and Planning (now the Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy) claims a mandate to "change human behavior" by using a strategy "based less on the facts...than on the values they hold." (15)

Indeed, the IUCN's entire approach to conserving the "integrity and diversity of nature" is based not on facts, but on essentially theories of conservation biology. Those theories are themselves rooted in a version of naturalism or even pantheism - the belief that nature is god and therefore knows best. In either case, the belief is held that most human activity leads to "fragmentation" of ecosystems, which in turn leads to a depletion of biodiversity. Fragmentation leaves "islands" of undisturbed ecosystems that supposedly are too small to maintain biodiversity.

Protecting and expanding those "islands" of biodiversity thus becomes imperative, as does connecting those "islands" by "natural corridors". The most notable treaty that incorporates these ideas is the Convention on Biological Diversity (Biodiversity Treaty), which was initially written by the IUCN in 1981, but not formalized into an international treaty until the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

The Biodiversity Treaty had no implementing language when presented to the United States Senate in 1993 for ratification. The treaty, like most international environmental treaties, contains the precautionary principle to justify the need for the treaty in the face of little supporting empirical science.

Likewise, the IUCN philosophy of conservation biology was integrated into various parts of the treaty with goals such as establishing "a system of protected areas or areas where special measures need to be taken to conserve biological diversity;" and promoting "environmentally sound and sustainable development in areas adjacent to protected areas with a view to furthering protection of these areas."

Even more important is the understanding that in 1992 the leadership of the IUCN-sponsored Society of Conservation Biology, Michael Soule and Reed Noss, along with David Foreman, currently a director of the Sierra Club, proposed what is known as the "Wildlands Project," a plan to put fifty percent of America into wilderness; "Half of the land area of the 48 conterminous [United] States be encompassed in core [wilderness] reserves and inner corridor zones (essentially extensions of core reserves) within the next few decades. . . . Half of a region in wilderness is a reasonable guess of what it will take to restore viable populations of large carnivores and natural disturbance regimes, assuming that most of the other 50 percent is managed intelligently as buffer zones. Eventually, a wilderness network would dominate a region and thus would itself constitute the matrix, with human habitations being the islands. . . . Eventually, a wilderness network would dominate a region and thus would itself constitute the matrix, with human habitations being the islands." (16)


By working with the leadership of the United States Senate and providing them with the draft version of Chapter 10 (now Chapter 13) of the UNEP-funded Global Biodiversity Assessment (GBA), what are now the directors of Sovereignty International were able to prove to the Senate that the intention of the treaty was to use the Wildlands Project as the mechanism to restore and protect biological diversity. Section of the draft GBA states, "Representative areas of all major ecosystems in a region need to be reserved. . . . reserved blocks should be as large as possible. . . . buffer zones should be established around core areas and that corridors should connect these areas. This basic design is central to the Wildlands Project in the United States (Noss, 1992), a expand natural habitats and corridors to cover as much as 30% of the U.S. land area." (17)

This evidence, along with a strong link to population control and an obvious bias of the GBA to condemn Western Civilization and promote the theology of pantheistically based "traditional societies" resulted in the failure of the treaty to be ratified in September of 1994.


What is especially disturbing is that federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), also a member of the IUCN, actually called for implementing the Biodiversity Treaty before it was given to the Senate for ratification in August, 1993; "Natural resource and environmental agencies... should...develop a joint strategy to help the United States fulfill its existing international obligations (e.g. Convention on Biological Diversity, Agenda 21). . . .the executive branch should direct federal agencies to evaluate national light of international policies and obligations, and to amend national policies to achieve international objectives." (18)

At the time this EPA document was written, the Convention on Biological Diversity was not yet accepted by the United States. Why was it being treated by a federal agency as if it were? What are the international objectives referred to by the EPA? And, just how does a agency of the United States "amend national policy" when it is clear in the Constitution that this is the sole responsibility of the United States Congress? These are disturbing questions originating within the previous administration. Especially since they potentially have such enormous implications for the people of the United States.

Sustainable Development

The concept of "Sustainable Development" arises from the 1987 U.N.'s World Commission on Environment and Development, headed by Gro Harlem Brundtland, then Vice-chair of the International Socialist Party. The Commission defined sustainable development to be: " meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

This vague statement was given detailed meaning with the adoption of "Agenda 21," by 179 nations represented at the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, in Rio de Janeiro. Agenda 21 is a non-binding document that sets forth 300 pages of specific recommendations that each nation should implement. These recommendations translate the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau into very specific policy actions to control, not only the use of biodiversity, but virtually all human behavior.

The recommendations of Agenda 21 were further refined for the United States by the President's Council on Sustainable Development, created by President Clinton's Executive Order #12852, June 29, 1993, to comply with a recommendation of Agenda 21. This Council consisted of 28 members including Secretaries of several federal departments, CEOs from several environmental organizations, and selected businesses. Their purpose was to transform domestic policy to comply with the recommendations of Agenda 21.

At least six of the federal departments, and all of the environmental organizations represented on the PCSD, were, and continue to be, members of the IUCN. Jay Hair, CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, and member of the PCSD, became President of the IUCN. Gustave Speth, CEO of WRI, joined the Clinton transition team briefly, before being named to head the United Nations Development Program. Rafe Pomerance, chief policy analyst for WRI, joined the Clinton administration's Department of State - a member of the IUCN. It is little wonder that the myriad of programs coming from the IUCN, WRI, WWF, the PCSD and U.N. are coalescing around the concept of sustainable development, in the United States.

The question then becomes, what does "sustainable" really mean? While everyone seems to have an idea of what it means, its definition remains vague at best. For instance, the Convention on Biological Diversity defines sustainable use as: "the use of components of biological diversity in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations."


What components of biological diversity? And just what is biological diversity? Its definition in the treaty is equally vague. And, what constitutes long term decline? Decline for one component of biological diversity can mean an increase in another. Which takes priority? And, just what are the aspirations of this generation, let alone future generations? They vary tremendously by culture and change with time and technology. The concept is so cumbersome that the IUCN requires several pages to define it. (20) The United Nations Sustainable Development website apparently doesn't even try to define it. (21)

The answer to all these questions is this: sustainable development is whatever government says it is, in any given situation. The key, of course, is "whatever government says." Sustainable Development, implemented through the recommendations set forth in Agenda 21, is the manifestation of Rousseau's philosophy which depends upon government authority to order the affairs of people to achieve the objectives of government.


John Locke's philosophy would ensure that government authority be granted by the people, and exist to protect the individual's right to achieve his own objectives. In the United States, we are witnessing the transformation of a society organized on the philosophy expressed by John Locke, to a society organized on the philosophy of Rousseau. Moreover, this philosophy is being dictated by the international community, most of which has never embraced Locke's views, through the United Nations and its affiliated organizations and agencies.

In the United States, public policy should arise from the people who see a need, and ask their elected representatives to enact laws to meet the need. What is now happening, however, is that public policy is envisioned by a handful of elite members of the IUCN, translated into international law through the United Nations, and imposed upon the people through Executive Order, Rule Promulgation, and top-down pressure to enact state and local policies.

Every person who is responsible for enacting public policy, as well as every person who is affected by it, should measure every proposal by the principles of freedom set forth in the U.S. Constitution. Those proposals which respect, defend, and protect the principles of freedom should be considered; those which do not - should be rejected out of hand.



1. Weinstein, Kenneth. "Limited Government Under Assault: Jean-Jacques Rousseau Versus John Locke and the Declaration of Independence." CFACT, 2002, Briefing Paper 111, In Press.

2. Blackstone, William. Commentaries on the Laws of England. Ed. William Carey Jones, 2 Vols (San Francisco; Bancroft-Whitney Company, 1916), 1:63 and 93.

3. Locke, John. Second Treatise Government. Chapter Fourteen, 1690.

4. 4 Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 174. Taken from the essay "Property" written in 1792 and published in the National Gazette, March 27, 1792. See also The Papers of James Madison 266 (Riland, ed, 1977)

5. Weinstein, 2002.

6. Ibid.

7. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. Book I, 7-The Sovereign, Paragraph 8. 1762.

8. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Part II, paragraph 1. 1754.

9. Ibid, paragraph 38.


11. Coffman, Saviors of the Earth?, 130.

12. Steven Rockefeller and John Elder. Spirit and Nature (Boston: Beacon, 1992), 7.

13. Ibid, 135.

14. Commission on Global Governance, Our Global Neighborhood, (Oxford University Press, New York). 1995. Pg 82.

15. Coffman, Michael. "Globalizing Mining in America", Mining Voice. 6(2):26-35.

16. Noss, Reed, "The Wildlands Project," Wild Earth, 1992, pp 10.

17. Global Biodiversity Assessment, (Cambridge University Press, London, New York, 1994) Section, pp 993 of the published document. The GBA was funded by UNEP and administered by the World Resources Institute, a partner of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

18. EPA Internal Working Document, August 6, 1993, pp 9





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