Budget negotiations at the U.N. are probably boring, drawn-out affairs, and as such, delegates apparently have a tradition of having a drink or two before the meetings begin. But according to Joseph Torsella, the U.S. ambassador for management and reform at the United Nations, certain delegates have been showing up completely wasted to recent negotiations.
"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 Tuesday during a meeting of the U.N.'s budget committee, also 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."
A UN delegate confirmed the reports of drinking to Foreign Policy. "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 delegate said.
According to Foreign Policy, the delegates getting drunk most frequently are those representing developing countries, known as the Group of 77 (though there are now 132 countries in that group). There's also been recent beef between the Group of 77 and the U.S. and other wealthier countries over how budget votes are handled; the rich countries favor approval by consensus, which allows them the power to veto, where as the Group of 77 prefer approval by majority, a process the group used to their advantage in December.
So is Torsella trying to take away the fun, boozey budget sessions as payback? Maybe. He's certainly not a fan of the whole majority voting technique, telling the group "we caution our colleagues against the major consequences to the U.N. that would follow from substituting 'majority' for 'consensus.'"
The drinking, in some cases, is an integral part of the negotiations — a social lubricant offered up to soften an adversary's negotiating position or simply a delaying tactic to put off final decision until the final hours, when negotiators are keen to get back home for the holidays and concessions are easier to exact.
"It's all about the last one standing is the winner," said one Security Council diplomat who has participated in many U.N. budget negotiations. "After three weeks together and 20 hours a day, people start to get really comfortable enough. But if you are dumb enough to get so drunk you can't negotiate, then you deserve [to get out played]."
"By the way, it's not just Africans. The Russians do it," the delegate continued. "There's nothing new or surprising about this. Canada used to bring whisky. The French used to bring bottles of wine," said the diplomat.
Some envoys have turned up for talks "falling down drunk," said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. "On one occasion the note-taker who was meant to be recording the talks was so intoxicated he had to be replaced," said another.
In other words, the U.S. delegate wants to end both a tactical advantage and what sounds like a great time.