Why the US Ain't in the Inter-Parliamentary Union

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 3/22/2012 08:43:00 AM
Here's another factoid you can use to embarrass even the most vaunted international relations pooh-bahs alike my blogging colleagues (especially of the garden-variety American sort): Ask them whether the United States is a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union composed of nations that have legislatures. The response you'll probably get involves something along the lines of (1) "I didn't even know there was such as thing" and (2) "as a global promoter of democracy, the US is probably a member of it."

Both responses are embarrassing in the sense that, (1) even if the Inter-Parliamenary Union is obscure--hence my fondness of it--the folks who blather endlessly about democracy promotion are mostly unaware of its existence. What's more, (2) there has been no clamour on the part of these ostensible champions of democracy to regain lost US membership in the institution.

In any event, here's a neat description from a Congressional Report Service document on democracy promotion that I found while researching something related that speaks to this discrepancy of non-membership. From footnote 83:
The IPU was established in 1889 as an association of individual parliamentarians and the world’s first permanent multilateral political forum. The United States was one of the original participants in IPU activities begun in 1889 and formally joined in 1935 when the House and Senate enacted statutory authority for U.S. participation in the IPU (49 Stat. 425). Congressional participation in the IPU gradually diminished. In July 1997, Congress (through the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate) notified the IPU that, given the diminished congressional  participation, the U.S. Congress could no longer justify the annual U.S. contribution of almost $1 million or 15% of the IPU annual budget and  had decided to reduce its membership status and proposed to make an annual donation of $500,000 to support the aims of the organization. The IPU Executive Committee did not accept the offer so, in 1998, Congress passed legislation to end U.S. participation on October 1, 1999 (ultimately attached to P.L. 105-277, Sec.  2503). It would presumably require new legislation to restore U.S. membership.
It is odd how American lawmakers in 1999 could not justify spending a million dollars annually on an institution that it was a founding member of that spoke to its avowed ideals. Meanwhile, they soon had little trouble justifying spending tens of billions annually year in and year out prosecuting (highly unsuccessful) misadventures in promoting democracy in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. While largely symbolic, what does US non-membership in the Inter-Parliamentary Union symbolize for these folks who endlessly bloviate about the importance of freedom?