Beware of Innocent-Sounding NGOs!

By Norman A. Bailey*
Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 @ 4:10PM

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Ostensibly benign, independent NGOs are effective propaganda tools for those with the means – such as Qatar,Russia…and George Soros.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are becoming ever more significant on the international scene.  Non-profit and generally non-taxed organizations, ostensibly with educational, charitable, human rights and environmental and other goals and activities, do studies, issue reports, hold meetings and conferences and lobby governments and international organizations.

It is often believed that these NGOs are either naïve, or driven by ideology, or both, and they have often been accused of being one-sided in their studies and publications, carefully choosing data that supports their positions and ignoring contrary data.  Nevertheless, they continue to exert substantial influence over many areas of public debate, often because they provide ammunition to government officials and bureaucrats, as well as to candidates and political parties supposedly coming from “objective” sources.

Recently, however, a more serious charge is being leveled at some of these NGOs–namely, that their activities on behalf of certain causes are bought and paid for by interested parties.  Martin Indyk, former U.S. negotiator for the still-born Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” in the Obama Administration, was forced to resign when it was revealed that his organization, the highly-respected and -influential Brooking Institution, had received very significant funding from the government of Qatar, which seemed to explain the infamous meeting that Secretary of State Kerry had in Paris with the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey, whom he proposed act as “objective” intermediaries between the two sides.

In the past few weeks it has transpired that several respected environmental NGOs, such as the Sierra Club, one of the largest and most respected, had been receiving millions of dollars from various Bermuda-based companies and funds, the ultimate source of which was non-other than the government of Russia.  The purpose of this support was to increase public and government opposition to fracking technologies, which have resulted in substantial competition to those countries dependent on oil and gas revenues, such as Russia.  The curious failure for years of the Obama Administration to approve the oil pipeline from Western Canada to heavy-oil refineries in Texas, despite two favorable environmental impact reports from the State Department, may be traced to the influence of environmental NGOs, the activities of which are, in turn, financed by Russia.

The financier George Soros has been funding Jewish organizations opposed to the current government of Israel, such as J Street and others, in an attempt to assure the defeat of Prime Minister Netanyahu in the impending election.

The lessons to be learned from these and other examples are, first:  take all studies, reports and allegations with a large grain of salt until confirmed by alternative and non-related sources, especially when it comes to “scientific” evidence that it may turn out is not so much scientific as purchased.

Secondly, all NGOs should be forced not only to reveal funding sources, but also to identify who or what is behind some benign-sounding funders, such as “Earth-Friendly Fund of the Cayman Islands” or whatever.

A final note on other, related, Russian activities outside the motherland.  In addition to the flexing of military muscle in Ukraine and Georgia, as well as overflights, naval exercises and other actions, as well as the cyber attack some years ago on Estonia, Russia under Putin has been developing a huge, sophisticated external propaganda campaign.  Examples of such uses of “soft” power in the Western Hemisphere have recently been detailed in think-tank reports, but by far the most significant target of these activities is Europe, and especially with reference to the parties of the extreme left and right, which are increasing exponentially in coverage and significance.  One such party just came to power in Greece, and several other elections are scheduled elsewhere in Europe this year and next, including in such major countries as Great Britain, Spain and France.  In the latter, the extreme-right Front National party was the recipient of funding from a bank associated with the Russian government.

* Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa

* A version of this commentary was published by GLOBES

 

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