Who is Maurice Strong?

The adventures of Maurice Strong & Co. illustrate the fact that nowadays you don’t have to be a household name to wield global power.

Mr. Bailey is a freelance journalist and television producer in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Eco-Scam: The False Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse (St. Martin’s) and The True State of the Planet (Free Press).

“The survival of civilization in something like its present form might depend significantly on the efforts of a single man,” declared The New Yorker. The New York Times hailed that man as the “Custodian of the Planet.” He is perpetually on the short list of candidates for Secretary General of the United Nations. This lofty eminence? Maurice Strong, of course. Never heard of him? Well, you should have. Militia members are famously worried that black helicopters are practicing maneuvers with blue-helmeted UN troops in a plot to take over America. But the actual peril is more subtle. A small cadre of obscure international bureaucrats are hard at work devising a system of “global governance” that is slowly gaining control over ordinary Americans’ lives. Maurice Strong, a 68-year-old Canadian, is the “indispensable man” at the center of this creeping UN power grab.

Not that Mr. Strong looks particularly indispensable. Indeed, he exudes a kind of negative charisma. He is a grey, short, soft-voiced man with a salt-and-pepper toothbrush mustache who wouldn’t rate a second glance if you passed him on the street. Yet his remarkable career has led him from boyhood poverty in Manitoba to the highest councils of international government.

Among the hats he currently wears are: Senior Advisor to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan; Senior Advisor to World Bank President James Wolfensohn; Chairman of the Earth Council; Chairman of the World Resources Institute; Co-Chairman of the Council of the World Economic Forum; member of Toyota’s International Advisory Board. As advisor to Kofi Annan, he is overseeing the new UN reforms.

Yet his most prominent and influential role to date was as Secretary General of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development –the so-called Earth Summit – held in Rio de Janeiro, which gave a significant push to global economic and environmental regulation.

“He’s dangerous because he’s a much smarter and shrewder man [than many in the UN system],” comments Charles Lichenstein, deputy ambassador to the UN under President Reagan. “I think he is a very dangerous ideologue, way over to the Left.”

“This guy is kind of the global Ira Magaziner,” says Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute. “If he is whispering in Kofi Annan’s ear this is no good at all.”

Strong attracts such mystified suspicion because he is difficult to pin down. He told Maclean’s in 1976 that he was “a socialist in ideology, a capitalist in methodology.” And his career combines oil deals with the likes of Adnan Khashoggi with links to the environmentalist Left. He is in fact one of a new political breed: the bi-sectoral entrepreneur who uses business success for leverage in politics, and vice versa.

Strong started in the oil business in the 1950s. He took over and turned around some small ailing energy companies in the 1960s, and he was president of a major holding company – the Power Corporation of Canada – by the age of 35. This was success by any standard. Yet on more than one occasion (including once in Who’s Who), Strong has been caught exaggerating. He claimed, for instance, to have forfeited a $200,000 salary when he left Power. The real figure, said a company officer, was $35,000. Why this myth-making? Well, a CEO is just a CEO – but a whiz-kid is a potential cabinet officer.

And it is in politics that Strong’s talents really shine. He is the Michelangelo of networking. He early made friends in high places in Canada’s Liberal Party – including Paul Martin Sr., Canada’s external-affairs minister in the Sixties – and kept them as business partners in oil and real-estate ventures. He cultivated bright well-connected young people – like Paul Martin Jr., Canada’s present finance minister and the smart money’s bet to succeed Jean Chretien as prime minister – and salted them throughout his various political and business networks to form a virtual private intelligence service. And he always seemed to know what the next political trend would be – foreign aid, Canadian economic nationalism, environmentalism.

In 1966, by now a Liberal favorite, Strong became head of the Canadian International Development Agency and thus was launched internationally. Impressed by his work at CIDA, UN Secretary General U Thant asked him to organize what became the first Earth Summit –the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. The next year, Strong became first director of the new UN Environment Program, created as a result of Stockholm. And in 1975, he was invited back to Canada to run the semi-national Petro-Canada, created by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in the wake of OPEC’s oil shocks.

Petro-Canada was a sop to Canada’s anti-American Left, then denouncing American ownership of the country’s oil companies. Strong talked a good economic-nationalist game – but he himself was a major reason why Canada’s oil companies were U.S.-owned. Ten years before, while at Power Corporation, he had enabled Shell to take over the only remaining all-Canadian oil company by throwing a controlling block of shares in its direction. As Macleans wrote, he now returned “amid fanfares” to rectify this.

After a couple of years, Strong left Petro-Canada for various business deals, including one with Adnan Khashoggi through which he ended up owning the 200,000-acre Baca ranch in Colorado, now a “New Age” center run by his wife, Hanne. (Among the seekers at Baca are Zen and Tibetan Buddhist monks, a breakaway order of Carmelite nuns, and followers of a Hindu guru called Babaji.) Not for long the joys of contemplation, however. In 1985, he was back as executive coordinator of the UN Office for Emergency Operations in Africa, in charge of running the $3.5-billion famine-relief effort in Somalia and Ethiopia. And in 1989, he was appointed Secretary General of the Earth Summit — shortly thereafter flying down to Rio.

Strong’s flexibility, however, must not be mistaken for open-mindedness. His friends, his allies among Canadian Liberals, his networks in the UN and the Third World, even his long-term business partners (like the late Paul Nathanson, wartime treasurer of the Canadian-Soviet Friendship Committee) all lean Left. He has said the Depression left him “frankly very radical.” And given his ability to get things done, the consistency of his support for a world managed by bureaucrats is alarming. As Elaine Dewar wrote in Toronto’s Saturday Night magazine:

It is instructive to read Strong’s 1972 Stockholm speech and compare it with the issues of Earth Summit 1992. Strong warned urgently about global warming, the devastation of forests, the loss of biodiversity, polluted oceans, the population time bomb. Then as now, he invited to the conference the brand-new environmental NGOs [non-governmental organizations]: he gave them money to come; they were invited to raise hell at home. After Stockholm, environment issues became part of the administrative framework in Canada, the U.S., Britain, and Europe.

IN the meantime, Strong continued the international networking on which his influence rests. He became a member of the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission). He found time to serve as president of the World Federation of United Nations Associations, on the executive committee of the Society for International Development, and as an advisor to the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund. Above all, he served on the Commission on Global Governance –which, as we shall see, plays a crucial part in the international power grab.

Sometimes, indeed, it seems that Strong’s network of contacts must rival the Internet. To list a few:

- Vice President Al Gore. (Of course.)

- World Bank President James Wolfensohn, formerly on the Rockefeller Foundation Board and currently on the Population Council Board; he was Al Gore’s favored candidate for the World Bank position.

- James Gustave Speth, head of the Carter Administration’s Council on Environmental Quality, crafter of the doomladen Global 2000 report, member of the Clinton – Gore transition team; he now heads the UN Development Program.

- Shridath Ramphal, formerly Secretary General of the (British) Commonwealth, now Co-Chairman of the Commission on Global Governance.

- Jonathan Lash, President of the World Resources Institute –which works closely with the World Bank, the UN Environment Program, and the UN Development Program — and Co-Chairman of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development.

- Ingvar Carlsson, former Swedish prime minister and Co-Chairman of the Commission on Global Governance.

But Strong is no snob; he even counts Republican Presidents among his friends. Elaine Dewar again:

Strong blurted out that he’d almost been shut out of the Earth Summit by people at the State Department. They had been overruled by the White House because George Bush knew him. He said that he’d donated some $100,000 to the Democrats and a slightly lesser amount to the Republicans in 1988. (The Republicans didn’t confirm.)

I had been absolutely astonished. I mean yes, he had done a great deal of business in the U.S., but how could he have managed such contributions?

Well, he’d had a green card. The governor of Colorado had suggested it to him. A lawyer in Denver had told him how.
But why? I’d asked.

“Because I wanted influence in the United States.”

So Strong gave political contributions (of dubious legality) to both parties; George Bush, now a friend, intervened to help him stay in charge of the Rio conference; he was thereby enabled to set a deep green agenda there; and Bush took a political hit in an election year. An instructive tale — if it is not part of Strong’s mythmaking.

Most of Strong’s friends are more obviously compatible, which may explain why they tend to overlap in their institutional commitments. For example, James Wolfensohn (whom Strong had hired out of Harvard in the early Sixties to run an Australian subsidiary of one of his companies) appointed him as his senior advisor almost immediately upon being named chairman of the World Bank. “I’d been involved in . . . Stockholm, which Maurice Strong arranged,” says Wolfensohn, who, more recently, has been credited with co-drafting (with Mikhail Gorbachev) the Earth Charter presented for consideration at the Rio + 5 meeting in Brazil earlier this year. As head of the Earth Council, Maurice Strong chaired that meeting.

It’s not a conspiracy, of course: just a group of like-minded people fighting to save the world from less prescient and more selfish forces – namely, market forces. And though the crises change –World War II in the Forties, fear of the atom bomb in the Fifties, the “energy crisis” in the Seventies – the Left’s remedy is always the same: a greater role for international agencies. Today an allegedly looming global environmental catastrophe is behind their efforts to increase the power of the UN. Strong has warned memorably: “If we don’t change, our species will not survive. . . . Frankly, we may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrial civilization to collapse.” Apocalypse soon – unless international bodies save us from ourselves.
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