October 24 is marked around the world as United Nations Day, the anniversary marking the founding of the world body in 1945. However, in Washington, Donald Trump’s administration, which he described as “nationalist” at an October 22 Houston campaign rally for Texas Senator Ted Cruz, is planning for further U.S. withdrawal from various international organizations. These include the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the UN that has been in existence for 153 years.
The ITU was founded as the International Telegraph Union at the International Telegraph Convention in Paris on May 17, 1865, making the ITU the second-oldest international organization in the world. The union set forth standards for the sending and receiving of telegraphs. These included an agreement on the use of Morse code and a telegraph tariff table—based on the French franc—for cross-border messages. Nations signing the 1865 convention were: Austrian Empire, Grand Duchy of Baden, Kingdom of Bavaria, Kingdom of Belgium, Kingdom of Denmark, Kingdom of Spain, French Empire, Kingdom of Greece, Free City of Hamburg, Kingdom of Hannover, Kingdom of Italy, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Kingdom of Portugal, Kingdom of Prussia, Russian Empire, Kingdom of Saxony, United Kingdom of Sweden and Norway, Swiss Confederation, Ottoman Empire, and Kingdom of Wurttemberg.
The United States joined the ITU in 1906, during the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt. The U.S. also joined the International Radiotelegraph Union (IRU), established in 1906 and headquartered in Bern. The IRU standardized international and amateur call letters, including distress signals. It also prohibited transmitting signals “containing obscene words or language,” a standard that Mr. Trump would find objectionable. In 1936, the ITU and IRU merged under the aegis of the League of Nations.
The United States might have joined the ITU earlier. The U.S. Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln delayed U.S. accession to the international telegraphy convention. However, Lincoln, an avid reader of telegraphic dispatches sent from Union generals during the Civil War, was a strong proponent of international telegraphy. In his 1863 State of the Union letter to Congress, Lincoln wrote: “Satisfactory arrangements have been made with the Emperor of Russia, which, it is believed, will result in effecting a continuous line of telegraph through that Empire from our Pacific coast. I recommend to your favorable consideration the subject of an international telegraph across the Atlantic Ocean.” Mr. Trump appears to have a competition issue with Lincoln. Trump previously claimed that he enjoys better opinion polls than Lincoln, even though opinion polling did not begin until the 1936 election between Franklin Roosevelt and Alf Landon. Regardless, Trump is now trying to undo America’s commitment to international communications standards and capabilities, a goal supported by President Lincoln.
Theodore Roosevelt believed in government regulation of the telecommunications industry. In his 1906 State of the Union letter to Congress, Roosevelt wrote, “Telegraph and telephone companies engaged in interstate business should be put under the jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Commission.”
Trump’s beef with the ITU is over the organization’s management of the international radio frequency spectrum and its movement toward managing international data bandwidth. Trump’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) members, notably FCC chairman Ajit Pai and member Michael O’Rielly, both of whom are owned and operated by America’s communications giants—including AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast—who want private industry, not government agencies, to set the rules for radio spectrum and bandwidth governance. The Trump administration has already taken the first step toward total corporate control of the Internet when the Republican members of the FCC voted to abandon “net neutrality,” which provided for equal and universal rights of access to the world wide web. The Trump administration seeks to create a multi-tiered system of Internet access. Large corporations are now able to gobble up as much bandwidth as they desire, charge access fees with no caps, and relegate small web sites to slow bandwidth substrata.
The flagrant racism of the Trump administration was on full display when the United States, for the first time in the history of its membership of the Geneva-based ITU, withdrew its candidate for chairman of the Radio Regulations Board (RRB), one of the governing bodies of the organization. The RRB is responsible for oversight and management of the global radio spectrum management, something that Trump and his business cronies want to milk for as much profiteering as possible.
The candidate dropped for RRB chair was board vice-chair Joanne Wilson, nominated by Barack Obama in 2014 to the board’s second-ranking position. Breaking with protocol, Washington not only dropped Wilson as chairman-designate but also counteracted the ITU’s consensus that Jean Philemon Kissangou should be elected as the director of the ITU’s Telecommunications Development Bureau (BDT), another ITU governing body.
The Trump administration has threatened to cut off funding of the ITU, a move tantamount to withdrawal, unless the ITU selects Doreen Bogdan-Martin, a favorite of the scandal-ridden U.S. commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, to be the next BDT director. Ross’s Commerce Department touts Bogdan-Martin as the first woman to head any of the ITU’s elected leadership roles in the organization’s 153-year history. However, the Commerce Department is lying. Ms. Wilson was slated to become the ITU’s first woman to be elected as the head of another ITU body, the RRB.
Wilson’s disqualifying factor for the Trump White House is that she is an African-American. Kissangou’s disqualifier for the Trump administration is that he is an African from the Republic of Congo, one of the nations that Trump previously described as a “shithole.” Bogdan-Martin, who is white, had the backing of the George W. Bush administration for various secretariat positions at the ITU. The racism that is on display by the Republican Party in elections in Georgia, Florida, Texas, and other states has now become fashionable in elections for UN positions in Geneva.
Although belligerent nations in World Wars I and II conducted extensive wiretapping of international telegraph and telephone lines and radio connections, phone calls and telegrams could still be made and sent between major world capitals because the ITU’s standards continued to be maintained. Seamless international communications may no longer be the case if the Trump administration, unlike the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan, abandons the ITU and its radio frequency management and standards criteria.
To date, the Trump administration has withdrawn, abrogated, or announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (P5+1/Iran nuclear accord), Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Universal Postal Union (UPU), UN Human Rights Council, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the Oslo Accords on the Middle East.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).