In a normal world, a simple resolution promoting breastfeeding by women would be a no-brainer for the health of their babies. This, however, is not a normal world.
According to the New York Times, the United States threatened retaliation, including a withdrawal of military aid, if the World Health Assembly passed the resolution. Countries that need to hear the message most backed off out of fear of retaliation, the Times reports. That’s when Russia stepped in and sponsored the resolution.
The Times says the U.S. was taking direction from companies who make baby formula, though attendees said they saw no evidence of that.
“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant and young child health,” said Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action.
“The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,” A Health and Human Services spokesman said in an email to the paper. “We recognize not all women are able to breast-feed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so.”
Notably, the spokesman didn’t want to reveal his name and for some reason, the Times agreed to the stipulation.
A Russian delegate, also quoted anonymously, said “We’re not trying to be a hero here, but we feel that it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries, especially on an issue that is really important for the rest of the world.”
That’s the sort of thing Americans used to say when playing the role of principled hero on the world stage.