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December 2, 2004
A Manifesto Of Irrelevancy, As Suspected

Earlier this week, when the New York Times provided analysis of the report from a blue-ribbon panel appointed by Kofi Annan to recommend changes to the United Nations, I expressed a great deal of skepticism about the result. Others, including Glenn Reynolds, noted that the report appeared to legitimize pre-emptive military action, in Glenn's case based on a quick analysis by the University of Pittsburgh law school.

However, in reading the actual report, it's clear that the UN intends on stripping nations of their sovereign right to defend themselves by requiring Security Council approval for any pre-emptive military action. A read through paragraphs 188 - 198 demonstrates that the panel basically took John Kerry's global test and plugged it into their report:

189. Can a State, without going to the Security Council, claim in these circumstances the right to act, in anticipatory self-defence, not just pre-emptively (against an imminent or proximate threat) but preventively (against a non-imminent or non-proximate one)? Those who say yes argue that the potential harm from some threats (e.g., terrorists armed with a nuclear weapon) is so great that one simply cannot risk waiting until they become imminent, and that less harm may be done (e.g., avoiding a nuclear exchange or radioactive fallout from a reactor destruction) by acting earlier.

190. The short answer is that if there are good arguments for preventive military action, with good evidence to support them, they should be put to the Security Council, which can authorize such action if it chooses to. If it does not so choose, there will be, by definition, time to pursue other strategies, including persuasion, negotiation, deterrence and containment - and to visit again the military option.

191. For those impatient with such a response, the answer must be that, in a world full of perceived potential threats, the risk to the global order and the norm of non-intervention on which it continues to be based is simply too great for the legality of unilateral preventive action, as distinct from collectively endorsed action, to be accepted. Allowing one to so act is to allow all.

The report explicitly states that only the UNSC can legitimize the use of force, transforming the organization from a multilateral forum to a superstate, eclipsing national governments and sovereignty:

196. It may be that some States will always feel that they have the obligation to their own citizens, and the capacity, to do whatever they feel they need to do, unburdened by the constraints of collective Security Council process. But however understandable that approach may have been in the cold war years, when the United Nations was manifestly not operating as an effective collective security system, the world has now changed and expectations about legal compliance are very much higher.

197. One of the reasons why States may want to bypass the Security Council is a lack of confidence in the quality and objectivity of its decision-making. The Councils decisions have often been less than consistent, less than persuasive and less than fully responsive to very real State and human security needs. But the solution is not to reduce the Council to impotence and irrelevance: it is to work from within to reform it, including in the ways we propose in the present report.

In other words, they want states to defer to the UN while it goes about improving the process, leaving the lives and safety of its citizens to an admittedly corrupt and broken process. But don't worry about it, the panel assures us -- we'll get better. Eventually.

People will look at these paragraphs and rightly wonder why this can't work, at least in principle. Mainly I would reply that the UNSC has no history of success, only of failure, and the twelve-year quagmire in Iraq makes a pretty good example, as does Rwanda, Darfur, Srebrenica, and other recent tragedies. Mostly, though, the problem arises from the structure of the UN. It represents only the governments of its members, has no accountability, and reeks of corruption. Americans created a representative democracy for good reasons -- so that when government failed, we could hold our leaders responsible for their actions. The UN lacks even the mechanisms for holding its officers accountable.

I'll be reviewing the rest of this document later tonight, after a board meeting I have to attend, and I'll post more thoughts at that time.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 2, 2004 5:00 PM

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