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September 11, 2005
Reimagining The UN

James Traub provides a thought-provoking analysis of the systemic problems of the United Nations in today's New York Times, and what might be done to ameliorate them. Traub notes that John Bolton might have disrupted the so-called reform effort at the UN by insisting on real reform, but that the US hardly stands alone among nations that put their national interests above the UN:

If U.N. reform falters this week, or if only a few noncontroversial measures pass, the blame is bound to fall on the Bush administration and its confrontational ambassador, John Bolton. It's true that Bolton has shattered a great deal of crockery since arriving in Turtle Bay last month, loudly disparaging the laboriously assembled reform package and then submitting a new version with 750 amendments, as well as making common cause with the Chinese to block Security Council expansion. And it's true as well that the United States, owing to its unique position of power and the ideological proclivities of this administration, is willing - no, eager - to make a very public bonfire of the high-minded principles of multilateralism. What is less noticed, however, is how many other states - Russia, China and many members of the U.N.'s still-extant "nonaligned movement" - are perfectly content to dance around the embers. Many members of the U.N. are simply not willing to sacrifice whatever they define as their national interests for the collective good that the organization aspires to represent and advance.

Traub, who is currently developing a book about the United Nations, proposes instead a Peace and Security Union, modeled on NATO but not limiting itself to the democracies. Instead, he would allow nations to join once they committed themselves to non-negotiable core principles:

Terrorism must be unambiguously defined and confronted both through police and, where necessary, military means; states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens, which in turn confers an obligation on the membership to intervene, at times through armed force, in the case of atrocities; extreme poverty and disease, which threaten the integrity of states, require a collective response.

Traub argues that non-democracies would not get excluded, but allows that most would probably fail to qualify. Why bother with the subterfuge? Democracies do not always agree on foreign policy. India, the world's largest democracy, regularly opposed American policy regarding almost any issue, especially Israel, and aligned itself with the Soviets for most of the Cold War. It still would deserve a place at a PSU, once constituted. Would a repressive regime like Iran belong there, even if it did commit to upholding these ideals?

The problem with the UN is that includes nations like Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, and others that oppress its own people and either actively or passively allow their resources to be used to fund terrorism. Making them pledge to stop in order to join a new club does nothing but elevate naivet to new heights. One cannot combat corruption and incompetence unless one removes the corrosive elements that generate them in the first place.

Part of the problem with the UN is the elevated expectations that people have of the organization. The UN functions well as a debating society and in maintaining a status quo. In fact, the founders designed the entire structure with that in mind: a way to freeze the world into a bipolar arrangement and keep it there. The UN was perfectly content to consign millions, even billions, of people into oppression as long as it stopped any major wars from breaking out -- and in that cause, it was largely successful. The UN became the battleground for the US-Soviet Cold War, a venue which saw the US lose most of the major battles while it eventually won the war through attrition, especially in the 1980s when the Reagan administration took the strategy of ignoring most of what went on at Turtle Bay.

The UN carries with it the expectation of world government, but that's hardly realistic. For people living in democracies, that would mean surrendering sovereignty to an unelected organization populated mostly by representatives of non-democratic nations. As the Oil-For-Food scandal has proven, the organization has no mechanisms for checks and balances against corruption and abuse in its executive. Dictators find even less to like about the idea of submission to the UN; they have fought and struggled to claim power in their nations, and they do not conceive of willingly passing it off to foreigners, for high-minded ideals or any other reason.

Our efforts should go towards establishing and supporting democracies. While we can continue our membership in the UN debating society, the US and UK should establish not a PSU but a Union of Democratic States, one that requires free elections, multi-party politics, freedom of speech and of the press, and free-market economic principles (especially private property rights) as prerequisites for entry. The UDS would exist to present a formidable momentum towards transforming regions like Southwest Asia into liberal democracies and therefore aggressively confront not just terrorism but poverty and injustice as well. A UDS could hardly do worse than the UN at that mission, and almost certainly do much better.

UPDATE: Brant at Strange Women Lying In Ponds has a great takedown of a Guardian article that gripes about John Bolton. In fact, strange women lying in ponds choosing leaders makes more sense than the current UN system, although it would take someone to turn a plowshare back into a sword to do it. (Glad to see Brant back to regular blogging, too!)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 11, 2005 10:47 AM

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» That John Bolton is a Big Meanie from Strange Women Lying in Ponds
The Grauniad is mad: The Guardian has learned that Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, has made a personal plea to his American counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, for the US to withdraw opposition to plans for wholesale reform of the UN. He [Read More]

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» It’s Business As Usual At The United Nations. Not So Fast! from SoCalPundit
John Bolton Rains On UN’s Parade of Power Grabs And Fake Reforms Despite recently proven allegations that The United Nations has become as corrupt as many of the despotic regimes that are contained in it, the UN this weekend attempted to ram t... [Read More]

Tracked on September 11, 2005 6:22 PM

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