UNnatural and UNnecessary

In yesterday’s Belmont Club comments (on a
post concerning Kofi Annan’s recent proposals for UN reform), a conversation arose among a group of committed UN-skeptics:

   SANGELL: Yes, modernize the Security Council. Give the seat France currently has to the EU. Award a permanent veto bearing seat to India and Japan. Let the other large nations ( my criterion population over 100 million, GDP of 1 trillion) have rotating full membership. Let the small General Assembly nations vote for one member to represent them on a rotating basis.
   Baron Bodissey: Sangell — I think that’s rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The UN is compromised in its core functions. Wretchard is right: the UN can only give the patina of legitimacy to what the great powers agree among themselves to do. And when they can’t agree, one or more will do it anyway. The UN is a diabetic monster sucking out the sugar from the American taxpayer.
   SANGELL: Agreed Mr. Bodissey, the UN is a monstrous organization but it isn’t going to be dissolved so we have to deal with it ( or do we?) My point was by supporting the removal of an exclusive French seat in favor of a UN seat we play a little mischief with ‘Old Europe’ and by including Japan and India, which the Bush team already support, we do ourselves no harm and force Japan to take a more direct role in world affairs.

As the UN now stands the larger and more cumbersome we can make the machinery of the UN the less likely it will be used against us. which is the direction many in Europe would like to take it. Having India and Japan on the SC weakens that possibility

   Annoy Mouse: Diplomacy is war by other means: If we were to “pull out” of the UN, you could expect the formation of another League of Nations, perhaps the EU, China, and Russia. I wouldn’t put it past Schroeder and Chirac to do just that. We wouldn’t even be privy to their deliberations or more likely we’d be the brunt of their findings. This could, probably would create serious consequences for our policies abroad, our trade relations, and it would probably create a greater rift between the Blue-Red states internally. Even moderates might fear that the US is “going it alone” or at least being barred from its’ proper seat at the big global table. I think the EU would get a sadistic kick out of this. Most people I know think Political Correctness is a bunch of hooey, but you can be damn sure that they will play the semantics game to ensure that they will not be consumed by the ravages of the PC police at school, work, and at home. So feign a little obeisance, do the UN turkey dance, talk the drivel. It doesn’t cost that much and in the end it does more than nothing…it keeps worse things from happening.

Upon further reflection, this topic cries out for a longer response.

The League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations, were created in the aftermath of the Great War in reaction to its horrors: Nothing like that must ever happen again. An idealistic vision was born, midwifed by Woodrow Wilson, as well-meaning members of the educated elites visualized a world without war, in which conflicts were mediated and short-circuited by an international deliberative body.

The League of Nations, of course, failed to prevent another and even greater conflagration just over twenty years after the first. The United Nations arose from the formal alliance of the victorious powers in World War II, expanding after the war to become the bureaucratic entity we all know and love today.

Neither organization ever proved empirically to have any utility in preventing armed conflict between and among nation-states. The League was a signal failure, and the two successes of the UN (Korea, Gulf War I) can be attributed to serendipity — the Soviet Union was unable to interfere in both cases. The failures notched on the UN’s belt are numerous: Vietnam, Sino-Indian wars, Arab-Israeli wars, Lebanon, the Iran-Iraq war, Somalia, Rwanda, and now Darfur.

In the years since Hitler drank the hemlock in the Göttedämmerung of his bunker, the keeping of what peace there has been can be attributed to two primary causes: the atomic bomb, and the armed might of the United States.

The UN has provided cover for what the great powers have wanted to do anyway, or for their inaction when they want to do nothing. Acting in their several interests, they consult among themselves, and when a consensus is reached, the Security Council passes the appropriate resolution. When consensus is not reached, various combinations of the great powers act anyway, according to their interests and consulting with one another through the usual channels.

What Annoy Mouse describes is quite plausible, but such doings went on before the UN, have gone on during its tenure, and would continue after its demise. The interests of nations will be acted upon, UN or no UN.

The armed might of the United States continues to be the primary regulator of the process. Now that it is the sole great power, the lesser powers tend to collude in order to thwart and circumvent it. But, arguably, the UN is the collective exemplar of such obstruction — it gives the patina of legitimacy to a process whose main goal is to bring down the United States, becoming, in effect, a League of Ankle-Biters.

Make no mistake: the necessity of kowtowing to the UN charade has its deadly consequences. By delaying for six months what Britain and the US would have done anyway, the farcical run-up to the Iraq war in the UN telegraphed to Saddam exactly what he was to expect, allowing him to arrange for the insurgency and move his banned weapons to their caves in Syria or the Bekaa Valley. It also guaranteed that Turkey would get cold feet and deny the 4th Infantry passage through its territory.

How many more Iraqis were blown up because of all this high-minded folderol? How many innocent civilians were beheaded? How many more US Marines lay dead in the back alleys of Fallujah, all in order that Emperor Kofi could give the thumbs-down to the removal of a tyrant?

First do no harm. The UN fails the Hippocratic test.

14 thoughts on “UNnatural and UNnecessary

  1. Very well Baron, I appreciate being taken to school on the evolution of the UN and its’ predecessors. I don’t disagree in the least with your assessment of the evil that the demagogues of the UN are capable of. But, one might falsely argue that treaties are themselves in large part responsible for war…it is broken treaties that seem so often to culminate in war. But is not the same to say that treaties are the cause of war. Walk softly and carry a big stick. The duality of this notion says to me that we keep a presence in the UN, exhort our esteemed neighbors to do the right thing and help their big brother, and meanwhile position the pacific fleet in striking distance of belligerents who are pushing their luck. Gun boat diplomacy is just that. The US of A is a expansive organism and quite good at multitasking, even though, occasionally at cross purposes with itself. The left hand gestures while the right hand prepares to deliver a blow. Carrot-stick. Good cop, bad cop. Give peace a chance, then hammer the bastards hard.

    What my posts have been attempting to address is the notion that the UN could actually be disbanded unilaterally by the US. I don’t see it happening and exhortations to do so just don’t seem very fruitful to me.

    Have enjoyed the discourse,
    Annoy Mouse

  2. Mouse, I’m with you at least 97%. I don’t think there’s any way to get rid of the UN anytime soon; we’re stuck with it. I don’t think it’s politically doable for this administration, much less any other, to say, “The heck with you all! Get out of here; go to Geneva or somewhere else and play!”

    But I think we need to bang a loud drum of dissatisfaction with them. We need to threaten to withhold money from them, and carry out the threat when necessary. We need to continue to ignore the multilateral bloviators when expedience demands it. Above all, we need transparency of accounting for their finances.

    Fortunately, I think President Bush is trying to move us more or less in that direction.

  3. At Belmont I proposed the UN limit its membership to only those governments that have democratic legitimacy. The US (with allies) insisting on this reform to maintain their UN membership will deflate any arguments as to the legitimacy of the UN in the likely scenario this reform should fail. They can then legitimately say to audiences at home, and abroad, that UN membership goes counter to the interests of democracy around the world. And without vital US moneys, logistics, troops, moral authority, the UN will more and more be defined as the machination of a morally bankrupt Islamofascist/Marxist cabal – given it should even survive.

  4. Make no mistake: the necessity of kowtowing to the UN charade has its deadly consequences. By delaying for six months what Britain and the US would have done anyway, the farcical run-up to the Iraq war in the UN telegraphed to Saddam exactly what he was to expect, allowing him to arrange for the insurgency and move his banned weapons to their caves in Syria or the Bekaa Valley. It also guaranteed that Turkey would get cold feet and deny the 4th Infantry passage through its territory.
    A very high price was paid.
    Had we gone through Turkey as planned, the “insurgents” would have been deprived of both time, and a place, to regroup and the 4th would have arrived when and where it belonged for maximum effectiveness.
    “Mr. Rumsfeld was also asked to name “the single biggest mistake in prosecuting the war.”
    “The most important thing,” he said on the ABC News program “This Week,” “was that had we been successful in getting the 4th Infantry Division to come in through Turkey in the north when our forces were coming up from the south out of Kuwait, I believe that a considerably smaller number of the Baathists and the regime elements would have escaped.
    “More would have been captured or killed. And as a result, the insurgency would have been at a lesser intensity than it is today.”
    . NY Times Link?

  5. Baron,
    I agree that we need to keep the UN in check and transparency is the means. I was trying to allude to that in my comments regarding the “electronic horde”. I am just afraid that the organizing principles of the UN don’t really require transparency, in fact, it seems they are prone to the worst kind of opacity. We’ll see how the “OFF” conspiracy sorts itself out. Wouldn’t hold my breath though.

    Since the Belmont thread was begun on the idea of an electronic version of a moderated forum…it set my mind to wondering. I have long wondered what would happen if people knew the facts behind ordinary consumer goods, what companies were good neighbors, which ones treated their employees poorly, polluted, etc., if people knew this kind of information, would it influence their purchases? If it did it would be tremendously powerful tool of democracy. In effect, Americans vote with their wallets, and for better or worse they are voting for a more powerful China. Do people care about these unintended consequences?

    Having said that, maybe the UN can be supplanted by a more grass roots organization of individuals who hash out issues of global importance. But, who is to elect the grass root individual? I suppose in the end those who drive these issues are corporations and governments and the individual doesn’t have much of a place in the matter except here in the blogosphere. Money, in the end, will decide for itself.

    To digress further, I have been following a site called http://medienkritik.typepad.com/ that is dedicated to criticizing the German press for its’ strident anti-Americanism. The site draws mostly people who are sympathetic to the moderators view point, but has drawn its fair share of site pests and the frothing at the mouth types. I bring this up because in the end, discussions like these are greatly influenced by the viewpoints of the moderators, and again, often breakdown into gripe fests. Is the UN the perfect organization to salve the wounds caused by so many competing interests? Certainly not, but nothing could be for that matter.

    Annoy Mouse

  6. I’m not sure, Baron. I’m not sure a “League of Democracies” will serve us any better. What would be its purpose? Serve as a counter to the UN Islamofascist/Marxist cabal? That will put us back into an open bipolar competition. And I’m not sure that’s where we want to be. At least not with their team having all that oil.

  7. Baron – Sorry for the long windedness on my part…the fuzzier things are in my head, the longer it takes for me not to say what I mean.

    Mika – The power of a league of democracies would be to allow the industrialized world to set the ground rules for trade. Right now the global economic winners are increasingly countries like China, who have no interest in human rights, transparency in government, environmental regulation, health care, or democracy. How can we compete with that? Not sure we can, but if enough consumers decided that they weren’t going to reward tyrants we could make the world a better place. I can’t think of too many good examples, but South Africa and dolphin safe tuna comes to mind.

    Annoy Mouse

  8. Annoy Mouse,

    I’m inherently against any kind of global government, bureaucratic superstructure, etc. I don’t care how benevolent you care to paint it. I think it’s a bad idea, period. Anyway, all those issues you’ve mentioned don’t require the heavy handed solution that you’re proposing. Trade is a bilateral issue and can be addressed on a bilateral basis.

  9. Mika – I’m not sure that I am proposing any heavy handed solutions. Fact is, I too believe a one world government is a dangerous farce. My point is that the UN has no real power, and letting them while away in Turtle Bay is mostly harmless. Meanwhile, I think that the power of consumers could have a profound effect on global political outcomes. It doesn’t require a building to house representatives of the constituency, just a ground swell of belief. I think the US would be the natural beneficiary of informed consumption because we Americans are the worlds most prolific consumers. The world competes to pedal there wares to us consumers and we have no influence on them?

  10. Annoy Mouse,

    Paper currency has no intrinsic worth either, except the worth we care to give it. I prefer to give zero worth to the UN. I have both ideological and practical reasons for this preference. Plus, we’re mixing two issues here – collective security and trade relations. Let’s stay with the subject of collective security. How does giving the oil ticks veto power in the UN through Russia, or China, or France, or the UK, serve our interest? It doesn’t.

  11. Mouse — Medienkritik is excellent. His people organized a counter-post in favor of Bush when he was in Europe a few weeks ago.

    Mika & mouse both — I suppose what I am asking for is that we cease playing pretend with the UN — pretending that it is a morally superior independent mediator to world conflict, rather than a convenient forum for governments to broker deals collectively.

    I think the pretense is actively harmful. It causes damage to our military operations, as I mentioned above, and it allows countries to duck and hide from security responsibilities they might otherwise have to meet.

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