These are my random musings. Hopefully they will be witty, insightful, and frequently updated.
Is there a modern need for the United Nations?
Published on January 31, 2008 By singrdave In International
By the end of the Second World War (WWII), Europe and Japan were in shambles. The United Nations (UN) was established after WWII to prevent war from breaking out again. It was not founded to govern over the myriad nations of the earth, but rather to preserve the sovereignty of each through international oversight and action. All nations could have a seat in the General Assembly, but only five nations would comprise the UN Security Council: the United States (US), France, the United Kingdom (UK), the Soviet Union (USSR), and China. The UN Charter established a body that would provide a forum for communication between sovereign nations. It also authorized the collective use of force in defense of the international status quo.

One purpose of the United Nations is to preserve the sovereignty of nations. As the 1940s progressed, an antagonistic USSR posed an even greater threat to freedom than Adolf Hitler. On 24 June 1950, South Korea was invaded by communist forces from the North. Bankrolled and trained by the Soviet Union, these forces drove the garrisoned Korean troops almost to the end of the peninsula. However, the UN sprang to action, invading at Incheon and pushing the Northern troops back across the 38th Parallel north to the Yalu River. It was only Chinese intervention that fought back the UN troops, stalemating the fight at the highly-fortified borders that stand today. The UN was seen to be a global policeman, assembling and mobilizing task forces and armies in order to maintain the status quo of borders and nations.

The UN can also bring crises to light that have global import. The UN is very effective in the championing of human rights. Because individual people lack the international stature required to bring a grievance against a sovereign nation, the UN has striven to bring oppressed citizens a voice. From the refugee crises in Darfur and the Sudan to international human smuggling, the UN has power to change minds regarding abhorrent practices and hopefully affect change on an international level. Another project is the recent UN Panel on Climate Change. This panel has alerted nations to the threat of global warming. Their work has recently been recognized, as the Panel was co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former US Vice President Al Gore.

Not everything the UN touches turns to gold. Recent scandals like Oil-For-Food have tainted the UN's credibility. Powerful nations have been able to take international action without UN mandate. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 (9/11), America sought to bring those responsible to justice. Proving a connection between Osama bin Laden and the Taliban was clear and uncomplicated; however, the establishment of a connection to Iraq required more diplomacy. America sought UN approval for the invasion, claiming that Iraq had been seeking biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s motives were purely malevolent: the case was made that he sought to propagate this dangerous material to terrorists, specifically those of the ilk who had perpetrated 9/11. Even in the face of ignored UN sanctions, the UN was unconvinced and America proceeded. The US assembled a coalition of willing nations to invade Iraq, topple Saddam and install a pluralistic democracy, though true Iraqi stability remains a work in progress.

This end-run around the UN did not obviate its need. Quite the contrary, as this makes the UN more necessary than ever. In this post-Cold War world where two antagonistic nations no longer stand toe-to-toe, there is a need for multinational oversight of issues that span borders. Whether the issues at hand are one country invading another, global warming, or a refugee crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, the UN can bring these issues to light and hopefully affect change.

Comments (Page 1)
on Jan 31, 2008
Hopefully the next president can play well with others, while still keeping his or her own toys from getting taken away.
on Jan 31, 2008
In this post-Cold War world where two antagonistic nations no longer stand toe-to-toe, there is a need for multinational oversight of issues that span borders. Whether the issues at hand are one country invading another, global warming, or a refugee crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, the UN can bring these issues to light and hopefully affect change.

This is a nice, idealistic point of view, but as we've seen documented over & over, the UN is a horribly corrupt and ineffective organization with hardly any credibility anywhere in the world (it definitely has supporters & suitors, but for all the wrong reasons). No one fears a blue hat.
on Feb 01, 2008
No one should fear a blue hat.

The UN's charter was devised at the end of WWII in order to meet the perceived security needs of that era. Perhaps it met them well, and perhaps it did not: which are questions irrelevant to whether it has a role in our present age. Personally, I believe it has none. UN forces participate in crises according to mandate, a mandate generally created in the security council where the five permanent members meet - those five members being the states that either during WWII or in its immediate aftermath secured the technology necessary to create and deliver nuclear weapons to their targets.

For all its votes and resolutions, the UN is not a democratic body. It is an administrative autocracy governed (sometimes with some difficulty) from Washington DC, and its purpose is transparently simple. It is meant to provide a forum in which governments of the world can be swayed by the direct experience of American wealth and American power, to be seduced by that experience, into following the American line. Clearly, that largely does not happen, and there is a real division in the UN between the desires of America, the machinations of the other permanent members of the security council, and the non-members of the council who are still members of the UN.

What must be remembered in any consideration of the UN is its role in relation to its predecessor organization - the League of Nations, formed in the aftermath of WWI with the expressintention of preventing the outbreak of another such catastrophic European War. Something at which it spectacularly failed. Where the UN has forces at its command the LN had none. The LN was forced to rely on diplomacy while the UN can send its own mandated troops into any conflict zone. But the question always arises: to do what? And the answer that is generally given is to act as a buffer between the warring parties and to act to secure the safe transition of humanitarian aide to where it's needed.

What generally happens is that the UN becomes an irrelevance on the sidelines - because no nation will allow its autonomy and sovereignty to be compromised by the actions of an armed coalition of alien forces on its soul. The UN is not meant to fight, it is meant to secure peace. But in order to secure peace the UN must fight in order to become a viable source of protection to the displaced and the persecuted. But it can't fight, because to do so would be to enter the conflict as an active participant with a particular agenda of its own - which must necessarily be suspicious to those groups which have experienced foreign intervention in their cultural affairs previously, and see no reason to allow recolonisation to take place again, but this time through the purported aid and assistance of the UN. The fact that no such recolonisation has ever been a part of the UN's project is, to these people, beside the point. There has always been a first time.

And this too is beside the point - because the UN doesn't operate independently - it operates at the behest of and under the control of, the five permanent members of the security council, who have long and bloody histories of colonisation, empire building, the expropriation of natural resources, and the enslavement of peoples for their own ends. The UN is and will remain politically and militarily impotent until some unifying element develops which has the capacity to unite all five permanent members in response to some threat to which they are all exposed.

The UN, despite the rhetoric that is sometimes used, is not a sovereign body. It's a forum, in which sovereign bodies meet to debate causes of concern between them. Again, despite the rhetoric that is sometimes used, the resolutions of those debates have non-binding force over those subject to them. Iraq under Saddam Hussein is a case in point. Hussein's regime defied endless resolutions, it resisted economic sanctions, and functioned as a viable state until finally overthrown by armed force. Armed force that was primarily and almost exclusively American in nature. The Blue Hats could not have fought in Iraq the war America has fought there for two reasons.

1) America would not have allowed it to, because no American government will ever give a foreign commander authority over its troops. 2) Almost all the troops involved are American in nature, almost all the munitions and technologies involved are American in nature, and almost all the financing involved is American in nature. The UN has had no oversight over American strategy, it has no control over where American troops are deployed, and it cannot bring about an end to that deployment. The only way the UN might have had a role to play is if it had restricted itself to being no more than the mouth-piece of American intentions - which is all it has ever been in fact, nothwithstanding the occasional spats and disagreements between the UN and the USA.

I see nothing wrong in this situation because the UN is not a sovereign entity: it's an adjunct of the American State - fractious, troublesome, and sometimes disobedient, but still an adjunct. What the UN is not and can never be is a Sovereign Entity in its own right, levying Sovereign Authority over a distinct population which acknowledges that Authority. In order to do so it would first have to become either a) a nation in its right, which is impossible; or a coalition of nations that acknowledges the UN to be its Sovereign, possessing legitimate authority over them. Only then would its decrees and resolutions be more than an effusion of hot air, only then would its resolutions have the force of law, only then would the otherwise gross fantasy of 'human rights' have substantial meaning that would make them something more than excuses by which 'international lawyers' earn fabulous sums of money.

An attempt to form such a super-coalition of states has been going on in Europe since the end of WWII. It began life as a free trade area among a small group of European nations, without pretension to being anything more than that. It has progressed to the point where it has a Parliament - which serves as no more than a rubber stamp for the Council of Ministers, a President hamstrung by its enormous bureacracy and its internecine conflicts, and a variety of Courts having juridiction over the 'human rights' of the member states.

But the European Union as it's now called is no more a Sovereign than is the United Nations. The peoples of the Union owe it no loyalty. The governments that form it and send representatives to its Council of Ministers, each pursue their perceived national interest and reserve to themselves hosts of 'opt-out clauses' in regard to its decisions, and the European Parliament debates endlessly and meaninglessly issues over which it has no control, knowing full well that any decision it reaches that runs counter to the wishes of the Council of Ministers will be ignored by those ministers.

Like the UN the EU has no constituency of its own which has declared it to be sovereign over them. And without sovereignty there is no legitimate authority. This is why 'human rights law' is nonsense. Law is law because it is issued by a Sovereign who in the last analysis has a sufficient monopoly over the legitimate use of violence that all opposition can be cowed or, if necessary, eliminated. The UN and the EU alike cow no one, and they have no monopoly at all over the legitimate use of violence. That right is reserved to the real governments that form their various memberships. All of whom, despite the pressures of globalisation, remain related to one another in ways that Thomas Hobbes, English philosopher of the nature of Sovereign Power, would have had no problem recognising even though he wrote his seminal work 'The Leviathan' in the 17th. century. Despite their faux unity, they'll sell each out at a moment's notice and for the slightest advantage - because nobody has either power or authority to prevent them.

Like the League of Nations before it, and its contemporary, the European Union, the United Nations is an utter irrelevance in a world still composed of and governed by independent, sovereign, nation states, The EU and the UN are nothing more than talking-shops, producing endless reams of useless resolutions (the UN) and endless economic and social directives that members may opt out of whenever they challenge the status quo of real power distribution, whether within their own states or externally among themselves.

Both alike say much and achieve very little - except to provide endless suits of new clothes for the Emperor. Who despite their best efforts remains as naked as ever he was.
on Feb 01, 2008

This is a nice, idealistic point of view, but as we've seen documented over & over, the UN is a horribly corrupt and ineffective organization with hardly any credibility anywhere in the world (it definitely has supporters & suitors, but for all the wrong reasons). No one fears a blue hat.

I would also add that the UN is very impotent on the Human Rights front.  Just in the recent case of Sudan, they eliminated Genocide by redefining it.

With the exception of the Korean conflict (mostly handled by a US Coalition just as in the Gulf wars), the UN has been just an airing for tin plated dictators to justify their atrocities.  Relevant?  I think its relevancy was ended with the re-emergence of the rest of the world post WWII.  My own theory is that the greatest force for peace today (which is in stark contrast to the history of the world) is greed.

Regional conflicts still abound (and the UN is mostly useless in them), but large wars are no longer thinkable to anyone for the simple reason that world trade would negatively impact all countries.  And so they bluster and shout, and basically do nothing.  The danger comes from fanatics, who have no care for their own people/power base and are willing to sacrafice their own citizens for some intangible goal that has nothing to do with advancement of their base.  Countries like Iran are in such a category.  But even North Korea is not that dedicated to it as to risk losing their support from China - only fanatical individuals.  And the UN is incompetant in dealing with them.

on Feb 01, 2008
What if we simply programmed a computer to pick random statements from some database of anti-Semitic legends and send them out via email?

Wouldn't that ultimately be cheaper than the UN?

Of course, that would mean that Sudan and Libya would lose their seats in the human rights council.
on Feb 01, 2008
I would also add that the UN is very impotent on the Human Rights front.


As singrdave and the icecream man mentioned, the UN is a forum for discussion.

Its best use is as a place for rulers and ambassadors from anywhere in the world to meet and discuss issues.

That purpose alone is justification for its existence, as understanding is the key to preventing or limiting conflict.

You mention that the UN is a waste because it can't stop crazies, but no one can stop crazies. The US can't stop crazies from killing its troops and civilians and it's the greatest military power the world has ever seen.

We shouldn't expect an organisation that's fundamentally about talk to be an effective military organisation. It can serve as a justication for alliance - and provide those pretty blue hats for those who fight in its name - but it can't a war unless its members talk it out themselves and decide to get involved.
on Feb 02, 2008

Just think, if the UN had of approved of the war in Iraq, many who protest it now would consider it a just war.  The only reason some nations on the Security Counsel voted against it was, their UN representatives were accepting blood money from Hussein.

If the only difference between a "just" military action and an "unjust" one is the lining of pockets, how relevant can they really be?

 

on Feb 02, 2008
You mention that the UN is a waste because it can't stop crazies, but no one can stop crazies. The US can't stop crazies from killing its troops and civilians and it's the greatest military power the world has ever seen.


HOw soon we forget - Saddam anyone? And that was almost not to be BECAUSE of the UN.

As singrdave and the icecream man mentioned, the UN is a forum for discussion.

Its best use is as a place for rulers and ambassadors from anywhere in the world to meet and discuss issues.

That purpose alone is justification for its existence, as understanding is the key to preventing or limiting conflict.


That may be, but that is only PART of its charter. We could rent out MSG for that and require a meeting 2 or 3 times a year for all the good the UN does. At a greatly reduced cost as well.

Understanding is key for some conflicts, but as we have seen, when a nut gets it into his head, there is no preventing it. And the only limiting is with force, not words.

The UN was the "best of intentions", and as we see (and have seen) a disasterous failure. The thought behind it is noble. The practice of it is impotent.
on Feb 02, 2008
Just think, if the UN had of approved of the war in Iraq, many who protest it now would consider it a just war. The only reason some nations on the Security Counsel voted against it was, their UN representatives were accepting blood money from Hussein.


That or perhaps they listened to their intelligence services when they said there were no WMDs. I don't think it's surprising for major powers to be against supporting a war when it only seems to give their rival new territory and potentially improved access to strategic resources.

Let's not harbour any impressions that the war started to save the Iraqis. It was done for realpolitik just like any other war.

You can't expect the UN Security Council to be a rubber stamp for every US desire.

That may be, but that is only PART of its charter. We could rent out MSG for that and require a meeting 2 or 3 times a year for all the good the UN does. At a greatly reduced cost as well.


Sure, there are the agencies as well. But I don't think they're that ineffective, are they? UNESCO does its job alright these days with less politicking and UNICEF is always popular. I'm less familiar with the others but really I don't think there's all that many issues.
on Feb 03, 2008
Sure the UN might still serve some good. Here's my problem with it... The U.S. (i.e. the taxpayers) foots a disproportionately large part of the bill. Someone explain to me why I should be paying taxes so some nut jobs like Chavez can bad mouth the U.S.? Freedom of speech? What about manners? He would surely silence anyone speaking out against him in his home country the way he rails against others. He's not the only village idiot on the block either to use the UN like a tool for propaganda. The U.S included at times, but hey if you’re coming to New York you should expect it.

Some say the U.S. owes the UN money (an issue of back dues) and/or that we should pay more because we are a wealthy nation. Bull! I say equal dues for equal voice. I don't know about anyone else here but last time I went to the store and bought XXXXXXX (fill in whatever you like) I wasn't charge an amount on my ability to pay! Same ticket price for everyone. I would also support the U.S. paying one sixth of the Security Council’s funding. The country that gets the floating seat would have to pony up during their time on the counsel too.

Here are some figures:
-The United States is assessed 25 percent of the United Nation's general budget. That's double the assessment of Japan, the next closest underwriter.
-The US. is assessed 31.7 percent of the cost of peace-keeping activities, compared to 8.5 percent for Russia, 6.3 percent for the U.K. and 7.6 percent for France.
-The U.S. donates logistical support, weapons, NATO flights, intelligence, ships and manpower to U.S. peacekeeping operations while virtually all other countries are reimbursed for such goods and services
-The U.S. is also the largest donor to most of the U.N.'s independent agencies, such as UNICEF and the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees.

Link

Plain and simple the U.S. should not be expected to provide a free lunch to our enemies (or our friends) year after year. I think the money could be better spent on direct aid, bypass the UN middle-man, where the people of the U.S. feel it will be of the best use. We get no bang for our buck. The UN, ideality, is a great concept, but everyone doesn't play by the same set of rules. I may be accused of "taking my ball home, if I can't be quarterback", but if the dues were equal it would be everyone’s ball.
on Feb 03, 2008
hat or perhaps they listened to their intelligence services when they said there were no WMDs.


THEIR intelligent service (besides not existing) never told them that. They just said "wait". Anothert 12 years?????

As for the "agencies", I would say that is a matter of perspective. Show me how they maximize their return on the buck. CCF gets over 80% of their money into the hands of the intended. Show me a comparable stat for UNICEF?

As I said, best of intentions, CF for implementation.
on Feb 04, 2008
Cacto:
That or perhaps they listened to their intelligence services when they said there were no WMDs. I don't think it's surprising for major powers to be against supporting a war when it only seems to give their rival new territory and potentially improved access to strategic resources.


That might be, except France and Russia have both been exposed for voting the way they did specifically to keep the blood money coming from Hussein.



The fact is, the UN could be a great asset to the world. However, they've gone far beyond their charter and refuse to punish their crooked representatives. The Mafia were amatures compared to the murder, rape and autrocities of the UN.
on Feb 04, 2008
THEIR intelligent service (besides not existing) never told them that.


The French, Russians and Chinese have traditionally had quite effective intelligence services. I'd be surprised if they are much less well informed than the US. Certainly their cynicism towards the WMD argument suggests they were better informed or at least better listeners in that case than the US was.

As for the "agencies", I would say that is a matter of perspective. Show me how they maximize their return on the buck. CCF gets over 80% of their money into the hands of the intended. Show me a comparable stat for UNICEF?


I never said they were efficient. I said they were effective. There's a difference. You don't have to be efficient to be effective. Efficiency is nice, but without a sovereign to keep them in line I don't think UN agencies can ever be efficient. Effective is all we can hope for.

That might be, except France and Russia have both been exposed for voting the way they did specifically to keep the blood money coming from Hussein.


To be frank that would be unusually unsubtle for either of them. You seem to take it on faith that the US reasons for invading Iraq weren't for oil or political advantage, but France and Russia opposed it purely for blood money. That seems a little inconsistent. The political situation in France and Russia requires a mind at least as devious and complicated as that in the US, ergo their reasons for action are most likely just as complicated.

Blood money was probably just icing on the cake of the opportunity to spite what the charitable might call their 'rival'.
on Feb 04, 2008

That or perhaps they listened to their intelligence services when they said there were no WMDs. I don't think it's surprising for major powers to be against supporting a war when it only seems to give their rival new territory and potentially improved access to strategic resources.


The war didn't give the US any more territory nor improved access to strategic resources (the same access could have been obtained by making a deal with Saddam, the US had more to offer than France and Russia).

I don't think it is surprising for major power to be against supporting a war when that war will eliminate their primary customer and oil source at the expense of fewer attacks against Israelis and Kurds.


Let's not harbour any impressions that the war started to save the Iraqis. It was done for realpolitik just like any other war.


Your view of realpolitik seems to be that American cannot possibly want good and that France and Russia have no immoral reasons for supporting a fascist dictator.

You do not employ "realpolitik" in your views, but simple anti-Americanism. The realpolitik here is that cooperation with Saddam was cheaper than an invasion.

If YOU didn't support the war, that's fine. But don't tell those who did that they didn't do it for morally sound reasons!


You can't expect the UN Security Council to be a rubber stamp for every US desire.


Enforcing international agreements is a US desire the UNSC should rubberstamp.

Iraq did violate a cease-fire agreement (by firing at US and British aircraft alone!). The UN are SUPPOSED to enforce those things.

Once the UN do that, we can talk about issues like "rubberstamping US desires".


on Feb 04, 2008
The fact that we are even discussing a situation where the UN didn't enforce international agreements and whether it is OK for a coalition of UN members to do so themselves should tell us whether the UN are still relevant.