"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." - George Orwell

Monday, December 13, 2004

Primary Responsibility 

The Post-Cold War World

During the 1990's we ignored the fact that the world had undergone serious changes and that institutions that worked, or sort of worked, during the Cold War were broken and in need or repair or replacement. As the decade wore on, however, evidence mounted that all was not well. Persistent attempts by France and Russia to weaken the sanctions against Iraq, for example, were a warning sign. However, we kept our heads in the sand for a few reasons.

First was that the Gulf War seemed to go off so well. We had a large alliance that consisted of our traditional allies. The vote in the Security Council to expel Saddam from Kuwait by force was easily obtained. George H W Bush's "New World Order" seemed to be on the horizon.

Second, we were simply tired of foreign policy. We wanted to spend the "peace dividend" at home. The president we elected, Bill Clinton, reflected this focus on domestic policy.

It was not 9/11 or our immediate reaction to it that upset the apple cart. It was the War in Iraq that exposed the fissures that we had ignored for over ten years.

Broken Institutions, Broken Alliances

It is now clear to many of us that the United Nations and the international system that it represented is broken beyond repair.

As so many responders to last week's Homespun Bloggers Symposium question made clear, the system alliances developed during the 20th century has changed beyond all recognition. France, for example, which was always a sort-of ally, is now almost an enemy (see example here). Unlike Britain, France has never accepted the fact that they are no longer a world power. Part of that is because they never quite achieved the greatness they aspired to, only coming close several times. As I believe Victor Davis Hanson once wrote, France, like all declining powers, believes that it they cannot lead than noone else can either.

The Empire Strikes Back

The defenders of the status quo at all happy that their most important institution is under seige. They are in the early stages of mounting a counterattack to take the heat off of the inhabitants. On their side is the weight of bureaucracy and decades of accumulated self-interest. Against them is that it is dawning on many Americans that the emperor has no clothes.

The United Nations is in the grips of a crisis the likes of which it has never seen. It's head presided over the largest financial scandal in modern times. The truth of the Oil-for-food scandal is becoming known to all. It simply cannot be denied of covered up any longer. The mainstream media are forced to report it. Disgust within our country and others is palpable.

The situation has come to a head. For over ten years since the Cold War ended, we could ignore the reality that the UN, and especially it's Security Council, represented power arrangements that reflected the late 1940s, power arrangements that don't work anymore. That the UN cannot keep the peace was made clear in the 1990's, Rwanda being the main case in point. The Oil-for-Food scandal simply brought it all out into the open.

In a few recent posts, Wretchard, writing over at the Belmont Club, has surveyed the scene. They are most unhappy with the attacks being made on the UN, and seem to believe that the best defense is a good offense.

A summary of his two posts here and here brings forth these arguments that they are making in defense of their beloved UN:
  1. The responsibility for the Oil-for-Food scandal lies not with the UN bureaucracy, and certainly not with Kofi Annan, but with (surprise!) the Security Council! In particular, the United States and United Kingdom
  2. The main threat to world peace is an "out of control" United States
  3. International Law needs to be strengthened and made superior to the internal laws of individual nations (see also European Union)
  4. Only the United Nations can authorize any nation to take military action. Turned around, any military action without UN sanction is illegal
  5. In order to "tame" the United States, the Security Council should be expanded, with more nations being given permanent seats and veto power
Of course this is nonsense. Wretchard himself nails it
The key problem facing the United Nations is lack of accountability not to its constituent institutions, though it lacks that, but to the individual inhabitants of the world. Its inefficiency, corruption and fantasy policies are the result and not the cause of its problems. Nowhere is that failure more evident on a macro scale than in Kofi Annan himself and his management of the Oil-For-Food Programme.
Exactly. The scandals is only the symptom, not the problem. The problem with regards Iraq was that the Security Council would not even uphold it's own resolutions. It proved itself a paper tiger.

The idea that any democracy, be it the United States or France, should allow any institution that is made up of dictatorships of one sort or another, to dictate it's policies is morally offensive. And this brings us to the heart of the problem with the UN; that it is essentially an amoral institution, in which all nations are simply "member states." Right and wrong as we understand it mean nothing to the vast majority of them.

This may have been acceptable in 1945, but it is not now. At the time of Bretton Woods and Yalta, the great powers thought that they had to find some way to ensure a stable balance of power in the post-war world. Just as Bismark had done in Europe eighty years earlier, they set up a system in which the worlds great powers balanced each other out.

All of this is gone. The UN did not work out as planned, as was clear by the 1960's. We could tolerate it after that because the Cold War kept the West together. No more.

The New Threat

The most important responsibility that a state has is to provide for the security of it's citizens. The the most important issue a nation can make is when to use military force to ensure that security. And the only way a state can reliably ensure security by use of military force is when it is able to do so itself. No one else can make that decision but the citizens of the state in question.

Yet Kofi Annan and those who believe in the primacy of the UN want to end US sovereignty. The invaluable Jed Babbin documented this in a recent article. The UN recently issued a report regarding war. It is nothing less than an attempt to seize the legal ability to make war from us. Babbin writes that

Under the rules the panel recommends, preemptive war can only be undertaken when the Security Council says that a threat is imminent. It recommends five criteria for the Security Council to judge petitions for permission to preempt: the seriousness of the threat, proper purpose (what motivates the proposed preempter?), whether it is a last resort, whether proportional means are used, and whether military action is likely to have better or worse results than inaction. There will be many an occasion to debate these criteria, but only among the unserious. In short, and just for starters, these criteria mean: (1) sharing intelligence with the enemy and surrendering the advantage of surprise, essential to catching terrorists where they hide; (2) subordinating the decision to go to war to those who are opposed to our nation's interests; and (3) spending more young American lives than we must in order to pick a fair "proportional" fight. You might as well replace the Joint Chiefs with the Dixie Chicks. (The panel's report notes, graciously, that in cases of terrorists and WMDs, the Security Council may have to act more speedily and decisively. How that can be done with France and Russia as members remains to be explained.)

Changes to the U.N. Charter have to pass the Security Council, with the support of all five permanent members. We can, and will, veto the "preemptive war" rules in the Security Council. The panel recommends establishing a "peacebuilding commission" in the Security Council, presumably to have members, such as Syria, who have of late been non-permanent members of the Council. We can veto that one, too. Other nations will stand in line to veto some of the other "reforms."

We ignore or trivialize these developments at out peril. As long as we stay in the United Nations we lend legitimacy to this nonsense. "Fixing" the UN would require the approval of our sworn enemies.

Given that the primary responsibility of our government is to provide for our security, and the only way to do that is to maintain our sovereignty, the only option for dealing with the UN is to get out.

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