2002 October 04 Friday
Mark Steyn on the Blessed Church of the UN

Mark Steyn draws attention to the fact that "the UN" is really shorthand for 3 UN Security Council permanent members with veto power: China, Russia, and France. Yes, the UN is an accidental relic of a previous era:

So instead the plan is to diminish US hegemony by spending zippo on defence and putting all your eggs in the UN basket. Structurally, the UN is a creature of the Cold War. It formalised the stalemate of East and West: it was designed to prevent rather than enable action; it tended towards inertia, which was no bad thing given the potentially catastrophic consequences of the alternative. But we no longer have a bipolar world, and so the vetoes only work one way — to restrain the sole surviving superpower. England’s clergy have redefined the Christian concept of a just war to mean only one blessed by the Security Council, which is to say the governments of France, Russia and China: it will be left to two atheists and a lapsed Catholic to determine whether this is a war Christians can support. Even more perplexing, The Spectator feels the same way: our editorial last week declared that ‘only UN authorisation’ could provide a justification for war.

Just as a matter of interest, how many countries does George W. Bush have to have on board before America ceases to be acting ‘unilaterally’? So far, there’s Australia, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, Qatar, Turkey.... Romania has offered the use of its airspace to attack Iraq. The Americo-Romanian Coalition Against Iraq has more members than most multilateral organisations. But no matter how multilateral it gets, it doesn’t count unless it’s sanctioned by the UN. If France feels the need to invade the Ivory Coast, that can be done unilaterally. But, when it’s America, you gotta get a warrant from the global magistrate.

Along the way Steyn alludes to the Battle of the Some and Europe's experience in WWI as a cause of Europe's view about American war fighting. Steyn does this in the context of dismissing European and American left-wing complaints about the unwillingness of the American leadership to put at risk large numbers of ground troops in an attack in either Afghanistan (the critics don't seem to understand the logistics limitations in that case - but never mind) or Iraq. Well, there's something curious thing about Europe's lessons from the First World War: European intellectuals were alienated from the very idea of war because of the massive casualties suffered by so many European nations. But the modern American way of war employs such accuracy and high speed mobility that the casualties are drastically reduced even in the ranks of our enemies. So while fear of massive casualties is the reason European intellectuals became so averse to war (no matter how just the cause) they have so internalized this aversion that now that the original reason for the aversion has been removed they are angry that the US is conducting its war fighting in a way that will avoid the massive casualties.

The other phenomenon at work here is the irrational belief in the efficacy of international institutions as virtual secular saviors. This belief is held in the face of abundant empirical evidence to the contrary. The belief finds its support in a poorly constructed and highly imaginary mythology of supposed accomplishments of the international institutions. The size of this mythology effectively imbues the UN and supporting institutions with a religious aura.

The assertions that international bodies and treaties have prevented WMD proliferation or prevented wars are just that: assertions. The reality of the treaties and international institutions is rather disappointing. Treaties have worked against governments that had no plans of breaking them in the first place. But no sooner was the ink dry on a treaty banning biological weapons development that the Soviet Union had secretly embarked on a massive program to develop a large assortment of biological weapons. Nuclear weapons have spread to more countries. Export controls by the US and its allies helped slow the spread of WMD for many years. But these export controls were not coordinated thru the UN. Beyond those export controls the only effective restraints on WMD spread have come from the Israeli strike against the Osirik reactor and the Gulf War to expel Saddam from Kuwait. To the extent that UNSCOM partially worked it was because Iraq was badly weakened by the Gulf War and US and British warplanes were ready to launch airstrikes. Even here UN involvement was not really helpful. US and UK inspectors working without a UN mandate would have been more effective since they wouldn't have been harmed by the lack of support the UN Security Council provided to UNSCOM (France, Russia, and China of course worked to negotiate a series of compromises with Saddam that weakened and undermined UNSCOM).

This is another first class essay from Mark Steyn. Be sure the read the whole thing if you like the except.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 October 04 07:06 PM  UN, International Institutions


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