2002 November 16 Saturday
The Problem With US Embrace Of The UN

Jonah Goldberg rants about the UN and some of the downsides for US negotiations with the UN Security Council members:

By pleading for U.N. approval, the no-blood-for-oil crowd increased the international trade in both blood and oil. In order to get the votes of Russia and China we had to give those countries a free pass at killing their Muslim Chechen and Uighur populations, respectively. We also had to promise the continuity of France's oil contracts, and of Russia's too. Whether these countries think we're right about toppling or containing Saddam is something of a mystery; what we do know is that they don't think our case is compelling enough to trump their own narrow self-interests. If it were, we wouldn't have had to spend the last couple of months haggling over what happens to Iraq's debt to Russia or France's oil contracts. Right? I mean, if the U.N. were half the thing it ought to be, our U.N. partners would have dropped those concerns the way Cincinnatus laid down his plow. And if the United States is as wrong and selfish as the anti-war crowd says, then the rest of the Security Council are just a bunch of whores willing to do the wrong thing if we pay them enough.

While the US certainly had to strike bargains with unethical governments I doubt that the Russian or Chinese governments would have been any fairer toward the Chechens or Uighurs had the US not bargained with them over Iraq. However, there are still big problems with the Bush Administration's embrace of the UN over Iraq:

  • Most of the UN member states are either undemocratic or at best partially democratic with real limits to speech and press and to civic life outside of government.
  • Not all the states that are democratic are classically liberal because the values of their peoples are not compatible with liberal democracy.
  • Even many of the liberal democracies do not value the security of the US as much as they value their own commercial and poltical interests.

It is folly to grant legitimacy to an organization whose members interests' conflict with the interests of America in ways that are incompatible with the legitimate national security needs of the United States. It is not only dishonest but ultimately counter-productive to pretend that the UN deserves to be treated as a legitimate institution whose members are motivated to help protect the security of other members. There are Bush Administration policy makers who know that the UN does not really deserve the role and legitimacy that its supporters claim for it. When these Bush Administration policy makers pretend that the UN does possess sufficient legitimacy to deserve a role in determining US actions these policy makers are basically lying. The problem here is that the short term advantages that the Bush Administration gains from telling lies about the UN come at the cost of making it harder to convince people to support policies whose necessity can only be recognized by those who know the truth.

In an astute analysis of the long term prospects for the Republican Party John O'Sullivan argues that President Bush needs to explicitly state that the US can not rely on international organizations and multilateralism to deal with crucial national security problems that the US now faces:

First, he must make the GOP the unmistakable voice and representative of the new patriotism. At present Republicans are no more than its lucky beneficiary. Thus far, Mr. Bush has shied away from fights over sensitive issues. He must now be ready to argue explicitly that the U.S. is better defended by a Republican policy of military strength than by the Democrats' diplomatic multilateralism-and that an America united by Republican ideas will resist terrorism more steadily than an America divided by Democratic ideology.

Aside: O'Sullivan also makes two other excellent points. The Republican Party is headed for demographic oblivion if it doesn't drastically cut the current rate of immigration. Also, we need to return to an embrace of a patriotic assimilationist ethos rather than let multiculturalism Balkanize the country.

Former Clinton Administration Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross argues that anything less than full disclosure by Saddam Hussein of his regime's WMD programs ought to be a trigger for war. But at the same time he admits that the UN will be unwilling to require that Iraq make full disclosure:

Hussein will certainly try to create the impression that he is complying with the resolution. No doubt he will turn over voluminous quantities of documents; he may even turn over materials he has heretofore hidden. But he will not turn over the crown jewels of his WMD programs -- especially in the nuclear and biological areas. He will count on the chief inspectors -- Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei -- not wanting to declare he is in violation of his obligations before they have even sent full inspection teams into Iraq. The temptation on the part of the inspectors will be to declare that Iraq has taken a step in the right direction and that they remain willing to work with it, but that it is of course up to the Security Council to decide whether Iraq is in compliance and what steps to take. Will France and Russia be willing to declare this is the moment for the use of force? Unlikely.

Ross is a former diplomat for an administration that at least verbally was a big supporter of the UN and multilateralism. Yet he admits that the UN Security Council's members will not be willing to back up the inspectors with enough support to ensure their success.

Charles Krauthammer argues that the US has a window to scale up preparations for war using the legitimacy granted by the UN Security Council resolution against Iraq.

This window of legitimacy also makes it easier for countries neighboring Iraq to cooperate with the United States in war planning. Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf states have been hesitant to do or say anything too publicly. Now they can easily justify their cooperation: They too are acting in the service of the United Nations by giving substance to the "serious consequences" that might compel Hussein to comply and thus vindicate the United Nations.

But then Krauthammer goes on to state that the US is now in a trap set for it by the Security Council and that the US has to find a way to get out of it in order to succeed in disarming Saddam Hussein. This illustrates the problem with pretending that the UN deserves to be seen as legitimate. The US government has been unwilling to state that transnationalism is incompatible with the security interests of the United States Of America. Therefore while the US tries to find a way to reverse the developing threat it is simultaneously helping to promote a philosophy of international relations that makes it harder for the US to defend itself.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 November 16 02:31 PM  UN, International Institutions


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