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The UN - Still Relevant Even if Ineffective

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The UN - Still Relevant Even if Ineffective
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The UN Charter [i] is an international treaty signed by 192 countries and ratified in their national, constitutional and legal processes, for the expressed purpose of maintaining international peace and security. For better or for worse, it’s all we have.

The UN Charter went far beyond the ambit of a static treaty; it established organs and processes, principles and methods to form a living, dynamic institution for the ongoing resolution of conflicts, settlement of disputes and keeping of the peace. The UN offers the promise of a democratic world order, a stable, formal system of international law and the establishment of universally protected human rights.

In a world in which the technological capacity to kill en masse or with high specificity, to observe intrusively or to monitor activity and communications at a collective or individual level, the capacity and potential exists not only for death and destruction, accidental or deliberate on a vast scale or for genocide of targeted groups but also for manipulation and coercion of groups and individuals in ways that most people could not imagine.

We are already accepting, with apparent calm, such notions as “targeted killings” and “collateral damage”, decisions and actions that will result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children taken by people who think their goals are “worth it”, the use of “smart bombs”, “cluster bombs”, “hellfire missiles” and “daisy cutters”, the murder of civilians in far-off places by the use of remote-controlled drones and the use of weaponry of unimaginable cruelty such as napalm and white phosphorous against soldiers, civilians and even children. It is has long been evident and is regularly affirmed that without some institution that is able to restrain the mentally deranged individuals and corrupt institutions responsible for these things and to prohibit and prevent psychopathic activities of this sort, our species and our planet are in danger. Our only international institution that even comes close to a project plan for salvation is the United Nations; it’s all we have.

What the UN lacks is not relevance but effectiveness.

The Bush Assault

In his December 2002 speech to the UN, G.W. Bush presented what amounted to an ultimatum; either to support (US) military action against Iraq or become irrelevant.

My thesis is that the UN could not “choose” to become irrelevant; the relevance of the UN is already irreversibly established, inherent and self-evident. What is aptly demonstrated both by this statement and by the rogue action of the United States et al under the irresponsible “leadership” of George W Bush is that the UN is ineffective.

The Bush speech triggered, or revitalised, a discussion about the relevance of the UN.

One article by Alan Caruba titled The U.N.: Irrelevant and Malignant posted on the Israel Science and Technology Homepage [ii] rightly points to deficiencies in the democratic arrangements of the UN, but while pointing out that the US with a population of 287M has equal voting power with nations of populations fewer than 0.5M, neglects to mention that China, also on a single vote, has a population in excess of 1.3bn, or that US aid “influences” the votes of smaller countries like Palau. The article similarly alludes to the fact that the real power of the UN is vested in the Security Council, dominated by the five permanent members and highlights the failures of the UN to prevent or halt genocides. However, while making these criticisms the article proposes no solutions, ignores the intended purpose and value of the UN and makes no logical connection between these matters and the argument it seems to be developing for withdrawal of the US from the UN.

Along the way, Caruba, who seems to be confused in his identification with the US or Israel, alleges that the UN has a propensity to “look the other way when a member nation is fighting for its life” (namely Israel, with the usual victim status), but again, without regard for the fact that Israel started all of the five wars he is referring to. He also alleges that the UN is “totally committed” to global government, is anti-Semitic and Socialist (as if Socialism were something to be deplored) and that it’s architects were Soviet agents. On the whole, this is a very silly article full of irrational assertions without any proper development of argument, but it typifies the kind of anti-UN sentiment that seeks to denigrate or erase the institution, with all its universal benefits in order to remove a perceived obstacle to perceived benefits accruing to specific groups.

A second article that presents valid points of argument but draws the wrong conclusion is that titled Inconsistency Has Already Made the UN Irrelevant posted by Sherri Muzher at Media Monitors Network [iii], which refers to UN failure to enforce resolutions concerning Israel. However, she concludes, I believe wrongly, that this ineffectiveness renders the UN irrelevant “The UN has been irrelevant for decades now because of its own inconsistent record.”.

An article by Hal Lindsey titled The incredibly irrelevant United Nations posted at, which belongs, in my opinion, to the "Looney Christian Right, takes advantage of the UN's terrible record of failures in dealing with genocide. However, again based on a record of ineffectiveness is able to build a case for irrelevance, possibly acceptable to many minds, which concludes "There is a one-world government waiting in the wings. It only awaits the unveiling of its ultimate 'leader' – the Antichrist".

Another article, published in the Canadian Free Press titled The United Nations--irrelevant and dangerous [iv] was written by Tom DeWeese, who is the publisher/editor of The DeWeese Report and president of the American Policy Center, which calls itself a “grassroots, activist think tank” headquartered in Warrenton, Virginia (isn't that about an hour's drive from Arlington?). He opens his article quite bluntly with the statement that “The world is in chaos and, quite frankly, it’s the United Nations’ fault”. He calls the UN a “cesspool of Socialism” and declares “It helps to keep tyrannical dictators in power” (which, is generally agreed, is the job of the CIA). Unfortunately, Mr DeWeese seems not to have read even the preamble of the UN Charter because he believes that “The United Nations’ main purpose is to provide voice and power to irrelevant or vicious nations to counter the United States”, an assertion that relies on the patriotic prejudice of Americans or the illusions of adherents of “virtuous USA” as the world policeman. In another curious assertion he states “Most of the UN’s membership comes from nations controlled either by communist regimes, kingdoms, or mad dictators where American values are either unknown or viewed as a threat”. Communist regimes? I wish!! And on this premise he expresses his concern that “Those same UN members are busy working to implement plans for UN global governance” and he sees a key justification for this concern in the fact that “Already, the UN’s International Criminal Court is in place”.

At the end of this long list of assertions, without having in any way developed an argument, he reaches the conclusion that is the subject of his essay with simply another bold assertion that “The UN is dangerous because its most vocal membership stands in opposition of the American values of controlled representative government, justice, free enterprise, privacy of individuals, and private property rights”.

I would like to ask Mr DeWeese who controls his government and who does it represent? Where is the justice at Guantanamo? Who pays for all this “free” enterprise, the taxpayer? Which individuals in the US have privacy?

[Aside: Whenever I hear Americans talk about the protection of private property rights I am always reminded of a cartoon depicting two homeless men wrapped in their shabby overcoats and warming their hands on a fire outside their makeshift shelters of tea-chests. One says to the other “You know, under Socialism, if you had two houses the government would take one of them off you!”.]

The cause of all this, he says, the thing that makes the UN so dangerous is the “United States’ participation in propping up the circus”. His article was written prior to March 2003 and part of his conclusion was based on the assertion that Iraq was in violation of 17 UN resolution (never mind that Israel has stood in violation of some 60 resolutions for more than 40 years); “Seventeen resolutions should be enough to prove we don’t need to spend another dime playing this game”. Given that no WMD were found in Iraq, which seems to confirm what Hans Blix had said all along – that Iraq had complied with UN demands – I wonder if Mr DeWeese’s views have changed? Or is he still publishing drivel on behalf of the CIA for the consumption of those Americans rendered patriotically ignorant by an embedded, mainstream media?

The United States government never participates in anything unless it is to serve American Interests and it clearly is “propping up” this circus because it’s very useful.

A post-Iraq-invasion article in the American Chronicle titled Has the UN Become Irrelevant? [v] by Greg Reeson is concerned with the contention, in relation to Iranian nuclear development, that “weakness of the United Nations ultimately means UN resolutions can be defied without consequence”. Although rightly addressing the ineffectiveness of the UN (and like others, this article makes no mention of the 60 resolutions ignored by Israel) the article makes the odd leap to the conclusion that in the event of non-enforcement of resolutions pertaining to Iran "it will once again demonstrate to the world that its member nations cannot fulfil its founding purpose" and in this circumstance "It will become, as President Bush warned, irrelevant".

Aside from the flawed conclusion, the article is so full of disinformation (erasing the distinction of Iran’s assertion of its right to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes with allegations that Iran is building a weapon) dishonesties (in once again asserting the known falsehood that Ahmadinejad “never misses an opportunity to call for the destruction of Israel” and the usual accusation of Iran as “a leading state sponsor of terrorism”) , misrepresentations (in citing “the lack of transparency provided by the hard-line government and the threat posed by the Iranian regime itself” despite IAEA and CIA assertions to the contrary and the fact that Iran, unlike the US, has not been a hostile aggressor in 300 years), hypocrisy (which positively drips from the article but is probably at a pitch in the statement that “There can be no mistake about Ahmadinejad’s quest for nuclear power and regional influence”).

It’s hard to believe that in asserting claims about being “threatened by a potentially nuclear-armed terrorist regime dedicated to the destruction of the West” the author is unable to see the position of Iran as being “threatened by a nuclear-armed terrorist regime dedicated to the domination of the East”.

It’s the existence of just this sort of propagandist rhetoric, which avoids the frank, open, honest discussion that the UN is intended to facilitate, that undermines the effectiveness of the UN, but at the same time highlights the relevance of the UN as a wider, democratic forum that will promote a more dispassionate assessment of contributions to debate in the resolution of conflict and settlement of disputes.

Kofi Annan under Fire

Kofi Annan, who served as UN Secretary General for 10 years, concluding in December 2006 shared a Nobel Peace Prize with the UN in 2001. His assertion in 2003 that an attack on Iraq without a further Security Council resolution would be contrary to the UN Charter, won him no friends in the Bush Administration. According to Wikipedia, John Boulton, when asked to sum up Annan's years at the UN, responded simply: "I'll pass". And at the conclusion of his term of office the American Heritage Foundation, which purports to provide “leadership” for America, published on it’s website an article by Nile Gardiner (Director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom) titled Kofi Annan's Legacy of Failure [vi] which opened with a stinging paragraph to match the title:

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan delivered his swan song today at the Truman Presidential Library in Missouri. It was a thinly veiled parting shot at U.S. foreign policy delivered by an embittered U.N. leader seething with self-righteous indignation and resentment. Annan's Missouri speech will go down in history as one of the most blatant assaults on a U.S. administration by a serving U.N. official”.

It’s noteworthy how often a reference to “self-righteous indignation” appears in an ad hominem response to accusations of immorality or lack of integrity where there is no challenge to the facts of the accusation and no other response is possible.

The article went on to state that:

“Annan's departure from office has not come soon enough. His 10 years in power have been a monumental failure, and he leaves behind an institution whose standing could barely be lower and a legacy that is a testament to mismanagement, corruption, and anti-Americanism.”. Interestingly, the article lambasts Annan for a list of statements and actions that most people outside the US would firmly agree with:

  • That "no nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others."
    Dismissed as “condescending remarks”.
  • America's position in the "vanguard of the global human rights movement…can only be maintained if America remains true to its principles, including in the struggle against terrorism. When it appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends are naturally troubled and confused."
  • That “When power, especially military force, is used, the world will consider it legitimate only when convinced that it is being used for the right purpose-for broadly shared aims-in accordance with broadly accepted norms."
  • That “he suggested that Iraqis were worse off today than they were under Saddam Hussein” which the article claimed “sparked outrage in Baghdad”, reflecting mainstream journalism’s reach as far as the walls of the Green Zone

It also contends “Annan has a long track record of opposition to the U.S.-led war to remove Saddam Hussein from power, as well as to the wider conduct of the global war on terror.” As if to suggest that Annan was a keen supporter of Saddam Hussein and an advocate of terrorism – along with the millions of others who objected!!!

Inevitably, the issues of UN failures in regard to peacekeeping and genocide, sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Congo and of course, the oil-for-food programme in Iraq, all of them real issues, but all of them raised to denigrate Kofi Annan as personally responsible; allegedly incompetent and corrupt; all of this without any balanced discussion of, or even a reference to UN dependence on the resources supplied by its members or to the universal problem of administrators having all responsibility, no authority.

Not surprisingly, the article quotes John Bolton as having "described the U.N. as hopelessly out of touch and stuck in a Twilight Zone-style 'time warp' “ and goes on to say that "Many Americans would agree with Mr. Bolton" citing results of a Gallup poll in the United States in which 64 percent of respondents said the United Nations was "doing a poor job". This of course, is not surprising, given that Americans see the UN constantly denigrated by Fox News and the likes of Rush Limbaugh and an endless diet of quotations from the likes of John Bolton.

While Kofi Annan supported his Deputy Secretary after making statements critical of some sections of the American media in their misrepresentation of the UN and also made public remarks unhelpful to the American push for an invasion of Iraq the real barrier to a UN-backed invasion was the Security Council, not the General Secretary.

In a BBC interview [vii] after his exit from the UN Kofi Annan was asked “Why didn't you stand up in the UN Security Council and say in 2003: 'This war is illegal without a Security Council resolution'?” to which he responded that he had said in 2003 that it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. The interviewer mentioned accusingly, that “Your aides say that you lost your voice” as if to imply that if only Kofi Annan had been more clear and more vocal the BBC could have stopped the war. The hypocrisy is truly amazing.

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