Anti-Americanism and the UN


On its 60th anniversary, a meeting of world leaders convened at the UN in NYC. Among the many noteworthy speakers was Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, who denounced the US and recommended to the world body that it move its headquarters out of the US. For this, Mr. Chavez received the loudest applause - which, to any casual observer of the UN, should come as no surprise. The UN is also in the midst of an administrative overhaul in yet another effort to reform itself. The two themes complement one another: inveterate anti-Americanism and the need to reform the UN. A cursory glance at the record suggests a close relationship between the two and casts wide doubts over whether reforming that deeply flawed institution is possible or even worth the effort.

The UN as currently comprised consists of more than 190 nations, many of them amongst the most brutal regimes on the planet. Yet within the bizarre universe of UN practice, all are regarded equally as “member states.” Thus, North Korea, Iran, or the Sudan have equal voice with, say, Belgium or Canada. While no one doubts some good may come from a world body in which authoritarian dictatorships may speak with democratic states, the failure to distinguish between the two in some way must inevitably lead to moral confusion. To this, we add a bloated, nepotistic UN bureaucracy: 18,000 well-paid, preening bureaucrats, chosen based on nationality and seldom on merit, with little incentive to expose UN misdeeds and corruption - as the world witnessed in the UN Oil-for-Food-Scandal.

The list of UN failures is long. It failed to prevent mass murder in Rwanda, Bosnia, and now Darfur (Sudan). It failed to preside ethically or proficiently over the Oil-for-Food program. It is entangled in a sex-trafficking scandal by its own peacekeepers. It cannot speedily assist victims of natural disasters. It cannot implement its own Security Council Resolutions. It cannot thwart the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It cannot even define terrorism.

The chief crisis of the UN though is not incompetence, but moral ineptitude. One cannot expect an institution that has no true military resources to “keep the peace,” but one can expect from an institution that purports to uphold human rights to behave accordingly. Yet, the UN continually embarrasses itself by electing nations with the worst human rights records to the UN Human Rights Commission. Such moral paragons as Zimbabwe, Cuba, and the Sudan now sit on the Commission, which Libya only recently chaired. The UN is also the world's global platform for anti-Semitism. At the 2001 Durban summit meant to address racism, it devolved into an anti-Semitic orgy. The UN has continually targeted Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, while sparing its autocratic neighbors, many of them sponsors of terror. By failing to distinguish between democrats and tyrants, the civilized and the barbaric, the UN appears not as moral beacon but as moral buffoon.

It is easy then to understand anti-Americanism at the UN. The US is, after all, everything the UN is not. The US is effective; the UN is bungling. The US has liberated dozens of nations and millions of people; the UN has freed no one. The US is a lawful, democratic state; the UN is a secretive, corrupt, non-representative bureaucracy. The US is the most successful exemplar of human rights, freedom, and democracy in the world; the UN regards genocidal states and democracies as equivalent. Anti-Americanism at the UN is at heart little more than rage and resentment by a piddling body consumed by self-pity and weakness.

Can the UN be fixed, with its moral compass in such disrepair? If it could, it would have to be based on a renewed emphasis on human rights and democracy. A body that ostensibly stands for human rights cannot look blithely upon genocidal member states with miserable human rights records. Democracy and human rights must receive the same institutional status as world hunger and poverty. A caucus of democratic states within the UN, with greater powers than the General Assembly and strict criteria for entry would be an important step. Perhaps, it is even time to expel member states that fail to live up to some modicum of decency. To become a force for human rights and democracy, the UN must stand full force behind legitimate, representative self-governance. Until it does, and until it polices its own members, it will remain what it has always been - a dysfunctional, ineffectual entity, incapable of providing any moral guidance to a violent, broken world. In the meantime, the US should devote itself to establishing alliances, coalitions, and regional organizations; it should work closely with existing democracies and more actively support the burgeoning “Community of Democracies,” a fledgling association that may some day be an alternative to the inept UN. Through such arrangements, the US may promote the lofty UN vision of world peace, prosperity, and human rights far better than the UN itself has done.


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