The United Nations is facing new denunciations for being feckless, ineffective, and corrupt. The sun also rose, obituaries were published, children went off to school, and leaves in the northern latitudes began to change color. There was something different about the latest criticism, however: despite its general similarity of content, it came from The Guardian, the flagship of the British left, and The Hudson Institute, virtually the Jesuit order of Washington neoconservatism. That’s a stunning convergence from two groups with that much antogonism between them, and the criticism from both sides is existential: the U.N. is proving itself a failure at protecting international peace and human rights. At the root of all of the U.N.’s existential questions lie this one: united by what? Neocons and British lefties will certainly differ in their answers, something that is both symptomatic of the fundamental problem and beside the point. When people conclude that the U.N. can’t do the job and charges them a fortune not to do it, the institution’s path to extinction is assured.
Let’s start with the new and “reformed” body the U.N. uses to police human rights, the U.N. Human Rights Council. This week, Freedom House published its “worst of the worst” list. What might surprise you (unless you read this) is that three of the “worst of the worst” are members of the new and “reformed” U.N. Human Rights Council. As Freedom House puts it:
The UN Human Rights Council was established this year as a replacement for the much-criticized UN Commission on Human Rights, and met for the first time in June. A number of decisions, including the establishment of a working group to determine guidelines for a new Universal Periodic Review, were taken at the meeting. However, despite the human rights crises that exist in places like North Korea, Darfur, Uzbekistan, and elsewhere, the Council has only exercised its authority for country specific action in two special sessions focusing on situations in Gaza and Lebanon, and then passed resolutions widely seen in the human rights community as unbalanced condemnations of Israel without reference to human rights violations by Hamas or Hizbollah or the states that support them.
It’s no surprise that North Korea is listed. It’s not much more surprising that the Council neither recommended nor took any effective action against North Korea, after the U.N.’s miserable performance, which specifically includes Kofi Annan, his disgraced former Special Envoy, his disgraced former High Commissioner for Refugees, and his America-hating former High Commissioner for Human Rights. And we have every indication that the U.N. will continue to fail.
We are having this discussion as the U.N. is choosing a General Secretary to follow the disastrous Boutros Ghali and Kofi Annan years: Srebrenica, Rwanda, a completely preventable Great Famine in North Korea, a genocidal thug’s massive and wildly successful influence-buying scam, and now, Darfur. Surely now the United Nations must break with its paralysis in the face of slaughter, its coziness with terrorists and despots, its corruption. Surely this is the opportunity for the United Nations to define its values in such a way that it can regain some of its squandered sense of purpose.
I’m betting on the U.N. to flub it, and I can even tell you how it’s going to happen. The front-runner to replace Kofi Annan is South Korea’s leftist Foreign Minister, Ban Ki-Moon, a man whose record embodies the very worst we’ve come to expect from the U.N.: passive-aggressive policies that appease evil and confront all efforts to define or enforce standards of civilized conduct. As Foreign Minister, Ban was architect and executor of a no-questions-asked appeasement policy toward North Korea. During those years, North Korea’s human rights record was the worst on earth, and probably the worst since the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Kim Jong Il’s absolutist regime, supported by $7 billion in South Korean aid since 1994, stands accused of racial infanticide, the use of gas chambers for horrific chemical weapons on entire families, and a politically selective famine that “cleansed” North Korea of millions while the regime went on an arms-buying spree. North Korea’s forced labor camps are estimated to hold as many as 250,000 people, including thousands of children.
Ban and his government had little to say and nothing to ask as these atrocities went on, and go on to this very day. When resolutions condemning these crimes came before the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and later, the General assembly, South Korea’s ambassadors were instructed to either refuse to vote or abstain. Publicly, Ban’s government failed to raise more than one mild, belated, token call to improve human rights in the North, and then, only in the most vague and general sense and in response to withering criticism from abroad.
During those same years, North Korea’s contempt toward its neighbors and the United Nations itself was difficult to overstate: a nuclear weapons program that defied its own promises and obligations to the contrary; kidnapping and holding dozens of Japanese, hundreds of South Koreans, plus a smattering of Thais, Lebanese, and Chinese; selling uranium hexafluoride to Libya, missiles to Syria and Pakistan, and nuclear technology to Iran; trafficking in methamphetamine and heroin; counterfeiting of foreign currency, drugs, and cigarettes; and flinging missiles toward Japan and Russia despite warnings by those nations, the United States, China, and South Korea itself. Today, North Korea is threatening to test one of the nuclear weapons it claims to have. Safe to say, then: if you’re still paying off Kim Jong Il after all of this, you’re the wrong man to lead the United Nations in a new and better direction.
Ban’s selection would represent the final break between the United Nations and the values it was founded to represent. That is why the Bush Administration should be pulling every string it can — quietly — to block Ban from becoming the next U.N. General Secretary. If those efforts fail, a Ban Ki-Moon tenure is an occasion for the United States to pursue its security interests outside the U.N. That especially goes for North Korea, where Ban would presumably continue his past practice of mollifying Kim Jong Il at the expense of America’s interests and the survival of the North Korean people. It should also cause Americans to reconsider their funding of the United Nations, an institution that must either define and reform itself or gently evolve into a global humanitarian relief agency.
The Existential Question
If you were to guess that Hudson’s perspective is the more interventionist, you would be wrong.
Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the United Nations’ pledge to provide protection for civilians around the world. After the Holocaust and the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, member states acknowledged their “responsibility to protect” (R2P) and vowed to banish the sorry lament of “never again” for good. One year on, only a few weeks after the international community looked the other way in Lebanon, and we are bracing ourselves for another potential genocide in Darfur. Already, the pledge is starting to sound hollow.
This from Ian Davis of The Guardian. Leave aside the Guardian’s full-throated opposition to the humanitarian intervention in Iraq. Whatever you think of the wisdom of that intervention, Saddam Hussein was not one quantum less guilty of genocide than the Janjaweed. What is troubling about the ease of Davis’s call — and that of so many on the left — to intervene in Darfur is what would happen if the Sudanese decide that the U.N. and its backers lack the will to see and ugly fight through. How much stomach would The Guardian’s editors have for the inevitable consequences of using the force that would be required to disarm the pro-government militias? And there should be no mistake about what Davis is proposing; it demands “a readiness to apply non-consensual military intervention.” Anyone who thinks that means anything but a bloodly counterinsurgency is uniquely gifted at self-delusion and ignorant of that area’s history. Raise your hand if you’re prepared for that … not so fast, Ian Davis:
However, if a UN force had both the moral authority of a genuinely united UN and was robust enough to look after itself, then the Sudanese government might think twice about a military entanglement.
I assure you that any parody here is completely unintentional. Davis rests the lives of hundreds of thousands on the moral authority of the organization that perpretrated the largest corruption scandal in human history, one that is all the worse because that moral authority was rented to a genocidal tyrant with oil money (being mindful of the unique moral stigma attached to all petroleum derivatives). He expects ruthless men to let themselves be bluffed out of oil-rich territory for which they’ve already cut a few hundred thousand throats. Anyone who doubts that they would dare to add a few Nigerian, Bangladeshi, or Dutch peacekeepers to the toll has forgotten the name Mohammad Farah Aideed. He surrenders the remainder of his credibility by suggesting that the Britain find the troop strength by scrapping its weapons — he calls them “white elephants” — to improve pay and working conditions.
If only Davis had quit after his first two paragraphs. On his initial points, he’s indisputably right: Sudan is a genocide, and humanity has a duty to act in firmly, but prudently, against genocide. He also recognizes that the U.N. is proving to be a woeful vehicle to perform that duty. Here, he has no idea how right he is. Had Davis more knowledge of what has been happening for the last dozen years in North Korea — with the U.N.’s full knowledge and acquiesence by silence — he might see even more merit to his argument. And while intervention in Darfur would be far more complex than Davis estimates, any ordinary fool knows that invading North Korea with a foreign army would be incalculably bloody. Davis, a man who is outraged by evil acts and is valiantly proposing to do something — the wrong thing — about them, unintentionally provides a first-rate case study of why U.N. interventions forced by men such as himself always fail. First, he underestimates the brutality of the foes he chooses to take on; second, he is ignorant of military matters; and third, he does not understand the political limits of military power.
Yet Davis and The Guardian’s readership would clutch their chests and gasp for air were anyone to mention aloud the one thing that would almost immediately stop the Janjaweed: guns. Cowards who rape and slaughter women and children tend to have a certain reluctance to face victims who may have assault rifles, light machine guns, and RPG-7 antitank rockets. The “moral authority” of the U.N. tends not to have that same effect, particularly if its military power and political will are open to question. Raising a self-protection force among the Darfurians themselves would be all the more effective if a U.N. force would provide air reconnaissance from UAV’s and helicopters to warn of Janjaweed attacks.
If case of the vapors I’ve probably caused you has passed, you may be ready to read what the Hudson Institute’s survey has said (you will hear me describe Hudson as neoconservative, but the papers you read won’t call Pew or Brookings liberal). The findings? Americans are preparing themselves to give up on the U.N.
— 75% believe the UN is no longer “effective” and “needs to be held more accountable.
— 71% believe the UN “needs to be considerably reformed.
— 67% believe “there are too many undemocratic nations in the UN that do not care about promoting democracy and freedom.
— Only 37% believe the UN is “effective in PREVENTING wars and military conflicts.
— Only 32% believe the UN is “effective in ENDING wars and military conflicts.
The rejection of the UN is bi-partisan. Democrats expressed negative evaluations of the UN performance only slightly below the national average, while Republicans were slightly above.
“We live in an era of disappointment and dismay towards our governing institutions, but the hostility towards the UN goes even deeper,” said Dr. Frank Luntz, author of the survey. “America is a politically polarized country, but when Republicans and Democrats alike both agree that the UN has failed, that’s not only instructive, it’s significant.
There are two particular issues that merit special mention here, and the first is the U.N.’s performance on terrorism. Apparently, Americans see much room for improvement.
— Only 27% of Americans have a more favorable opinion of the United Nations since 9/11. By comparison, a majority (52%) now have less favorable impression of the international organization ““ a significant 2 to 1 negative ratio.
Shall I go on?
— Only 26% of the population believes America gets “good value for all the United Nations every year.
— Asked a slightly different way, a still strikingly low 31% believes the five billion dollar annual U.S. contribution to the UN.
— It is therefore not surprising that 71% of the population want America contribution to the UN. A majority from every geographic, demographic, political subgroup wants to see reductions in American funding.
— It is also not surprising that 60% oppose the expansion of the UN space sizeable 73% oppose any American funding of an expansion effort.
I’ve saved the best for last:
— Just 24% believe the UN played an effective role in the Darfur genocide.
And just to keep the post topical, 34% called Iran the greatest threat to world peace, and 15% said North Korea. The bad news: that’s just four points ahead of the United States, meaning that the char-broiled nutter vote is reaching supra-Kucinich levels at a whopping 11% (who will pay for all that prozac?). By a margin of 44 to 37, Americans think the U.N. generally opposes U.S. interests globally. When it comes to protecting human rights, it was overwhelming: by a 60 to 35 margin, Americans think their own country does a better job of protecting human rights than the U.N. When it comes to protecting terrorism, the United States wins 62 to 30.
Yet in spite of all of that, Americans think that we should play a more active role in the U.N. to influence world affairs. That’s in spite of the fact that 71% think it needs major reforms.
Now, I’m guessing that you can pretty much sort out what I think those results mean, but if you’d like additional help from Hudson, knock yourself out. To me, it means that the American people do believe that at least some nations can agree on certain matters of international human rights and security policy. I’ll crawl a bit further out on that limb to say that they want nations to unite to fight terrorism, and take varying degrees of international action to stop genocide, terror, and other crimes against humanity (depending on the cost). I happen to think this is good in a sense, because I think nations can often find a general convergence of values that some agreed action is needed for the good of humanity. I don’t think the U.N. will ever become an effective vehicle for this, however — not as long as China and Russia are undemocratic and hold the power of the veto, and not as long as the “reformed” U.N. Human Rights Council will still have some of the world’s most repressive states sitting in judgment of others. I think we need to look for alternative groups for meeting human rights and security challenges, which the U.N. just isn’t going to be able to meet, no matter how much we wish it were otherwise.
Interventionism, “Realism,” and Relativism
It’s odd to hear slogans like “Out of Iraq, Into Darfur.” That last link, which opposes both interventions, makes up in consistency a small amount of what it loses in sanity; this one is rational on its face but laments that George Bush’s Iraq intervention has hurt the cause of liberal interventionism. I will join in that lament if Iraq escapists and defeatists undermine our noble and liberal effort in Iraq, one that has replaced a genocidal tyranny with a freely elected government. Not surprisingly, this effort isn’t easy. A fragile but legitimate democracy is fighting for its life against gangs controlled by mullahs, terrorists, warlords, and plain old thugs. Much of the grasping for power seems to have taken off since we killed Zarkawi and arrested large parts of his network. Tribal groups are hedging their bets, because they’re uncertain if we’re prepared to finish the task we took on, which means around long enough for that democracy to restore what passes for order in the Middle East, or we can Iraq become the next Cambodia. It wouldn’t all be Cambodia of course. There are parts that would look like Lebanon in the 70’s, Afghanistan in the 90’s, or Iran.
I’m also sympathetic to calls for bringing attention to Darfur with a mind toward doing something about it, and I would support an intervention if it would be led by someone other than the U.N. — someone who could do it effectively. But isn’t it odd that the “Out of Iraq” side of the argument is dominated by liberals who have shacked up with Kissingerian realists — as in, “reality based community” — to justify a specific result they favor in this particular case? I don’t think you’ll catch any realist worth his name supporting intervention in Darfur, safe to say, even if it does have oil. If you’ve pretty much concluded that Democrats and liberals just don’t like Republican wars, well, I agree and would add that the converse is also true.
Now, if you want to completely turn this on its head, take Ban Ki-Moon, a liberal on the outside, but the coldest of realists on the inside. Let yourself be fooled by ideological labels and affiliations if you must, but here is a man who wouldn’t let a sense of moral duty budge his doctrine if Kim Jong Il showed up on YTN news feeding babies into a wood chipper. Transparency in food aid distribution? Oh, we’re doing a few inspections. Gas chambers? You can’t prove that, and we’re not asking any questions! Refugees dragged back to gulags? Trust us, we’re trying “quiet diplomacy.” They’re killing half-Chinese babies up there, you say? Well, qui sommes nous? We can’t cause offense, even when our own citizens are being plucked off of beaches and fishing boats. That’s why Ban is a perfect fit for the cesspool that the U.N. has become, while well-meaning fools like Ian Davies write editorials that require cynical diplomats to cluck their tongues with pretended concern. If Ban, who has made his diplomatic bones by abetting mass murder, is elevated to the U.N.’s top position, the dominant school of thought in the U.N. will be one that’s incapable of defining objective standards of right and wrong, rejects them outright, or simply refuses to enforce them.
Which ought to make you wonder just what unites the nations. If the unity is really a pretense, it may be time to recognize that no international body — liberal interventionist, realist, or otherwise — is ever going to be as effective at protecting the victims of terror or genocide as self-liberated victims with automatic weapons. If the U.N. elevates a man like Ban Ki Moon, it also confesses its own moral ambivalence toward mass slaughter, and it will be doubly incumbent on us to ask how else we can prevent mass slaughter, since the U.N. never will.