Thursday, January 04, 2007

The U.N. Not Worthy of Much Confidence

An editorial in this morning's The Tennessean argues that the importance of the United Nations demands that the new Secretary General restore its credibility, with United States' support. With their enthusiasm overwhelming their syntax, the editors argue, "There is no other organization with the capacity to bring positive change around the world than the United Nations. Its formation following World War II was a defining moment in modern times, and has done more to promote peace and end disease — through its affiliated agencies — than any other agency."

The paper goes on to say that the U.N. has enabled U.S. foreign aid "to be distributed fairly and effectively" and that the U.S. requires the U.N if we are to have "greater international legitimacy as a peacemaker...." They reach the apex of their argument with this:

Perhaps more importantly, the U.N. is necessary because it is not tied to any single nation. This function has also been bent or manipulated over the years by one superpower or another, but there will always be a need for an autonomous agent that can bring nations together in a forum for discussion toward a mission of peace or disaster relief.

In fact, the greatest weakness of the United Nations has been that it is not tied to any single nation or, more importantly, any significant set of shared values. The same western hubris in the early 20th century that imagined that lines could be drawn on maps to create nations irrespective of cultural, ethnic, and historical divides, also dreamed that consensus and progress could be built absent any unifying factors other than bureaucracy. Indicative of the power of this fantasy is the use by intelligent people with straight faces of the phrase "international community," an oxymoron used to delineate people who share neither geography nor values.

Many decisions of the United Nations result from compromises with totalitarian regimes with no respect for basic human freedoms. Arguably, it has accomplished little in terms of diplomacy, peacekeeping, or humanitarian aid, as its inefficient operations and slowness to act have impeded, not streamlined, needed processes. Little has been accomplished with the U.N. that would not also have happened without it.

Does that mean that the U.N. should be done away with? No, it retains some importance as a symbol of international cooperation, and symbolism, even absent substance, can sometimes be of value. However, not much hope should be invested in the organization.

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