Saturday, January 20, 2007

United Nations Plays an Important Role

I've noticed a lot of UN bashing lately, even a whole Virginia blog dedicated to why that particular lunatic hates the UN. But, as usual, the bashers display a fundamental lack of understanding of what the organization is and does. Not even the neocons in the Bush administration want to see the UN go away, even though they have been unbelievably clumsy in dealing with the global body.

It is true that the UN has not always been effective. But how much of this failure is due to the lack of support from the U.S. Without the U.S., the UN stands little chance of performing to its potential, and when the U.S. President, and his ambassador, actually stand in the way, then failure is certain. So I blame the United States for the deficiencies at the United Nations.

But it is also true, in my opinion, that the world would be a lot worse off without the UN. Security and peace-keeping may not be strengths of the organization--although to whom else can we turn?--but the UN does so much more: development, aid to refugees and protection of children, and, perhaps most importantly, providing a forum for diplomacy. In a world that is shrinking, multilateralism is important. The U.S. will never rule the globe, no matter how much George Bush may dream of it. The best we can hope for is that we can live in peaceful coexistence with our earthly neighbors, and the UN is an essential element of that hope.

It is my wish, therefore, that Bush--or, more likely, the next President--will recognize the importance of diplomacy and role of the international organizations such as the UN, and will support, instead of undermining, its mission.


Mosquito said...

Nice long as the United States models itself as KIND of the world and refuses to follow international law we will continue to "cubvert" the UN...along with our own special vetoes etc.

The US policy in the world is do as I say not as I do and it has made us feared and hated as a country....AND is part of the fertilizer for growing terrorists ....


Anonymous said...

Clifford, I agree that we need a forum for addressing global issues, but I also agree with much of the UN bashing that you've observed. Too many very important issues (Middle East stability, nuclear proliferation, etc) are just not making any progress. My opinion is that our world forum needs to be a more democratic organization, less vulnerable to the will of totalitarian regimes. Specifically...



Unknown said...

Interesting, Gary. I was not aware of UDN. On the surface, though, I think the premise is flawed because it assumes that there is only one definition of democracy and that democracy is the only means of representative government. Don't get me wrong, I'm extremely grateful that I live in a democracy and I think the world would be better off if every country were democratic, but I'm not sure I see the value of denying China a voice in world affairs makes a lot of sense just because they don't share this particular value that we hold dear. It not only seems a bit arrogant, it surely is self-defeating since a body of only democratic nations wouldn't be truly global.

Also, as I mentioned, I think a major reason for the UN's inability to perform to its potential is that the US stands in its way at almost every turn.

Still, these are interesting issues and I thank you for bringing the UDN to my attention; I'll definitely study it further.

Anonymous said...

Clifford, the UDN website is mine. And no, I'm very aware that there is no one definition of democracy. It's many things. It's how often reporters are "disappeared". It's whether or not a country censors the internet. It's whether or not the country allows independent verification of the election process. If you think about it, how can you NOT judge a nation on issues like these?

> denying China a voice

Interesting phrase. I would contend that the Chinese as a people are already denied a voice. So allowing dictators to sit behind the CHINA nameplate at the UN only serves to tarnish the reputation of the institution. If you legitimize a dictator, you lose your own legitimacy.

You also expressed a concern about how global the UDN would be...

a body of only democratic nations wouldn't be truly global

Truly democratic is more important than truily global. And in the end, more productive. The UN's overall lack of progrss with the most important global issues is evidence of this.

US stands in its way at almost every turn.

Maybe. But that has no bearing on whether the UN should be more democratic or not. France has a permanent seat in the SC, yet is only 20th in population. India is the 2nd most populous nation, yet has no such position. Explain to me in modern terms how this could possibly make sense.


Unknown said...

I don't think you'll be able to convince me on this, Gary. It's a bit like saying there should only be Republicans in Congress because the Democrats are willing to raise taxes, or only Democrats because the Republicans oppose a woman's right to privacy regarding her own body. I know the UN well (I used to work for the World Bank) and I've been to China a few dozen times and worked closely with both government and private citizens. While there is no doubt that what you say about the government of China is generally true, it is still, under international law, the legitimate government of China, regardless of how its leaders are chosen, and it represents the Chinese people in the manner it sees fit--not the manner that you or I might like. I think it is counterproductive to deny China a seat at the table just because it doesn't hold elections that are up to your standard, but I admire the thought and effort you've put into the idea.

Anonymous said...

> it is still, under international law, the legitimate government of China

It's not international law that counts. It's whatever judgement best brings freedom to the Chinese. I can't believe you would compare totalitarianism with democracy as if it's just a minor difference, such as between Democrats and Republicans. Do you really believe that?

> I don't think you'll be able to convince me on this

You may be right. But humor me for a moment. Suppose a group of international terrorists were to take over Denmark. They put the elected leaders against the wall and execute them. The next morning a large rude man smoking a large cigar is found sitting behind the DENMARK nameplate at the UN. What would you propose? Do we allow him to represent Denmark because might makes right? Do we require him to fill out paperwork first? At least put out his Cigar? How would you handle it?


Unknown said...

Sorry, Gary, but in my view international law counts for a lot. For example, your fat terrorist would only get his seat at the U.N. if other states recognized the new government and under the scenario you describe I don't think they would.

And as for China, I wasn't equating their system with ours (although to call theirs "totalitarian" goes too far; North Korea is totalitarian, China is not), I was just suggesting that it doesn't make sense to exclude them from the club just because their system is different.

One last thing: if anyone is going to be kept out of the organization, democracy or not, it ought to be the country that has illegally occupied Iraq and is now responsible for the deaths of more than 100 Iraqis every single month. If that's democracy, then maybe we ought to try something else.

Anonymous said...

Clifford, what happened to my last post? You didn't approve it. I was very much looking forward to your reply. Or did you give up on the whole international law argument...


Unknown said...

Gary, I've published every comment that I received from you, the last being before this morning being the one on the 22nd beginning "it's not international law that counts." Having said that, I am a bit weary of the discussion . . .

Anonymous said...

Hi Clifford,

(I just assumed that you ignored my last post. I must not have entered it correctly. Sorry about that.)

Suppose a man living in China were to ask you why you have freedom of speech, but he doesn’t. Or why you can vote for your leaders, but he cannot? How would you respond? Would you tell him “Sorry, but it's written in the international law"? Do you think he would be satisfied with that answer? Doesn't such justification strike you as morally bankrupt?

You stated that China is not totalitarian. Then what would you call it? I certainly agree that China has come a long way in the last few years, and I even expect China to be a democracy in the near future, but I can’t imagine the current regime as being labeled anything other than totalitarian.

Finally, you mentioned Iraq. Just for the record I never stated that I agreed with our Iraq policy Or that the US was a model democracy. So I'm not clear what bearing that has in our discussion.

> If that's democracy, then maybe we ought to try something else.

I think you know better than that. Iraq is the result of an ignorant public voting for an ignorant president. Besides, what other system would you suggest?


Unknown said...

Now you're being absurd and even a bit offensive. Of course "international law" isn't the answer to the hypothetical Chinese man's question--a question that wouldn't be asked because he knows the answer. But it is the answer to the question YOU asked. You seem to forget that the current Chinese leaders, despite their protests to the contrary, derive their authority from a several-millenia-old tradition of imperial power. While that doesn't make it a good system, or one that will survive much longer as you suggest, it does explain why the people have accepted it up to now. Is China totalitarian? I think the leaders might wish it were so, but the central government has lost a good deal of its grip. I'd say "authoritarian." Call it totalitarian if you want to, but then what do you call North Korea?

As for Iraq, I mention it for a couple of reasons. Even so-called democratically elected governments behave badly and are as much a threat to world peace as non-democratically elected governments and if you are an American (maybe you aren't--I realize that I don't know anything about you), you ought to be worrying about the fascists who are taking our own country in the wrong direction before you start telling other countries how they should organize themselves.

Anonymous said...

Hi Clifford,

I apologize for any offence. I’ll try to be more civil. For the record, I’m an American.

You said: “the current Chinese leaders, despite their protests to the contrary, derive their authority from a several-millenia-old tradition of imperial power.” I agree with the historical perspective, but that doesn’t excuse it in the present. I understand your reservations about democracies behave badly, but I don’t see that as evidence that democracy is a poor system. It only proves that even democracies can falter if the population is sufficiently ignorant. Churchill said it best…

“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” -- Winston Churchill

Who knows? Perhaps a legitimate global organization would have expelled the United States for its actions in Iraq. Peer pressure is a great motivator, but only when your peers are legitimate democracies as well. Behaving poorly in front of China or Russia is easy as they have their own poor behavior to suppress.

you ought to be worrying about the fascists who are taking our own country in the wrong direction before you start telling other countries how they should organize themselves.

I worry about both. One could make the argument that fixing the global forum might be the BEST way of prodding the US in the right direction. But only if those pushing are of good standing (democracies). Realistically we need to address both. And with great haste.

To summarize: allowing totalitarian/authoritarian regimes to sit side by side with legitimate governments shows poorly on us as a people. These individuals simply do not represent the will of their people. Doing so legitimizes them and de-legitimizes us.