Tuesday, May 10, 2005
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UN - Reply
Best I can tell, most of you think the UN is by and large a force for no good. Commenters focused on the usual laments: Syria and Cuba on the Commission on Human Rights, corruption, cronyism, etc. People think John Bolton may kick some sense into the thing and if he fails to do so, no big deal in that the place is a sinkhole anyway.
Here's where I stand:
Yes, the UN is scandal-wracked, but its trying to do something about it. And, by the way, the U.S.'s track-record on corruption and fiscal mismanagement is not exactly squeaky clean either (same is true about both the UN and the US when it comes to nepotism).
The UN, like the US government, deals in a lot of messy situations and has to rely on a lot of individuals and groups that it cannot completely control. Corruption's a serious issue and needs to be addressed as part of a major push for reform at the organization. (that package should also deal with the composition of the Commission on Human Rights, but that problem really lies with the UN membership, more so than with the institution itself).
None of this is, in my view, a reason to turn one's back on all the things the UN does well, and particularly those responsibilities that are not and cannot be fulfilled by any single nation or any other multilateral organization.
Many of the reforms of the UN that have been proposed and will be debated in the coming months are very much pro-U.S.
I don't deny the UN's weaknesses. I just think that given the organization's strengths and the unique role it plays, the obvious solution is to do what we can to strengthen and fix it through constructive diplomacy.
My views on Bolton appear on Democracy Arsenal (search under the UN tab). My bottom line essentially grows out of what I said above about anti-Americanism, namely that it stands in our way and we ought to do what we can to minimize rather than stoke it.posted by on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM
I looked under the UN tab twice and found no Drezner.posted by: Nonfinder on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
I think you left out the biggest weakness of the UN, which is that many of the countries in the UN want it to be weak, including us.posted by: fling93 on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
I do not think any conservative (at least people I know) deny the humanitarian works of UNICEF or UNHCR. I certaintly can testify since I was a refugee myself and appreciate the work by UNHCR. But the UN suck at security issue, I do not think it is intentionally, but because the structure of it.
I think if the UN focus solely on humanitarian work, and we should assist it in its mission. I do not think it is possible to make the UN strong for the precise reason that Fling mentioned above, no one want it to be strong.posted by: Minh-Duc on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
Okay, but given the need for reform, I would think Bolton would be a very good choice to rattle the cages.posted by: Charlie (Colorado) on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
But what if one thinks that the corruption and failure is too prevalent, and that there is no way the institution by itself can clean itself?
In 2003 I heard some of their senior folks speak, and they spoke exactly the way an organizational leader in my job speaks when they have no idea how bad their unit processes are.
And let's not forget that to some it's not the *UN* that's doing good things, it's *countries banding togther under the framework of a UN organization*. The good due to the structure may be illusory (or reconstitutable) while the corruption, perversion and failure are very real.posted by: Chap on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
This is the definitional issue:
"None of this is, in my view, a reason to turn one's back on all the things the UN does well, and particularly those responsibilities that are not and cannot be fulfilled by any single nation or any other multilateral organization."
What is the UN? To what extent can those of its affiliated organizations which are performing effectively (by American lights) carry on that work independently of the others, and of the UN General Assembly and Security Council?
Now is the time for a bottom-up review whereby all the UN's organizations separately, and the UN as a whole, should justify their continued existence, if only as a prophylactic against a time when the American government as well as the American people become fed up with it. I'm already there.posted by: Tom Holsinger on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
Maybe I should keep my mouth shut, because I'm a
Ah, shoot. I missed the boat. I just typed out all my answers, and posted them, and the teacher has already passed back the grades. Oh, well, for what it's worth, they're here:posted by: Callimachus on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
I think you left out the biggest weakness of the UN, which is that many of the countries in the UN want it to be weak, including us.
That's a feature, not a bug.posted by: rosignol on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
From the post over at DemocracyArsenal:
This is true not only for the favored rationale of UN proponents - that what is good for the UN is good for the U.S. since the organization is indispensable to the advancement of U.S. policy goals.
Recent events provide quite a lot of evidence supporting the position that the UN is both dispensable and is frequently an impediment to the advancement of US policy goals.
Would you please explain your basis for making the assertion that it is not?posted by: rosignol on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
I think we should keep the UN as is. It is the perfect bad example of Leftist international nirvana. We have a "multi-cultural," "nation-state free," borderless, "multi-lateral," "post-modern" international organization were everything is relative and everyone gets a chance to express themselves...except for the USA and Israel, of course.
With the UN you get to see exactly what it means to have a world free of the powers and protections of a nation-state and most especially oversight, accountability and the rotation of elites provided by a democratic polity (Who don't listen to Leftists often enough).
The best part about the UN is it is a preview of the European Union's future right down to the financial scandals and morals corruption of Oil-for-Food and UN Peacekeeping.posted by: Trent Telenko on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
There is a basic structural problem with the UN that cannot be solved -- it is not elected. In other words, its constituancy is not the people of the world, but its governments.
Let's establish that the UN does do some things well. But let's also establish that there is little accountability. Under most circumstances, who's going to lose their job for a little graft, if you manage to keep the major powers happy?
And, if most of the powers are anti-american (yes, that is a good post below), why will the UN act in the US best interest?
I want to reverse the question. How does soft peddling and glad handing the UN provide incentive for reform? Isnt that what allowed the corruption in the first place? Im not one that thinks the UN should be burned to the ground, even to rebuild it, but I certainly do believe that fundamental restructuring is needed, not just house keeping. There must be a medium between pushing the building into the Atlantic and slapping some wrists. The reason I am in favor of Bolton is because without question the UN and their supporters are going to equate every reform with wholesale destruction (abetted by the NYT no doubt). Its a negotiation, and you dont start out by walking halfway across the room when your opponent is dug in to their corner. This is too important for niceties.posted by: Mark Buehner on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
I wonder if Frank Rich of the NYT wants
I think Trent is absolutely correct.
Since the UN cannot possibly serve to be
fling93: I think you left out the biggest weakness of the UN, which is that many of the countries in the UN want it to be weak, including us.
Well, allowing genocide isn't all that great a feature.posted by: fling93 on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
Suzanne, your Tu Quoque argument on UN corruption -- oh yeah, well there's corruption in the US too! -- is undermined by the fact that US citizens can get corrupt officials out of office through the election process and through legal action. The UN unfortunately has no similar direct accountability to American citizens, or any other nation's citizens for that matter.
I guess one thing US citizens could do to hold the UN accountable would be to appoint a blunt, no-bullshit UN ambassador who will no longer tolerate the organization's failures. Whoops! You're opposed to that too. So in your world we're back to the scenario where US citizens can do nothing about problems at the UN. Oh well, there's always "constructive diplomacy", right? Whatever it is that you mean by that platitude.
As for your claim that the UN is Trying To Do Something about its failures -- hey, pull the other one, it's got bells on it. Your various posts on UN "reform" are long on people's hopeful plans, draft proposals, suggestions, recommendations, if's, and maybe's -- and very short on anything resembling tangible results. But why get bogged down in details like implementation and results when we can focus on big-picture stuff like vision and intentions?posted by: DRB on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
It's true that the UN isn't accountable to voters but that doesn't mean it's not accountable. It's accountable to its member states especially to the small number who pay most of its dues. Almost all of those happen to be rich democracies like the US, Japan and the big EU countries. If these countries demand accountability the UN is forced to respond. Scandals like oil-for-food usually happen because the big countries turn a blind eye deliberately.
Furthermore elections are a messy and imprecise way of providing accountability on individual policies particularly in international affairs. How much accountability does there really exist when it comes to the mismanagement and corruption of the US reconstruction effort in Iraq? Do large numbers of voters really know or care about the details of what's going on out there? So for the UN has probably done a better job of investigating its Iraq-related scandals than the US government.posted by: Strategist on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
Strategist, I looked through your post and could find nothing that contradicts the fact that the UN is not accountable to US citizens. And while you talk about being able to enforce some measure of accountability through partial control of the purse strings -- which I fully support and which is the kind of card I think Bolton would be willing to play -- everything I've heard from Suzanne suggests that she wouldn't favor that kind of hardball. Better in her mind to use "constructive diplomacy", whatever that means.
But it seems to me that your argument is self-defeating. You claim the American people can't or won't use their votes to address corruption in their own government. How in the world then are they supposed to use their votes to address corruption in the UN? If, as you claim, the American people can't get accountability from their own government which they directly elect, how in the world are they supposed to get accountability from an organization that is one step further removed? You've just made one of the best arguments yet for our withdrawal from or dismantling of the UN due to a complete inability on our part to make it accountable. I thank you.
As for this:
"So for the UN has probably done a better job of investigating its Iraq-related scandals than the US government."
I'm afraid that's just a complete crock. In the US people are being indicted, being convicted, going to jail, seeing the end of their careers and much, much more in relation to misdeeds in Iraq. Investigations are being initiated and conducted by the military (remember, the Armed Forces started investigating Abu Ghraib long before the press picked up it up), by both Democrat and Republican elements of the government, and (extensively) by the press. Any suggestion that the UN is somehow being more diligent and doing a better job is unbelievable and suggests that the person making the suggestion either isn't paying any attention, is being deliberately obtuse, or lives on another planet.posted by: DRB on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
I looked under the UN tab twice and found no Drezner.
Nonfinder, look under 'Nossel' not 'Drezner.'posted by: Achillea on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
Our here in flyover country, where Hee Haw is considered fine entertainment, we think of the UN this way.
A group of bureaucrats who hate America but would rather live here and spend our money than live in their own wretched countries and do honest work.
Too cyncial, maybe?posted by: Tom E on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
"But it seems to me that your argument is self-defeating."
posted by: Strategist on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
There are profound differences in underlying assumptions here.
1) Can the U.N. reform itself? Suzanne seems to think so. I'm not aware of anyone here who agrees with that. IMO the degree of financial and moral corruption shown by the oil for food scandal is strong evidence that only overwhelming outside pressure can make the U.N. reform. Too many of its senior and middle level managers were involved, and they all have something to hide and grounds for resisting change. At the very least a very thorough purge would be required. If the staff involved were going to voluntarily resign (ha!), they would already done so.
2) Will any other member government with significant clout here join with the U.S. in forcing the necessary reforms? Suzanne won't go near this one. I say flat out that none will.
3) Can the U.S. government, alone, force the necessary changes? Neither Suzanne nor I have really considered this. IMO the only possible way we might have such capability would be through threat to leave the U.N. and force it to physically leave the U.S. (denial of diplomatic accreditation to UN staff would do that - all those unpaid NYC parking tickets, etc.).
My opinion here is based on the Democratic Party's unamimous opposition to John Bolton's nomination as American ambassador to the U.N. Less drastic means of forcing the U.N. to reform than threat of destroying it would require at least significant bi-partisan support in Congress. So it's unilateral action by the Executive branch or nothing.
4) Can the U.S. destroy the U.N.? Here too there are unvoiced assumptions. I say we can because denial of diplomatic accreditation is a pretty potent weapon. It would certainly be unprecedented, but the U.N. itself has few real precedents.
Sure the U.N. could move elsewhere, but the only effect of its resolutions on acts or people of the U.S. would be to raise the blood pressure of Democrats. As a practical matter American refusal to participate would kill it. And the absence of the restraint caused by American presence and veto would lead to U.N. resolutions guaranteed to ensure that we'd never go back.
5) Can we retain the benefits of those organizations affiliated with, or subordinate to, the U.N. once the latter ceases to exist as an entity? Suzanne here assumes that the U.N. is a single entity. I don't. Some of its most effective components existed before the U.N. was created. Most can be spun off as separate entities. And most need purges and reforms of their own, as the oil for food bribes went to the staff of far too many of the U.N.'s lesser organizations.posted by: Tom Holsinger on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
We’re all different. The UN has many problems, some of which are inherent in its design. There is significant corruption in the UN, but I’m not sure that the amount of corruption exceeds that found in the US Congress. All governments lie to their people and deceive them about what they do with their money- that seems to have happened in Canada, it certainly happens with our government, probably more than 50 years ago. I went to Vietnam involuntarily. I saw lots of corruption and false claims. I think that the war in Iraq is evil and unjustified. Bolton was one of those who “sexed up intelligence” as the BBC put it. Do we want to reward those who widen the gap between what the government knows and what the people know? I say no.
We've let the UN try to do something about corruption for years. Remember Kofi is a replacement for Boutros-Boutros Gali, who was ridiculously corrupt himself. Trying is appreciated, but the UN has run out of chances. Sorry.
The US gov't is corrupt, and yet it is governed through a democratic process. The UN is magnitudes more corrupt, and ungovernable. Let's posit that the US seriously a mess. If we can't even get the US right, that's all the more reason to stop wasting money on the UN.
The things that the UN does well are not so vast and complicated that they can't be done separately from the UN. Give economic and food aid to poor countries? Sure, I think that's a great idea, when necessary. Set up an international program to do that, better yet, maybe The Gates Foundation is big enough that it could just do that on the side. Whatever it turns out to be, give it a nice office in NY or London with a few floors of staff and a largish waiting room for petitioners to assemble and plead their case. Done. You don't need the whole UN for that particular organ to work.
For international security, an international policing body without an actual force is a dangerous placebo. Ad-hoc alliances can be formed as necessary. That's what happens anyways, since the UN is ineffectual.
That possiblity of pro-US reforms is not terribly exciting. The UN has tried to reform so many times it's not worth counting. Failed pro-US reforms are still failed reforms.
Although you grant that the UN has weaknesses, the strengths you mention aren't enough to offset said weaknesses. Those strengths, by the way, include Protecting the Children, Peacekeeping, and Intervenor of Last Resort. Considering that every one of the 16 UN peacekeeping missions are under investigation for child rape and prostitution, and the genocide of Rwanda is a synonymn for UN cowardice when put in the position of Intervenor of Last Resort, I think that list of goods is only 7 items long.
Bolton. I very much agree with Mark Buehner. Bolton should be appointed, and instructed to be as tough as he thinks possible. And, meanwhile, in the background, the national debate should be on whether or not we should support the UN if Bolton's reforms aren't followed. Our initial negotiating position should be: follow Bolton's instructions, or we'll cut off funding, withdraw, and kick you out to some third world country where you belong. It's ok if we reach a compromise that is more concilliatory then that, but that should be where we start from. Regardless, I don't put much faith in even Bolton reforming the UN to a point where it would be a beneficial world body. If it can be done, let Bolton try.
If it can't be done, to Hell with it.posted by: john jay on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
>Some of its most effective components
There was not a single agency or instrumentality of the United Nations that did not partake in the cash flow from the Iraqi Oil for Food Program.
There is not a single UN mid or senior administrator that isn't corrupt.
If the purge has to clean out all the senior administrators and the majority of mid-level administrators, why bother keeping the institution at all?posted by: Trent Telenko on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
When the Coalition Provisional Authority has been in place for 50 years and a significant portion of the world (including some Americans) insist that America can't take any foreign policy actions without the CPA's stamp of approval, come back and we'll talk about the CPA's lack of accountability to American voters. Until then you're not even comparing apples and oranges, you're comparing apples and cinder blocks.
As for your other argument, I invite you to Google on search words like "KBR Iraq Overcharging" or "Halliburton Audit" for stories about military investigations into the actions of contractors in Iraq. Again, it does not automatically follow that the US government hasn't been paying attention just because you haven't.posted by: DRB on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
1. how are we going to deal with climate change?
2. how will we avoid nuclear war in the next 15 years? I don’t think that Iran, Pakistan or North K will lob nukes at us, but I think that one or more of those countries is likely to use nuclear weapons. Suppose that 10 nuclear weapons are exploded anywhere on the planet?- that will affect the whole globe in terms of fallout, increased mutation rate, refugees, etc.
Doesn't #2 cancel out #1?
The UN is "the king," unelected. Unelected 1, unelected many, we learned 228 years ago this way doesn't work.
UN/EUSSR same difference. All goes back to the King.
It will reform or it will die.
I however, am willing to fund it if it moves to some place it would do some good, like Africa or the ME.
They can both use shaking up and jobs. Besides, that's where most of their work takes place and they should be closer to it, think of the cost savings!posted by: Sandy P on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
"When the Coalition Provisional Authority has been in place for 50 years and a significant portion of the world (including some Americans) insist that America can't take any foreign policy actions without the CPA's stamp of approval,..."
"I invite you to Google on search words like "KBR Iraq Overcharging" or "Halliburton Audit" for stories about military investigations into the actions of contractors in Iraq."
You mean the Volcker Whitewash? Will any "senior officials" of the UN be suspended or fired? Have any been charged with anything? Can I have some of whatever you're smoking?posted by: JorgXMcKie on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
We’re all different. The UN has many problems, some of which are inherent in its design. There is significant corruption in the UN, but I’m not sure that the amount of corruption exceeds that found in the US Congress.
posted by: rosignol on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
"Will any "senior officials" of the UN be suspended or fired?"
The Coalition Provisional Authority is part of the United States Department of Defense. In short, the Coalition Provisional Authority is part of the executive branch of the United States government, which is accountable to American voters.
I eagerly await your explanation as to how the Department of Defense and the executive branch of the United States government have the same lack of accountability to American voters as the United Nations.
To make sure we're operating under the same set of assumptions, let me clarify one point:
The United Nations is *not* part of the United States Department of Defense. It is *not* part of the executive branch of the United States government. I realize now that you thought it was, which may explain why we are having this misunderstanding.
"No one says that the US needs UN approval to conduct its foreign policy."
In the lead up to the Iraq War, a bill was proposed in the US Congress that would have prevented the US from taking military action against Iraq without the approval of the United Nations. That bill was proposed by Carl Levin, Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman, a Democrat from Michigan. For chrissake use Google before you shoot your mouth off.
"The CPA was a substitute of sorts for the UN when it came to running Iraq after the war so comparing their relative levels of accountability and effectiveness is highly relevant."
Good point. Let's compare:
CPA -- attacked over and over again by insurgents, stayed the course, worked to rebuild Iraq and transition the country to its own independent government.
UN -- had its offices in Iraq hit by a car bomb, for all intents and purposes pulled out and has had little to do with the country since then.
You make the call.
And finally: You keep looking for suspensions, firings, and investigations into the CPA. I've shown you that investigations have occurred and are occurring. They have not reached the level of the UN "investigation"/whitewash for the simple fact that the "corruption" you are alleging in the CPA does not exist the way it does in the UN. Some contractors overcharging? Sure, and they've been caught. Bribing foreign leaders with billions of dollars in oil money to subvert sanctions? Uh, no, the CPA hasn't been doing that. That would be the UN.posted by: DRB on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
"In short, the Coalition Provisional Authority is part of the executive branch of the United States government, which is accountable to American voters."
As for the UN versus CPA in Iraq let's compare the records: Before the war UN oil-for-food provided food and medicine to virtually the entire population of Iraq and directly set up large distribution networks in the Kurdish areas. There were dramatic improvements in the quality of nutrition and medical access for the Iraqi population.
In the post-war first of all a lot of the health infrastructure was destroyed in the looting. Crucial economic indicators like oil and electricity production are actually lower than before the war and several health indicators have also worsened. Two years after the war large parts of the country are still in chaos. Are we supposed to impressed by this record?
As for the UN leaving after the bombing it was clear that UN was going to be given a minimal role in Iraq; why on earth would they take risks and stay when the CPA was incapable of providing security.
"They have not reached the level of the UN "investigation"/whitewash for the simple fact that the "corruption" you are alleging in the CPA does not exist the way it does in the UN"
*efore the war UN oil-for-food provided food and medicine to virtually the entire population of Iraq and directly set up large distribution networks in the Kurdish areas.*
This comment indicates you believe the entire Oil for Food scandal to be hogwash. How can you possibly give credit to the UN for an oil for food program that benefited Sadaam Hussein, the Annan family and government officials in France, Russia, Germany and Britain more than it ever benefited the Iraqi people?
UN officials took advantage of the Iraqi people. Sadaam Hussein remained in power and thrived, specifically because of the back channel deals intermixed in the oil for food situation. It is virtually undisputed that Hussein killed thousands and thousands of his own people and yet you argue that the Iraqi people benefited from the oil for food program when that same program kept Sadaam in power ?
I'm literally at a loss to understand your logic.posted by: Matt on 05.10.05 at 10:16 PM [permalink]
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