The problem is most striking at the U.N., the quintessential transnational institution with a mandate to maintain international peace and order. There was a commonality of interest at its origin -- defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The war ended, but the wartime alliance of Britain, France, the U.S., China and Russia proclaimed itself nonetheless the guardian of postwar "collective security" as the Security Council.
Small problem: their interests are not collective. They are individual. Take the Iranian nuclear program. Russia and China make it impossible to impose any serious sanctions. China has an interest in maintaining strong relations with a major energy supplier, and is not about to jeopardize that over Iranian nukes which are no threat to it whatsoever. Russia sees Iran as a useful proxy in resisting Western attempts to dominate the Persian Gulf.
Ironically, the existence of transnational institutions like the U.N. makes it harder for collective action against bad actors. In the past, interested parties would simply get together in temporary coalitions to do what they had to do. That is much harder now because they feel such action is illegitimate without the blessing of the Security Council.
The result is utterly predictable. Nothing has been done about the Iranian bomb. In fact, the only effective sanctions are those coming unilaterally out of the U.S. Treasury.
Remember the great return to multilateralism -- the new emphasis on diplomacy and "working with the allies" -- so widely heralded at the beginning of the second Bush administration? To general acclaim, the cowboys had been banished and the grown-ups brought back to town.
What exactly has the new multilateralism brought us? North Korea tested a nuclear device. Iran has accelerated its march to developing the bomb. The pro-Western government in Beirut hangs by a thread. The Darfur genocide continues unabated.
The capture and release of the 15 British hostages illustrate once again the fatuousness of the "international community" and its great institutions. You want your people back? Go to the EU and get stiffed. Go to the Security Council and get a statement that refuses even to ``deplore'' this act of piracy. (You settle for a humiliating expression of ``grave concern"). Then turn to the despised Americans. They'll deal some cards and bail you out.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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