Even before it was officially born, the United Nations was beset by tensions.
President Franklin Roosevelt floated the concept of a "United Nations" during World War II. It seemed achievable: After all, free countries such as the United States, Britain and Australia managed to set aside their differences with the Soviet Union long enough to defeat Nazi Germany.
But once the war ended and the U.N. charter was ratified, the Soviets formed a bloc of communist countries (many were Moscow's satellites) and began opposing measures proposed by the free world. The U.N. General Assembly became a farce -- a debating society where little was accomplished.
Today, the Soviet Union is long gone, but the bloc system remains alive and well at the U.N. And it's still working to stymie the U.S.
In 2005, according to the State Department, the General Assembly voted against the United States 75 percent of the time on non-consensus votes. (Most U.N. votes are non-consequential motions adopted without vote.) Granted, that's a higher-than-usual level of anti-Americanism. Over the past two decades, members of the General Assembly opposed American positions "only" two-thirds of the time on average.
The United States is the world's most powerful nation, so it's natural that some nations would oppose us sometimes, just on principle. But this overwhelming, knee-jerk opposition to American-held positions has severely blunted U.N. effectiveness. Washington should be able to use the U.N. to promote policies, such as democracy, human rights and economic freedom, which would benefit the entire world. That can't be done, though, unless we build support for American positions.
One would think the amount of foreign aid we distribute would make some sort of difference. No nation hands out more foreign aid than the U.S. But that largess obviously hasn't created much goodwill at U.N. headquarters.
According to The Heritage Foundation's own Brett Schaefer and Anthony Kim, in 2005 more than 90 percent of U.S. foreign-aid recipients voted against the U.S. a majority of the time in the General Assembly. Three out of four aid beneficiaries voted against the U.S. a majority of the time on General Assembly votes deemed important by the State Department.
So what should the U.S. do to help the United Nations live up to its promise? Form a bloc of its own -- a Freedom Coalition within the U.N. that will promote both economic and political liberty.
Here's why: Freedom works. Statistics show that as nations become freer, the policies they support tend to mirror those proposed by the U.S.
Not because they're our puppets. Quite the opposite, in fact: As a country becomes freer, it begins to favor policies that enhance and spread that freedom, because it sees that such policies are in its own interests.
It's no coincidence that most American proposals at the U.N. are aimed at increasing freedom and democracy worldwide, and free nations tend to support us in that mission. It's the unfree and undemocratic that line up to oppose us. A coalition of free nations would encourage others to vote with us on major proposals.
At the same time, we should encourage the spread of freedom by focusing our foreign aid on countries that advance both political and economic freedom. We've already seen that a shotgun-aid approach -- giving money to virtually everyone -- doesn't necessarily promote our interests. It's time to reward those countries that make progress. The Bush administration's Millennium Challenge Account program is a good first step in this direction. We should expand it, even as we phase out other foreign-aid programs.
According to its charter, the U.N. aims "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small."
We can make this ideal a reality -- through a coalition of free nations, working to spread that freedom far and wide.