The governments in Russia and China very much want to uphold the principle that every now and then the state must crush people who want freedom. That is why they worked together to veto a fairly toothless United Nations resolution condemning the regime in Syria and calling for President Bashar Assad, the lipless murderer who runs the place, to step down.
The free world, still nominally led by the United States, erupted in outrage. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the U.N. Security Council veto as a "travesty." U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said the U.S. was "disgusted" by it. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the Russian-Chinese veto was a "moral stain." A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron proclaimed that "Russia and China are protecting a regime which is killing thousands of people. We find their position both incomprehensible and inexcusable."
Although I agree that the veto was disgusting and a travesty, I'm at a loss as to why so many people are shocked -- or at least are pretending to be shocked.
Isn't this what the United Nations is about?
I've never quite understood the idealistic enthusiasm people have for the United Nations. First of all, it's a club pretty much anyone can join so long as you have a government, internationally accepted borders, and someone is willing to vouch for your existence. As far as organizations go, that's a pretty low bar -- like a club exclusively for humans with a pulse.
The whole thing stinks from the top down. The Security Council isn't a democratic entity; it's based on brute force. Russia and China became permanent members when they were totalitarian dictatorships. They have seats because they are powerful, not because they are decent or wise or democratic. And the same is true for us. Our seat was bought with might, not right.
I think part of the confusion stems from a category error. We tend to anthropomorphize countries, talking about them as if they were people. U.N. members vote for stuff, so people think the U.N. is somehow democratic in more than a procedural way. But that's not true. There's nothing in the U.N. Charter -- at least nothing that has any binding power -- that says a government has to be democratic or even care for the welfare of its people. When the ambassador from North Korea claims to speak for his people at the U.N., it has no more moral legitimacy than a serial killer speaking for the victims he has locked in his basement.
But those who fantasize about creating a "Parliament of Man" overlook all of that, in no small part because they see the U.N. as a useful counterweight to the United States.
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