"What happens in the Security Council more closely
resembles a mugging than either a political debate or an effort at
problem-solving." -- Jeanne Kirkpatrick
The United Nations is one of those institutions, like the
Women's National Basketball Association, that sails above its failures
because it just seems to so many people like a good idea.
Despite its corruption, bias, indolence and waste, the U.N.
retains so much moral authority that former President Bush felt he had to
appeal to the U.N. in order to get Democrats to authorize the Gulf War in
1991. And today, George W. Bush had to punch his ticket in Manhattan before
being able to count on support from a number of U.S. allies abroad, as well
as the same Democrats in the U.S. Congress his father had to worry about.
(It's worth pausing to note that the current President Bush struck just the
right note at the U.N., challenging the institution to enforce its own
The United Nations, like the League of Nations before it that
crumbled at the first challenge from armed thugs, is an exercise in
utopianism. It embodies the hope that the nations of the world can cooperate
to eliminate scourges like dysentery and river blindness, and settle their
differences over polished conference tables rather than with machetes and
M-16s. The U.N. can boast some modest success in battling disease and
poverty, but its record on peace and reconciliation is abysmal.
Though blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeeping forces have been deployed
around the globe, they have proved highly vulnerable to political
manipulation -- in other words, they've been useless. In 1967, U.N. forces
were summarily ejected from the Sinai desert -- where they were
theoretically keeping the peace between Egypt and Israel -- when President
Nasser waved them off with a flick of his wrist. In 1991, when the Croats
counterattacked against the Serbs, the blue helmets were left standing
impotently in the dust as tanks and APCs rolled through.
The fantasies of the U.N.'s founders were limitless. Roosevelt's
secretary of state, Cordell Hull, imagined that the U.N. would rid the world
of "spheres of influence, alliances, balance of power, or any of the other
special arrangements through which, in the unhappy past, the nations strove
to safeguard their security or to promote their interests."
It isn't the fault of the U.N. per se that the unrealistic hopes
pinned on it have been punctured. The U.N. reflects its membership. Before
the end of the Cold War, the great blocs that held sway there consisted of
communists and a variety of other criminals, potentates and presidents for
life. In those days, the Commission on Human Rights was always looking into
the situation in Puerto Rico and Tel Aviv, but never in Havana or Moscow.
Even today, when more of the world's nations are free and
democratic than ever before in history, China still holds a seat on the
Security Council and the Arab nations still comprise the largest bloc vote.
Israel has been condemned countless times (though Israel is not, as callers
to talk radio and C-SPAN constantly assert, in violation of resolutions 242
and 338), but the Security Council has never once condemned Arab terrorists,
far less the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the massacre in Rwanda, the
Indonesian occupation of East Timor, Russian conduct in Chechnya or Serbian
acts in Bosnia.
And yet, most Americans and an overwhelming majority of
Europeans believe that the moral imprimatur of the United Nations is
necessary before any military action can be contemplated. When people tell
pollsters what high regard they have for the U.N., they are forgetting about
the "Zionism is racism" resolution; the orgy of America and Israel-bashing
at the Durban conference on racism; the instant pronouncements by U.N.
personnel that Israel had committed an "atrocity" in Jenin (only to be
contradicted by the facts later); and so on. They are engaged in the same
sort of utopianism that motivated the U.N.'s founders.
But the world does not and probably never will run on
cooperation, peaceful dispute resolution and friendship. Peace is maintained
today as it always was, by armed force and balance of power. We are
fortunate to live in a time -- most unusual in human history -- when the
good guys also have the biggest guns. That is the source of our security and
the world's hope, not the fond figment on the East River.