Friday, December 03, 2004

Dave Schuyler at The Glittering Eye has delved into the recent Report on UN Reform issued with great fanfare by Secretary-General Kofi " What...me worry ? " Annan. Dave has posted a synopsis here and has extended remarks here. An excerpt of Dave's commentary in bold/italicized text with my kibbitzing observations in regular font:

"I've only read the report once quickly but I want to get a few preliminary thoughts out. The report extends the notion of security beyond inter-state conflict or terrorism to include issues like poverty, disease, civil war, international crime, and the international sex trade. It repeatedly observes the connection between poverty and civil war"

I'll give them some points for looking at problems in context but inevitably, given the UN's history and membership, this will shortly become special-pleading for Gap states to *not* be accountable for the horrific actions and massive corruption of their elite and a demand for North-South transference of wealth.

"The equation the authors of the report are pressing upon us is that poverty and the other ills they list leads to war and terrorism and that the only solution to the threats of war and terrorism is a global one spearheaded by the United Nations.

Nowhere in the report is there any mention of the role of liberal democracy in this equation. I believe that liberal democracy and free markets foster economic and social welfare. While soothing to the autocrats and totalitarian members of the United Nations the formulation used by the authors of the report renders down to turning the poor nations of Africa, Asia, and South America into permanent charity cases. This approach has failed in the past and there's absolutely no reason to believe it will succeed any better now."

Amen, brother. Dave neatly discerns how the UN uses it's own members irresponsible misgovernance as a justification for a self-aggrandizing expansion of power for an international bureaucracy that has demonstrated that it shares the corrupt and undemocratic values of it's membership.

Dave addressed the recommendations for reform in the report as well:

"Re-vitalize the General Assembly

The committee acknowledges that a key problem with the General Assembly is its lack of ability to achieve consensus. Their basic recommendation is that the member nations grow up. As I wrote earlier consensus is not merely an expediter of democratic processes it's a prerequisite. My own recommendation is that requirements be placed for membership in the General Assembly. Accepting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would be a start. Establishing such a requirement would effectively preclude nearly all of the Arab League nations from membership and one Security Council member: China. No consensus can be reached at this time for that reason and the General Assembly is irremediable"

I generally agree here with Dave except for using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a standard which Dave has adopted for efficiency's sake ( and scoring a nice debating point as well I might add). Most of the treaties of this nature we signed during the Cold War came under the heading of " Not To Be Taken Seriously " because the idea of the Soviets or Libya living up to any of them inspired wild peals of laughter, much like the rights enshrined in the Soviet Constitution.

Therefore our diplomats, out of a mixture of realism and idealism, let slip a fair amount of language back then that Transnational Progressive international law professors and NGO's today would like to twist to promote an agenda hostile to civil liberties, liberal democracy, sovereignty and capitalism. I don't blame our diplomatic corps too much here because at the time, a world without the unhelpful presence of the USSR wasn't envisioned by anyone and often times, putting in a plug for the Feminist ideologues and the environmental extremists was the policy of the U.S. administration then in power.

Most of these treaties themselves need almost as much reform as does the UN to be made into freedom-promoting rather than freedom-obstructing covenants. Leave them in the "salutary neglect drawer" for now. Dave's general point however, is well-taken.

"Expand the Security Council

As I've mentioned here and here the Security Council should be a forum for security producing nations not security consuming nations. The committee acknowledges, as I've said, the problems with the General Assembly. How does making the Security Council more closely resemble the failed General Assembly render the Security Council more effective? My own solution is to establish formal membership criteria for Security Council membership and make veto-wielding membership automatic on meeting the criteria. Since any reasonable membership criteria would either remove current veto-wielding members or include nearly the whole General Assembly, this will never happen. The Security Council, too, is irremediable"

All good points. I'll add taking up a *substantial share* of the UN budget, something that of the prospective candidates, only Japan can afford. Japan is the only true " great power" among the candidate that deserves membership on the merit of having a stake in the stability of the world economic system worth the requisite sacrifices. India would make sense as the next best choice for obvious reasons. The others are there as a political sop to the Gap or to win brownie points for us with those particular states.

The UN is unreformable in the sense that it will always reflect it's membership. On the day the bulk of the General Assembly are stable Core states with reasonably liberal-democratic political economies, the UN might be relatively useful. I do not expect that day to come much before the year 2100.

In any event, the principle of collective security - which requires that nation's sacrifice their own interests to send blood and treasure to rescue other states that are unwilling and unable to defend themselves is as unrealistic today as when the League of Nations was tut-tutting about Japanese annexation of " Manchukuo " and Italian Fascists marching through Abyssinia. The UN will *never* function as it was conceived, regardless of it's membership. At best, all we can do is harness humanitarian motives to self-interest when contemplating intervention. If you have any doubt, just ask the people of Dar Fur.

What to do ?. The UN needs to be - like a dysfunctional brother-in-law in family matters - discreetly but determinedly marginalized over time and by competing and effective organizations. The Anglosphere, the G-20 and democratic states are all viable starting points for such organizations with the intent that this conglomeration of new entities be created with the purpose of enforcing what Dr. Barnett calls " a new A-Z Rule-Set ". None of these organizations should be allowed, like the UN has since Bush I. and Clinton, to become more existentially important than the principles for which they were created to serve. They will be tools and means, not ends.

POSTSCRIPT: The Glittering Eye is vying for a top blog position and needs your vote ! As we say in Chicago, " Vote early and vote often ".

I generally agree here with Dave except for using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a standard which Dave has adopted for efficiency's sake ( and scoring a nice debating point as well I might add).I see you deciphered my code. ;-)

I am honestly amazed that this report has received so little commentary in the blogosphere. Does everybody read that slowly? It's certainly not a heavy news week.

I can only conjecture that most Americans are suffering from a severe case of UN ennui figuring that nothing the UN does has any real significance anymore. I guess I'm not that jaded yet.

In my case I just happen to have a few non-blogging writing projects, some home remodelling and a surfeit of paper at my " real " job. However, since you took the trouble to write Dave - the least I could do was a little blogging feedback.
Count me among those who are in favour of just tossing the UN aside and starting afresh. It's broken at the most fundamental level and cannot possibly be fixed. I basically see the situation the same way Mark does: over the next four years and beyond, the US should concentrate on forming an alternative to the UN based on forming common rulesets and global connectivity in markets and communication. Beat them at their own game and such. This would pretty forcefully deflate any potential future accusations of "unilateralism" as well.

-- Matt McIntosh
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