Towards A Good Samaritan World

Friday, November 19, 2004

DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE UN

Senator John Kyl has a point about Kofi Annan and the UN:

In it, Annan voiced his increasing concern at the "prospect of an escalation in violence," particularly the reports of major military offensives being planned for Falluja. "Ultimately," Annan argued, "the problem of insecurity can only be addressed through dialogue and an inclusive political process."

It boggles the mind that a world leader could display such naivete in the face of efforts by thousands of insurgents and foreign fighters to terrorize and impose a Taliban-style rule in Fallujah, complete with summary executions. Reaction from those on the ground was swift and angry. "I don't know what pressure he has to bear on the insurgents," Allawi said in an interview with the BBC. "If he can stop [them] from inflicting damage and killing Iraqis, then he's welcome."

Ben Shapiro of Townhall piles on about "The Insanity of International Law":

Mr. Annan and his brethren do not rely on simple statements of moral equivalence. They back them up by citing international law. While Saddam Hussein slew thousands of his own people, supported terrorists throughout the Middle East, and routinely violated the terms of his 1991 cease-fire agreement, the United Nations did nothing except coquettishly lisp at him occasionally. Yet when America invaded Iraq with the help of over 30 countries, Annan denounced the action as “illegal.” His latest charade? He sent an angry letter to President Bush, Tony Blair, and Iyad Allawi complaining that the “threat or actual use of force not only risks deepening the sense of alienation … but would also reinforce perceptions … of a
continued military occupation.”

That’s the beauty of international law: it means whatever Kofi Annan wants it to mean.


And yet I have a feeling there's something futile about Shapiro's and Kyl's critiques, because views like theirs are never going to get a hearing on the relevant stage, which is the world.

The Economist, a UN sympathizer, offers an interesting report on efforts to reform the UN. I think the UN is more likely to emerge strengthened from the crisis than to go away. I wrote in "Robin Hood Imperialism":

So there is a world constitution of sorts, and what’s more, it’s a pretty lousy one. Take the General Assembly: it is admirably “democratic,” one-country-one-vote, whether that country has a billion or a million. Petty dictators have as many votes as the Western democracies. But then, maybe this is all right since the General Assembly is pretty powerless. More important is the Security Council, which has the opposite problem: in a concession to the realpolitik of long ago, the US, France, Russia, Britain and China sit permanently on the Council and wield mighty vetoes over all its actions. It is in these vetoes that Saddam Hussein hopes for salvation. The UN has very strict rules against inter-state aggression but none about how states may treat their own people. So while the world constitution has a “democratic,” or at least consultative, skin, its core is Hobbesian. Whoever takes power may keep it, even if he is a genocidal (though, admittedly, only on occasion) tyrant like Saddam Hussein. If no one manages to, you can no longer import order from your neighbors by being conquered: instead, enter the failed state, where life is nasty, brutish and short. Don’t forget human rights conventions, either—they allow free countries to preen themselves on their virtue, while obligating dictators (who, in Julius Caesar’s day, used to be fairly honest) to engage in more hypocrisy. Enforcement seems not to be the point: many human rights groups opposed even the war in world-champion human-rights-abuser Afghanistan, and hardly any signatories of human rights conventions back a war against Iraq, the best hope of Iraqis gaining the rights to free speech and the vote.



For all that, more people worldwide are likely to agree with Kofi Annan:

The poor old United Nations is indeed a flawed and defective organisation: the action, or more often the inaction, of its members, as well as its own intrinsic faults, have made it so. But, as its secretary-general warned the General Assembly last September: “Let's not imagine that, if we fail to make good use of it, we will find any more effective instrument.”


[UPDATE: For an example of how the executive of a trans-national organization traditionally feeble but with high moral stature and a broad notional constituency can humiliate a power with far superior military resources, read Wikipedia's description of how Pope Gregory VII made the German emperor stand in the snow for three days before the castle of Canossa, begging the pope to lift the ban of excommunication which had cost him his crown.]

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