View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, March 02, 2003
In today's Washington Post, Anne-Marie Slaughter has an analysis of the UN that only an academic attorney could love. Her essential point is that the UN was hijacked by the Cold War and that now, with the return of "normal" foreign relations, the Security Council and the UN are behaving as intended, in a multi-polar world. God forbid that she's right.

She argues that "what is just how relevant the United Nations has become." And then goes on to argue that this will be true even if it turns out to be irrelevant in this conflict with Iraq. Well, only if we let it. She fails to realize that, without actual military force to back it up, the UN's only authority is moral, and it only has what moral authority that we choose to invest in it.

We read that:

The United Nations, by contrast, was built on a foundation of realism. In the spirit of the League, all nations were to be represented and to have an equal vote in the General Assembly, but the U.N. Security Council was designed to reflect the realities of power -- that is, the power structure as it stood in 1945. The United States, Britain, France, China and the Soviet Union would agree to join an institution with teeth only if they could prevent it from acting against their interests. Hence, each was given a veto. On the positive side, the vote of a majority of the 15-member Security Council, absent a veto, was deemed to express the will of the international community sufficiently to establish the existence of a threat to international security and to authorize the use of force in response.

The founders may have thought they were being realistic compares to the Wilson. But it's hard to argue that France was of major importance in the "power structure" in 1945. Ravaged by war, having folded like tin foil, in possession of a colonial empire yearning to breathe, well, not in French, anyway, France was given a permanent seat on the Security Council to preserve the fiction that they were part of the power structure. Likewise, I'm not quite sure I understand the presence of China as a permanent member at that point, either, unless it was with an eye to the future. The Japanese still occupied parts of the country, some controlled by the Communists, some controlled by the Nationalists. For years, we were taught in school that the Five Permanent Members were also the five nuclear powers, but this was only true after China exploded their bomb, and ceased being true when Israel developed hers.

The second sentence is the most telling. They would only join an organization that could be counted on not to cut too close to the quick for any of them. The Soviets got caught out when the Council okayed using its flag to defend South Korea. But she rightly places the blame for the initial polarization on the Soviets' use of the veto to prevent the Council from going after it.
But a nation defines its own interests, and the French and Russians have defined it to be in their interest to oppose the US over Iraq, and to protect Saddam Hussein. How this differs from the Cold War dynamic is anyone's guess.

In fact, the UN is not rising to a threat to civilization, it's ignoring one. It only gains relevance if we decide to let it dictate that we should do the same.

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