Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Defund the UN

by Bruce S. Thornton

Defining Ideas

Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has introduced in the House of Representatives the UN Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act. The purpose of this legislation is to allow the United States — which pays 22 percent of the UN’s core budget, and 25 percent of its peacekeeping expenses — to keep better track of how the money is spent, and make sure expenditures serve policies and programs consistent with American interests and principles. Yet tinkering with the UN’s funding mechanisms will never correct the fatal flaw with the UN itself. To think otherwise is to assume that glasnost andperestroika could have saved the Soviet Union.

That flaw is the lack of consistent, unifying moral and political principles shared by member nations that can justify UN policies or legitimize the use of force to deter and punish aggression. Because of that absence, authoritarian, totalitarian, and even gangster regimes have seats in the UN Assembly and its various councils and commissions. Of course, lip service is paid to Western ideals like universal human rights, political freedom, and liberal democracy, but these are nominally recognized not because all other nations believe in them, but because of the West’s economic and military dominance.

As a result, these ideals are simply redefined beyond recognition by non-Western cultures. In the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, for example, pleasing lists of “human rights” are in effect cancelled out by Article 24, which says, “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’ah.” Or taking their cue from Western cultural relativism, other nations dismiss these notions as specific to the West. They argue that trying to impose Western ideals on non-Western cultures is an act of stealth imperialism, if not outright racism.

The vacuum created by a lack of unified principles has been filled by national, political, and ideological self-interests. Thus the UN has served as the vehicle for pursuing those interests, as when the Soviet bloc in 1986 engineered a resolution that in effect forbade using human rights abuses as a rationale for UN intervention. The same thing happened in 1993 when a UN conference on human rights ended up writing a declaration on human rights that left out any reference to individual rights such as freedom of speech. As Israeli statesman and diplomat Dore Gold writes in Tower of Babel, “The new UN majority had emptied the term ‘human rights’ of its original meaning and hijacked it to serve its authoritarian political agenda.”

As the UN’s sorry history has shown, the various non-democratic regimes use the UN to pursue their interests at the expense of those of the United States. But then, so do American allies, as when France and Germany labored mightily in 2002 to thwart a UN Resolution authorizing the war against Saddam Hussein, despite the fact that he had flouted 17 previous UN resolutions.

Examples of such unprincipled behavior in pursuit of national interests are legion. The most egregious are the various resolutions that have legitimized and rewarded terrorism. In November 1974, for example, Yasser Arafat addressed the General Assembly sporting a holster on his hip, a mere six months after his terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization had murdered scores of Israeli schoolchildren and three American diplomats. Arafat’s visit was inevitable after the UN in 1970 passed Resolution 2708, which states that the UN “reaffirms its recognition of the legitimacy of the struggle of the colonial peoples and peoples under alien domination to exercise self-determination and independence by all the necessary means at their disposal.” This free pass for terrorists was reaffirmed in 1982 when the General Assembly approved the “legitimacy of the struggle of peoples . . . from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle.”

Even more despicable, in 1975 — on the 37th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against German Jews — the UN passed Resolution 3379, which defined Zionism as a form of racism. This odious resolution was revoked 16 years later only because Israel made its repeal a condition of participating in the Madrid peace conference. That this repeal reflected expediency rather than principle was obvious in April 2002, when the UN Human Rights Commission affirmed “the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to resist Israeli occupation,” just after a Hamas suicide bomber killed thirty Israelis celebrating Passover.

The Human Rights Commission and its allegedly improved successor since 2006, the Human Rights Council, perhaps represent best the Orwellian hypocrisy of the UN. Thug states like Iran, Sudan, Cuba, China, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea, which support terrorism and violate human rights as a matter of policy, have been allowed to sit on the Council, where terrorist and state violence is never censured, even as Israel faces serial condemnation. Indeed, in April 2005, the Commission refused to condemn killing in the name of religion. At the same time, it asserted that criticizing Muslim terrorists was “defamation of religion.”

In March 2007, the Council’s response to the killings and riots over the Mohammed cartoons was to call for a ban on the defamation of religion, even as it ignored the threat to the human right to free speech. The genocidal charter of Hamas, or the widespread state-sanctioned anti-Semitism in the Middle East, has never been condemned, while 33 resolutions through 2010 have criticized Israel. The animus of the Human Rights Council against the only liberal democracy in the Middle East most recently was evident in its wildly inaccurate and biased Goldstone Report. Even the report’s author was compelled to disavow it because of inaccuracies and obvious bias. Like the UN, the Council is an instrument of member states’ interests, not the presumed principles and rights enshrined in its charter and rhetoric.

Given its purpose as a means for weak or autocratic states to pursue their interests, the UN has evolved into a bloated, corrupt, ineffective bureaucracy whose budget has doubled since 2000. The most famous scandal is the oil-for-food program that ran from 1995 to 2003 in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. This program oversaw $15 billion a year in funds supposedly meant to feed the Iraqi people. Instead it was “an open bazaar of payoffs, favoritism and kickbacks,” as The New York Times put it, generating over $10 billion in illicit funds for Hussein’s regime, and billions more for Russian and French politicians and businessmen.

Worse than these financial scandals, however, is the utter impotence of the UN in stopping violence in places like Sudan, Bosnia, and Rwanda, where horrific violence occurred a stone’s-throw away from UN “peace-keeping” forces. In fact, in Bosnia, UN “safe areas” simply made it easier for the Serbs to round up and slaughter 7,000 Bosnians.

The UN is a relic of the same Enlightenment idealism that has driven internationalism for going on two centuries, and that failed dismally to stop the unprecedented, barbaric violence of the twentieth-century. That idealism assumes that all humanity is progressing beyond the use of force, tyrannical regimes, and parochial nationalist interests to a transnational “harmony of interests” created by communication technologies, global trade, and the spread of liberal democracy. These shared interests, moreover, can be institutionalized in international laws, courts, treaties, and supra-national organizations that will substitute diplomacy and negotiation for force.

This vision created the League of Nations, which in the Twenties and Thirties completely failed to stop the state violence of Japan, Italy, and Germany. Its successor, the United Nations, has done no better for the simple reason that such a “harmony of interests” does not and will never exist. States and peoples have different values, beliefs, and aims. They pursue different interests that necessarily conflict with the interests and aims of other states. And the melancholy lesson of history is that these conflicts usually are resolved by force or the credible threat of force, not by diplomatic chatter in a “cockpit in the Tower of Babel,” as Churchill worried the newly created UN might become.

The question, then, is not how do we fix the UN, but why do we continue to spend US taxpayer dollars — $7.7 billion in 2010 — on an institution filled with states hostile to us and working against our own foreign policy interests. Herein lies the greatest flaw in the thinking of those Americans who still believe in the usefulness of the UN: they believe that unelected, unaccountable functionaries of tyrannous regimes — regimes not only pursuing their own interests but frequently working against our interests — are more capable of determining the legitimacy of the United States’ foreign policy and behavior than are the American people.

Unlike the UN, the true legitimacy of American actions is conferred by the democratic process and the attendant free and open debate on the part of citizens who can hold their leaders accountable, and who have a sense of the ideals and principles that animate foreign policy and provide its goals. Subjecting those decisions to the corrupt deliberations of the UN merely hampers our own interests and endangers our national security. We need to get out of the UN, not fix it, as Rep. Ros-Lehtinen is trying to do.

©2011 Bruce S. Thornton

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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