Move the U.N.?

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

Americans grew up with kind feelings toward the United Nations. Many remain nostalgic about their childhood UNESCO Halloween buckets and UNICEF Christmas cards. Such goodwill explains why we host the organization and cover a quarter of its operating budget.

The U.N. arose out of the ashes of World War II and was the dream of Western idealists who sought to enact liberal notions of human rights and jurisprudence on a global scale.

Only a humane transnational body, it was felt, could avoid a repeat of the 50 million lives lost in World War II. A Security Council of great powers was to add muscle to resolutions—avoiding the irrelevance of the defunct League of Nations, which had proved impotent in the face of fascist aggression. And this time, the world body would be located right smack in Manhattan, symbolizing the American commitment to world arbitration in lieu of our prior isolationism.

Well, here we are in 2005 with nearly 60 years of the U.N.—and more people have been lost in wars since 1945 than during World War II itself. Americans now distrust the U.N.’s record as much as they might applaud its idealism in theory. Why?

A half-century of Soviet bloc politics poisoned the body. Dictatorships that had killed millions of their own won an equal say to many Western democracies. Third-World countries were silent about the 80 million butchered by Stalin and Mao—and the millions more lost in tribal and religious wars in Africa and Asia.

Instead, over 400 U.N. resolutions gratuitously targeted tiny democratic Israel—without equal condemnation of its autocratic neighbors or commensurate concern for China’s annexation of Tibet or Russia’s absorption of the disputed Sakhalin Islands.

The terrorist Yasser Arafat addressed the General Assembly with a holster—to applause. Autocratic Cuba, Iran, Libya and Syria sat on or even chaired the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. U.N. blue helmets could not do anything to save innocent millions in Cambodia, Rwanda, the Balkans and Darfur.

Elected governments replaced autocrats in Panama, Nicaragua, Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq only because of American action—not U.N. resolutions. The multibillion-dollar Oil-for-Food disgrace dwarfs the Enron mess but shares the same symptoms of influence peddling, shredded documents and funny insider accounting.

Any council is only as good as its membership; thus allowing a Sudan, Cuba, Iran or North Korea into the General Assembly de facto gave them as much legitimacy as a democratic Brazil, Holland or South Africa.

If the United States nearly 150 years ago fought a war to end slavery, why does the U.N. still welcome in a country like Sudan that will not? Many delegates vote only when they come to the U.N. They would never offer their own people the same rights that their spokesmen take for granted in New York.

Redistributing, rather than fostering, wealth seems to be the U.N.’s prescription for world poverty—as if a poor Mexico, Nigeria or Venezuela is without natural riches, or a rich Japan or Switzerland is endowed with oil and land.

The hallowed Western liberal idea that collective reason should trump force works with democracies, but how does one persuade a Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il or Saddam Hussein to stop murdering his own and others, without some credible threat of forceful deterrence? And if the American legislative, judicial and executive branches check one another, who or what watchdogs the U.N.?

Why not insist upon a democratic constitution as a prerequisite for a nation to qualify for U.N. membership? Why should France deserve a Security Council seat and not Japan and India—especially since the creation of the European Union should equate to a single European veto? And why promote lifelong U.N. apparatchiks like the stained Kurt Waldheim or Kofi Annan, when outsiders of real accomplishment and proven integrity like Vaclav Havel or Eli Wiesel would make honorable secretary-generals?

Then there is the location itself of the U.N. headquarters in Turtle Bay. Diplomats live the Manhattan high life a world apart from the crises that they are supposed to be addressing in Africa and Asia. Global media coverage from nearby studios—”live from New York”—tends to provide an electronic megaphone for fashionable anti-Americanism on the cheap. Never have so many delegates wished to live in a place for which they profess such a public dislike.

The U.N should move to a Bolivia, Congo or West Bank where hunger, war and strife could be monitored and addressed firsthand.

Yes, the United States should still retain its membership and pay it dues, predicated on a whole series of radical structural reforms. But in the meantime, to restore their lost symbolic capital, let these well-heeled utopians practice their craft where the world’s crises—rather than its easy rhetoric—reside.

©2005 Victor Davis Hanson

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