Blowing the U.N. a goodbye kiss
Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2003
By Paul Harris, YellowTimes.org
The United Nations has finally died. We all knew it has been sickly since its birth, but talk of its imminent demise has always been exaggerated. For close to six decades, it has struggled with sporadic effort and mixed results against the injustices of the world, against the inequities, and the military brutality that have been the hallmarks of its stewardship. In the end, it finally gave up the battle and took its own life.
Last week, a vote was held at the insistence of the United States regarding sanctions against and military intervention in Iraq. Despite overwhelming evidence that the rest of the U.N. members know the American position is simply a ploy to obtain Iraqi oil, the members unanimously caved in out of fear of the United States. The U.N., by that vote, has now officially declared itself to be of no value.
As in all deaths, there will be grieving relatives and family members, but on this one occasion there will be one survivor wildly cheering at this funeral: the United States. It is perhaps ironic that in all the bluster and rhetoric leading up to this vote, American President Bush and his catamite, Tony Blair of Great Britain, repeatedly harangued the U.N. about supporting the U.S. position or effectively showing itself to be irrelevant. In fact, of course, precisely the opposite would have been true but the U.N. took the bait and bent over for the Americans. The result: they achieved the irrelevance that Bush warned they would achieve if they actually stood by their principles and rejected U.S. demands for compliance and complicity.
From the outset, the U.N. has been unable to establish itself as anything worth having. Certainly when the initial founding discussions occurred, as outlined in the Preamble to the United Nations Charter, a vision of an organization was espoused that pledged member nations to: practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors; to unite [their] strength to maintain international peace and security; to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest; and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples. But where is the evidence that it has ever come close to achieving any of those lofty ideals? Where is the evidence that any of the member states ever really wanted it to reach these goals?
While not quite stillborn, the U.N. had a troubled youth and did not manage to pass gracefully into its middle years. The name first arose when Franklin Roosevelt used it to describe the countries fighting against the Axis in 1941 (which, by the way, did not at that time include the United States). In 1942, some 26 nations signed a 'Declaration by the United Nations' pledging that they would jointly continue in their war effort and none of those countries would agree to make peace separately. After a few more years of war and of planning for the aftermath of the war, those same countries finally reached agreement over the founding charter of the United Nations. It officially came into existence October 24, 1945. It has been on life support ever since.
The U.N. is a very complicated organization and it has not evolved as originally envisaged. It was first comprised largely of the Allies of World War II and it was conceived to be an organization of 'peace-loving' nations who were combining to prevent future aggression and for other humanitarian purposes. It was intended to have a regular military force, which would be utilized for keeping the peace within rogue nations or intervening in military aggression between nations. Naturally, it was assumed that the members of the United Nations would not be the bad guys, so this was thought to be an exclusive club that would keep the rest of the world in tow. Other than a few instances where the U.N. did have military involvement under its own banner (for example, Congo, Nicosia, Korea), the member nations have largely gone about doing as they see fit, both to one another and to any nations remaining outside the fold.
Now, virtually all countries with but a few exceptions are members of the United Nations. At least they are members of the U.N.'s General Assembly. This is an utterly powerless body which is designed to make these countries feel that they are contributing something and that they actually have some input into the things that affect them and their allies. In reality, it is simply an exercise in puffery and a reason for them to have to pay membership dues. The General Assembly frequently expresses its feelings about world situations by voting on resolutions, which are meant to convey the organization's displeasure with some state's activities, but most such resolutions are ignored. Most notable is a multitude of resolutions citing or condemning Israel, which have never so much as raised an eyebrow in Tel Aviv, let alone caused Israel to alter its activities or policies.
To be fair, it is noteworthy that the General Assembly is also the source of a number of committees designed to deal with humanitarian issues. These are generally considered to be about the only successful use of all this international good will of which the U.N. can legitimately boast.
The only real power within the U.N. rests in the Security Council. This is a body made of five permanent members (United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia) and an additional ten countries whose members are elected by the General Assembly on a rotational basis. In all practical ways, it is the five permanent members whose wishes carry the day. In other words, by charter, the U.N. was never intended to be a body for the world; it was meant to be a body for the five big guys to institutionalize their suzerainty over the rest of the world. That goal, it achieved quite nicely.
Unfortunately, the birth of the U.N. coincided with the birth of the Cold War and because of the strains placed on the members of the Security Council, there has rarely been any effective cooperation between those members. For forty-six years, the United States led a bloc of countries in opposition to a smaller bloc siding with the former Soviet Union; with the end of the Cold War, those alliances effectively ended. The United States and Russia started finally to cooperate but only in an effort to keep power and authority within the Security Council. However, this almost always led to stultified inaction.
Over the years, many countries have failed to honor their financial commitments to the U.N. Most notable at this time is the United States who negotiated a smaller commitment for itself but has refused to pay anyway, at the behest of the American people (or, rather, its Congress, which is universally understood to be something quite different from the American people). This greatly weakened this already sickly child and has made it impossible for the U.N. to do much that is useful.
Accordingly, the U.N. has had a tough road over the years. Its own structure has created constipation and there has been little will amongst the members for a good stiff enema. From the outset, the U.N. has had very little actual legal or moral authority. The powerful nations simply do whatever they wish without regard for condemnation by the U.N., while the weaker nations know that they must behave or face severe consequences.
But still, idealists would have hoped that the members of the United Nations could work together to forge a better world. The idealists would have hoped for something akin to universal justice, universal law, a gradual breaking down of the political borders between countries, and the establishment of a single world order in which the benefit of all would be the goal. The idealists might have hoped for the elimination of hunger (well within our control), the elimination of most diseases (well within our control), the elimination of centuries of warfare (entirely within our control). But idealists are na´ve; they must know that all evidence shows clearly that mankind has not actually evolved far enough to work as a group toward the betterment of all. We still operate purely from narrow self-interest and greed; we still allow our testosterone-laced leaders to sacrifice everyone else's lives and welfare as they see fit; people all over the world still refuse to put down their weapons, roll up their sleeves, and try to make this a better place for everyone.
So perhaps this is a death that is long overdue. Perhaps it is time to recognize that we really are one of the Creator's hugest blunders and to stop trying to pretend that we are civilized. You know the old expression: you can take the Neanderthal out of the cave, but you can't take the cave out of the Neanderthal.
There is no longer any will in the world to stand up against the power of the guys who are trying to make the world their oyster. So why bother with an organization whose goal was allegedly to make the world a better place, but which failed at almost every turn? What we are presently seeing is much like watching hundreds of sheep running in fear from a single vicious dog that wants to herd them in some direction. There are far more of them than there are of him, yet they do it. They are mesmerized with fear because they know the dog could turn on any one of them, at any time, and sink its fangs into their throats.
So goodbye, U.N. Now that you're gone, we can all get back to the business of trying to bugger each other.
Paul Harris encourages your comments: pharris@YellowTimes.org
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