19 November 2005

Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

This post will pretty brief since the point I want to make is pretty simple, but it informs a significant portion of what I think and is worth putting in black and white.

The very public, stated goal of the United Nations is to stop and/or prevent armed conflict.

The preamble of the United Nations charter reads “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war...” In fairness, the preamble also says, somewhat ambiguously “...And for these ends...to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest,”

My point is that it seems a dubious proposition to look to the United Nations for approval of almost any use of force, almost regardless of the circumstances. It’s like asking a bank for permission to kite a check – it’s just not in their nature to see the world through that lens.

Despite how this might sound, I’m not dinging the UN here, only trying to recognize its essence. For better or for worse, there doesn’t seem to be much sense is asking the UN if I can go kick somebody in the shins. By doing so, I have a lot to loose (politically and strategically) and very little to gain. Even when the body resolves that a situation way warrant the use of force, like it did in Iraq a few years back, there is no intestinal fortitude to follow through. They have displayed more willingness to see wring their hands over shed blood, i.e. Sudan, Bosnia, or Rwanda, then to dirty their hands by getting involved.


Devin said...

That is, when they're not engaging in abusing the situation in those countries, such as organizing rape rings, oil-for-food scandals, or blaming Israel for the actions of Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority, or staffing their councils on Human Rights with representatives of the worst abusers of said rights.

I think the UN has an important role to play in the world; I also think that they've become too corrupt to be of any good at fulfilling that role.

Devin said...

Sorry, I just remembered another point I wanted to make about the UN. The primary problem, I think, is that the UN is a reflection of the world that composes its members. The majority of the world is filled with nations that are corrupt, tyrannical, and/or ineffective even within their own borders, with a few bright lights of liberal democracy to break up the pattern. The UN simply reflects this reality, I think.

Many people seem to think that consulting the UN is important for "gaining legitimacy." While I can appreciate wanting to have approval (and thus allies), it still boils down to making a decision based on how popular it is. Morality isn't determined by majority vote, and I think we all learned in school that what is popular is not necessarily what is wise.

Silverback said...

As a rule, I don't want to respond to responses. I don't think that's where blogs excel. But Devin hedges on a question that I'm willing to to shoot my mouth off on. He says, "I think the UN has an important role to play in the world..."

But...given the previous discussion and thousands like it...really what is that role? If their role is defined by their charter, and their actions make their charter a quaint historical document, but little else - what good are they?

Devin said...
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Devin said...

I think that as a forum in which nations may make their grievances known, where debate may take place between nations, the U.N. serves as that forum, and as a mediator. Were the bureaucracy slimmer and more transparent, the U.N. can act as a coordinator for humanitarian efforts such as disaster relief. I think that in these ways, they could be a useful hedge against armed conflict, encouraging peaceful interaction.

I agree with your previous statements, however. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no alternative but war (or capitulation), and the U.N. is not doctrinally equipped to deal with that eventuality; instead, it essentially protects tyrants and human rights abusers by discouraging any effective action against them. Rather like the idea of gun control: only law-abiding nations concern themselves with written admonitions; the dictator signs Chamberlain's treaty and then invades Poland anyway.

Anyway, I think that the U.N. could fulfill these roles and be of a benefit to the world, but it would require considerable house-cleaning before that happens.

Chris P said...

I have a friend from Rwanda who survived the genocide there. Watch the movie Hotel Rwanda or Sometimes in April and you will depise the U.N. and Bill Clinton. This is a classic example of politics over human life.

!!Warning!! Sometimes in April is produced by HBO and is more graphic than Hotel Rwanda. According to my friend, it is a better take on what really happened there.