The United Nations is not in Foggy Bottom. On balance, that’s a good thing.

23 August 2012

For an Englishman, Nile Gardner is an unusually reliable mouthpiece for the more reactionary elements of reactionary American conservative foreign policy preferences. His latest epistle to the Daily Telegraph demonstrates this quite nicely.

There is, you see, a meeting of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement next week and this meeting will be held in Tehran. Worse still, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations will attend this conference.

I am not at all convinced that this is a useful use of the Secretary-General’s time. I suspect this meeting is bound to be little more than a festival of anti-American and anti-Israeli prejudice. I would want no part of it myself. Any number of awful people from awful regimes are likely to be present.

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On this Mr Gardner and I agree. We agree too, I think, that the United Nations’ credibility is unlikely to be enhanced by any of this. But consider what he writes and means when he says this:

Ban Ki-moon’s reckless move will further reinforce the image of a declining world body that actively undercuts American interests on several fronts and grovels to human rights abusers and state sponsors of terrorism.

I agree that the UN is too often much too tolerant of human rights abusers and state sponsors of terrorism. But I am not sure the UN is actually a “declining world body”. On the contrary, in as much as it is considered a kind of global quasi-court its influence and importance is greater now than it was fifteen years ago. And the chief reason for that, I’m afraid (and I say this as someone who supported the Iraq War and was at the UN when some of the debates about it were happening) is, well, the Iraq War itself.

Moreover, the notion that the thing which ails the UN is that it “undercuts American interests” – or, to put it clearly, does not advance American interests or presume they are necessarily the interests of everyone on earth – is all but self-evidently fatuous.

The UN is not an American satrap and while this may often be annoying and inconvenient it is what it is and it only requires one to imagine how appalling and how discredited the UN would be- by its own lights – if it were perceived to be a child of Russia or China or any other country.

Gardiner is right to suppose that the UN is awful in many ways but it would not be any better, or function any more efficiently or worthily, if it were perceived as just an extension or ward of American foreign policy.

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  • Asmodeus

    If the UN was abolished I would imagine we would soon find that larger nations might very soon gobble up smaller ones as they used to do at one time.The smaller nations unless they had a larger ally would find they had nobody to complain to.There would no doubt be all sorts of quibbling about what actually constitutes a nation and whether some of the smallest actually qualify such a description.The UN was set up by people who had lived through two world wars .We are fortunate not to have had that experience.

  • Hugh

    Consider what he writes along with the couple of sentences after and it makes pretty perfect sense:

    “Ban Ki-moon’s reckless move will further reinforce the image of a declining world body that actively undercuts American interests on several fronts and grovels to human rights abusers and state sponsors of terrorism. It will undoubtedly strengthen calls on Capitol Hill for significant cuts in US funding for the United Nations. Washington currently gives more than $7.6 billion a year to the UN system, a huge sum of money in an age of austerity to pay for a bloated bureaucracy thoroughly lacking in accountability and oversight.”

    The UN’s credibility (and funding) is based in large part on its acceptance by its members as, on balance, a force for good. If the most powerful member and other democratic member see it as rarely if ever doing anything useful for them, while going out of its way to flatter the world’s most barbaric regimes, that does indeed weaken it. I’d also be interested in seeing public polling data on attitudes and trust in the UN. It might well support the idea of a declining world body; equally it might not, but I’m not sure why, without it, your view is any more convincing than Gardner’s.

  • Beefeater

    The UN is a child of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Or its father.
    Who is appalled that the UN is an extension or ward of Islam? The human rights lobby? In general, who do you have in mind as the people whose good opinion of the UN matters? The OIC? Africa? Russia? China? The Guardian? Norwegians? That disgusting monument to hypocrisy functions on American money and under American protection. Sadly, under Obama, it is also an extension of American “worthy” foreign policy which it has corrupted.
    Should Obama be defeated in November, he will accept the Secretary Generalship. Romney should declare it as a criminal organization, withdraw American membership, cease payments, cancel the lease, and send it packing to Oslo. Or Edinburgh.

    • cg

      Are you attempting some form of satire here? If so, it’s not particularly good, but the alternative, that you are being serious, is too ridiculous to contmplate. Isn’t it?

      • Beefeater

        I do not seriously contemplate Edinburgh as the new site for the monstrous UN. Tehran is more suitable, isn’t it?

  • coventrian

    ‘I agree that the UN is too often much too tolerant of human rights abusers and state sponsors of terrorism. ‘

    If you’re talking about the USA, UK and Israel – I agree too!

    • Whyshouldihavetoregister

      Better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than open your mouth and remove all doubt.

      • coventrian

        You should have followed your own advice

    • AY

      could you please repeat – what is the price of nuts in tehran?

      • coventrian

        Are you selling yourself?

  • David Lindsay

    It is important to be reminded that the Non-Aligned Movement still exists, and that the Secretary-General of the UN rightly regards it as more important than America, never mind Israel. The NAM celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last September in Belgrade. Very much Tito’s baby, it gave Yugoslavia an enormous global reach, to the extent that Tito’s funeral in 1980 was at the time the largest ever gathering of world leaders. In good ways and in bad, the NAM was very much an extension of
    the Yugoslav project.

    But it should never have fallen to Tito to play that role. The Commonwealth centred on Britain’s post-War and largely pre-War social democracy, the Francophonie centred on a France organised economically along the lines preferred from de Gaulle to Mitterrand and now again under Hollande, the vision of Italian Christian Democrats that their country would implement Catholic Social Teaching by emulating the Attlee Government domestically but be a beacon for peace between East and West outside both NATO and the Soviet Bloc, the same vision for a United Germany on the part of Jakob Kaiser, the Netherlands of the Rooms-Rood Coalitions and then of Coalitions led by the Catholic People’s Party (in, take note, a country with a Protestant monarchy and, at that time, a Protestant Established Church), the Portugal of Lusotropicalism and of the Estado Novo that successfully held the line both against the Communists and against the National Syndicalists: those ought to have been at the core of the Non-Aligned Movement as Western Europe steered a path between the USA and the USSR while the British, French,
    Dutch and Portuguese Empires were becoming something else. Even as it is, it includes numerous Commonwealth countries, among them over half of the Queen’s Realms.

    There would and could have been no Indonesian occupation of East Timor, to cite only one among almost endless examples of the wrongs that would have been avoided. Consider a Libya or a Somalia which had gown into full membership of this family under the tutelage of an Italy like that. When Salazar, still The Greatest Portuguese according to that country’s television viewers, had given way, then he would have done so naturally, peacefully, and not to Maoists, still less to Maoists who went on to become rabidly neoliberal and neoconservative Presidents of the European Commission. No serious person would question the unity of Canada, or of the United Kingdom. There would be no threat to the unity of French-speaking, Dutch-speaking, Social Catholic, Anglophile Belgium. Nor to a Yugoslavia still multiethnic, still left-wing but not least because Social Catholic, and still Anglophile, yet very different from the one that all too many people experienced.

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