Skip to comments.Mark Steyn: There is no cure for the UN
Posted on 09/15/2005 6:02:57 AM PDT by Pokey78
Kofi Annan is the very embodiment of transnationalisms polite fictions: a dapper soft-spoken African, he seems the soul of moderation. Even when what hes actually saying is highly immoderate, and even when hes standing next to some disgusting dictator as he says it, hes always a reliably decaffeinated Kofi.
So what if his brother and his son and his sons best pal are under investigation in the UN oil-for-food scandal? So what if his secretariat got a $1.4 billion oil-for-food administration fee yet apparently couldnt afford an auditor for the programme? So what if the head of Kofis budget oversight committee was too busy sluicing hundreds of thousands of dollars for himself to notice whether anybody else was on the take? So what if Saddam Hussein used the UN as a money-laundering operation to advance his geopolitical aims? Paul Volckers independent report has decided that, even though Mr Annan knew of the kickbacks since at least 2001, the secretary-general is guilty of sins of omission rather than commission. He and his deputy, Canadas Louise Frechette, simply failed to notice the worlds all-time biggest scam exponentially expanding under their noses and with the enthusiastic participation of their closest colleagues.
Possibly they carelessly assumed it was just the usual nickelndime UN corruption like the child-sex rings and drug cartels that operate out of pretty well every peacekeeping operation. But the point is, while it may have happened on Kofis watch, he wasnt watching, so thats OK. Like OJ promising to hunt down the real killers, Mr Annan and Mme Frechette are committed to staying in their jobs and redoubling their efforts to spearhead the reforms the UN vitally needs. As the media talking points distributed by the secretary-general to his underlings put it, It is time to focus on the important reform agenda because the inquirys findings underscore the vital importance of proposed management reforms. And if we say vital and focus and underscore often enough, this whole thing will fade away and it will be back to business as usual.
I, too, am in favour of Kofi Annan staying on, not just till his term expires in December 2006, but for five, ten years after that, if he wishes. If I was as eager for UN reform as its supporters claim to be, Id toss Kofi to the sharks and get some new broom in to sweep clean. But if, as I do, you believe 90 per cent of UN reforms are likely to be either meaningless or actively harmful, a discredited and damaged secretary-general clinging to office is as good as its likely to get short of promoting Didier Bourguet, the UN staffer in Congo and the Central African Republic charged with running a paedophile ring. A UN that refuses to hold Kofi Annan to account will be harder to pass off as a UN that represents the worlds moral authority, in Clare Shorts blissfully surreal characterisation.
Whats important to understand is that Mr Annans ramshackle UN of humanitarian money-launderers, peacekeeper-rapists and a human rights commission that looks like a lifetime-achievement awards ceremony for the worlds torturers is not a momentary aberration. Nor can it be corrected by bureaucratic reforms designed to ensure that the failed budget oversight committee will henceforth be policed by a budget oversight committee oversight committee. The oil-for-food fiasco is the UN, the predictable spawn of its utopian fantasies and fetid realities. If Saddam grasped this more clearly than Clare Short or Polly Toynbee, well, thats why he is was an A-list dictator and theyre not.
Why was there an oil-for-fraud programme in the first place? Because back in the 1990s, having thrown a big old multilateral Gulf war and gotten to the gates of Baghdad, the grand UN coalition then decided against toppling Saddam. So, having shirked the responsibilities that come with having a real policy, America, Britain and the rest were in the market for a pseudo-policy. And where does an advanced Western democracy go when it wants a pseudo-policy? Why, the UN! Saddam correctly calculated that the great powers were overinvested in oil-for-food as a figleaf for their lack of will and he reasoned that in such an environment their figleaf would also serve as a discreet veil for all kinds of other activities. He didnt game the system, he simply understood far better than Clinton and Bush, Major and Blair how it worked.
Thats the essence of transnationalism. For weeks now the Bush administration has been advised by Mr Blair among others that they should sign on to all the multilateral guff being peddled at this weeks so-called High-Level Plenary Meeting because come on, its mostly a lot of feelgood blather, so wheres the harm? When it comes to identifying which transnational tumours metastasising across the global scene are benign, the Prime Minister isnt your most reliable diagnostician. As I recall, the principal beneficiaries of the United Kingdoms signature on the European Declaration of Human Rights were supposed to be British transsexuals, who were very excited about it for some reason or another. Instead, it turned out to be boom time for suspected Islamist terrorists, non-citizens but now serenaded by every London judge with a soothing chorus of Undeportable, thats what you are.
Transnationalism is the mechanism by which the worlds most enlightened progressives provide cover for its darkest forces. Its a largely unconscious alliance but not an illogical one. Western proponents of sustainable consumption and some of the other loopy NGO-beloved eco-concepts up for debate in New York this week have at least this much in common with psychotic Third World thugocracies: both groups find it hard to win free elections, both regard transnational bodies as useful for conferring a respect unearned at the ballot box, and neither is unduly troubled by the lack of accountability in global institutions.
Those of us who believe that big government is by definition remote government and that therefore the pretensions to world government of the UN make it potentially the worst of all should, in theory, argue for withdrawal from the organisation. A neighbour of mine periodically pins one of his US OUT OF UN NOW! bumper stickers to the back of my rig, and Im happy to drive around with it. Outside a few college towns and effete coastal enclaves, I dont believe there would be any political downside for candidates campaigning on a platform of pulling out of the UN entirely, and Id encourage Republicans to do so if only as a way of unnerving those lazy pols like John Kerry who are prone to mindless transnationalist boosterism. But as a matter of practical politics I cant see the US leaving the UN any time soon.
Can the US force the UN to reform itself? I mean really reform itself, not just get-Kofi-off-the-hook reform. Well, look at it this way: with hindsight, the UN was most effective when it was least effective thats to say, the four decades between Korea and the Gulf when the Cold War mutually assured vetoes at least accurately represented the global stand-off. Now, however, were in a unipolar world. And, as a result, the UN is no longer a permanent talking-shop for the worlds powers but an alternative power in and of itself a sort of ersatz superpower intended to counter the real one. Consider the 85 yes-or-no votes America made in the General Assembly in 2003:
The Arab League members voted against the US position 88.7 per cent of the time.
The ASEAN members voted against the US position 84.5 per cent of the time.
The Islamic Conference members voted against the US position 84.1 per cent of the time.
The African members voted against the US position 83.8 per cent of the time.
The Non-Aligned Movement members voted against the US position 82.7 per cent of the time.
And European Union members voted against the US position 54.5 per cent of the time.
You can take the view of the Will Hutton school that this is proof of Americas isolation and that the United States now needs to issue a Declaration of Interdependence with the world. Or you can be like the proud mom in Irving Berlins Great War marching song: They Were All Out Of Step But Jim. But what the figures really demonstrate is that the logic of the post-Cold War UN is to be institutionally anti-American. Washington could seize on Kofi Annans present embarrassment and lean hard on him to reform this and reorganise that and reinvent the other and, if they threw their full diplomatic muscle behind it, they might get those anti-US votes down to what, a tad over 80 per cent? And along the way theyd find that theyd reformed a corrupt dysfunctional sclerotic anti-American club into a lean mean functioning effective anti-American club. Which is, if theyre honest, what most reformers mean by reform.
Obviously, within those various blocs, America has many friends. But the regional voting structure of the UN means that even relatively well-disposed allies become less friendly when their voice is filtered through geographic groupings that prize solidarity over all. For example, Libya became chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission because it was felt to be Africas turn and Africa put up only one candidate and the European Union had agreed to vote as a bloc and they didnt wish to be seen to be disrespecting Africa by voting against its preferred candidate, so they abstained. So, by filtering Britains voice through one transnational body (the EU) into another (the UN) to vote on the candidate of a third (the African Union), Her Majestys Government is now on record as having no objection to the worlds leading human rights body being headed by a one-man dictatorship that blows up American airliners in British airspace. Its a good thing the UN has moral authority, because the United Kingdom certainly doesnt. Thus, transnationalism artificially diminishes the voice of second-tier powers and artificially inflates basket-case psycho states.
Any real reform of the UN would start by dismantling the deeply unhealthy regional structure. Instead, reformers complain that the permanent Security Council membership excludes all of Africa and Latin America, and demand that Brazil and South Africa be brought on board as regional house captains. That would be a disaster. An India that sits alongside America as a fellow democracy, trading partner and beneficiary of the Britannic inheritance is one thing. An India that represents an invented power bloc defined by the increasingly outmoded constraints of geography would just be a vehicle for taking those 85 per cent negative votes up to the Security Council.
Yet were now being told that the United States is obstructing the 60th anniversary full-blown relaunching, as the Washington Post puts it, by impeding the expansion of the Security Council. One can only hope so. Relaunching the UN in a fast-changing world is like trying to redesign a horse-and-buggy for a moon-shot. Take last months first Sino-Russian war games, a rare joint venture by the two non-Western members of the Big Five. Moscow may see an alliance with Beijing as its only hope of retaining world-power status. By 2020, when the agreement on the 4,000-mile Russian-Chinese border comes up for renegotiation, the Far East of the Russian Federation, containing 80 per cent of the countrys resources, will have been de facto settled by the Chinese.
Thats not a corner of the world anyone thinks about much right now, but it will look profoundly different in 15 years time. How likely are we or, more to the point, Kofi Annan, Louise Frechette and co. to be able to construct formal structures for a world just a decade and a half hence? Given the unlikelihood of getting it right, its preferable to stick with the second world war victory parade preserved in aspic. The existing Security Councils ever more obvious obsolescence will be the best counterweight to the lazy assumption that transnationalism is the wave of the future.
So I hope that by the time you read this the deliberations at Turtle Bay are poised somewhere between paralysis and meltdown. The polite fictions of Kofi Annan really belong to the lost world of 10 September 2001. It was very agreeable if you were one of the bespoke chaps cruising from summit to summit UN, EU, G8 mediating the cares of the planet. And it was all terribly sophisticated, as sophisticated as an urbane Paris boulevardier from the fin de siècle, impeccably coiffed and coutured but riddled with syphilis. Since Osama bin Laden blew apart those polite fictions, the effective international relationships America and Australia, America and India have taken place without the construction of permanent secretariats. Lets keep it that way. The best way to avoid having to reform transnational bureaucracies is not to have them in the first place.
The UN only exists to help themselves to American wealth. The people who run the UN are no different than the crowd that ran the place formerly known as New Orleans.
Breathtakingly brilliant! Steyn is such an educator.
The UN is so Sept 10th, and we should keep it that way. YES!
Absolutely brilliant Steyn! Thanks Pkoey!
Kofi - all hat, no cattle, all illusion, no substance...
And last but not least: all sociopathic charm, no integrity.
Kofi, his boy et al - need to be in jail. The US should walk away from the corruption and let the UN sink in it's own stinch.
You can take the man out of the Third World but you can't take...
Blimey, he's right.
there IS a cure for the UN - give Turtle bay back to the turtles.
Exactly what we discussed on the phone last night.
Steyn's article is brilliant throughout, but that one sentence is all that is really needed. The UN should be moved to Geneva.
That's why Kerry, Carter, Clinton and friends are so pro-UN and why they are loved by our enemies and so-called friends around the world.
I so adore this man! It's hard not to go ga-ga over his incredible mind! Thanks for the ping, Pokey!
This gem is too long to be my new tag, but along with his biting wit ("thugocracies", "Undeportable, that's what you are"), proves why THIS MAN is simply the best:
"Transnationalism is the mechanism by which the worlds most enlightened progressives provide cover for its darkest forces."