April 26, 2005

A Reluctant Addendum

I had not wanted to say anything further about John Bolton, but did have a question to throw out into the ether. Critics of Bolton have many objections to him, but the first item on their list is usually, as Kevin Drum says today, that Bolton "...fundamentally doesn't believe in the UN's mission."

What do these folks think the UN's mission is?

I see the UN primarily as an aid to diplomacy and as a convenient means for nations to address uncontroversial issues and those of a technical nature. I take for granted that the American UN delegation like that of every other country will use the organization to pursue its country's national interest. I do not see the UN as a world government in embryo, nor do I think its bureaucracy entitled to any special reverence.

Now, a strong defense of some of John Bolton's public statements about the UN will have to come from someone else. We have enough politicians able to pepper their speeches with imprecision and cheer lines without our diplomats doing it. But at some point it would be nice if critics of his nomination, including those who think they hear "...a public outcry supporting a stronger, better United Nations", explained exactly why they think the UN needs to be stronger, and what they think a "better UN" means.

I should add one more thing -- entertaining as the controversy over Bolton has been, the critical unfilled ambassadorship right now isn't the one in New York. It's the one in Baghdad. Zalmay Khalilzad's nomination was announced three weeks ago, but his confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have apparently not even been scheduled yet.

I'm not pointing fingers or accusing anyone of anything, but this is really something that needs to get done. The considerable momentum generated by the successful Iraqi elections last January is dissipating as aspiring Iraqi politicians squabble and plot, and it's not very likely that occasional phone calls from senior officials in Washington can do as much to speed up the process of getting a government formed as an experienced, full time ambassador could. Khalilzad has been confirmed by the Senate before, most recently as ambassador in Kabul, and while I have nothing against another review of his record there is some time pressure here that I hope the administration and the Committee appreciate.

Posted by at April 26, 2005 05:12 PM | TrackBack (8)

You raise a very good question. The related question is what vision the Bush administration has for the UN, in particular in the security area. After all, whether Bolton or someone else winds up as our ambassador, he or she will be carrying out Bush's policies. The present controversy over Bolton is a distraction from this more important matter.

Posted by: Les Brunswick at April 26, 2005 10:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

All American Politics has a speech by Mark Lagon, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary for international organization affairs, before House International Relations Committee. It seems to be coordinated with the remarks by Kofi Annan and the current UN Human Rights commissioner on reforming the UN Human Rights Commission. Mark Lagon touches on a few more agencies within the United Nations.

Posted by: The Indigent Blogger at April 26, 2005 11:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think Khalilzad should be fast-tracked, and that the admin. was foolish for having a gap at such a critical time.

Posted by: praktike at April 27, 2005 12:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

False premise, wrong question & answer. I think the reaction captured by the phrase "...fundamentally doesn't believe in the UN's mission" is not aimed at Bolton but at his maximum leader. Lots of traditional opponents of Republican rule like congressional democrats (not radicals in anyone's book) are sick of Bush trying to crush the process. The fons et origo of course was the 2000 election. But much else has occured in a similar fashion. So Bolton is just another in a long line of fanatics dedicated to the cause (using the term in a clinical sense).

I don't mind Bolton's criticisms of the UN so much---I rather like straight talk from politicians. What is deeply repelling to me is his hubris in trying to coerce the silence of critics on issues which have potentially life and death consequences for our nation. Just a small point :-)

Posted by: LCGillies at April 27, 2005 02:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, I think the proper place to start defining the mission/purpose of the United Nations would be the UN itself, don't you?

To that end, here's the "school children's" version of the UN's stated purpose from its website....

The purpose of the United Nations is to bring all nations of the world together to work for peace and development, based on the principles of justice, human dignity and the well-being of all people. It affords the opportunity for countries to balance global interdependence and national interests when addressing international problems.

Now, as you noted earlier, the purpose of the UN was hijacked from its very beginning, thanks to the cold war. Bush I and Clinton both recognized that, stripped of Cold War baggage, the UN could be instrumental in advancing the causes of human rights, progress, and peace, and were working toward that end.

Unfortunately Bush II and the right wing don't believe in "balanc[ing] global interdependence and national interests when addressing international problems" and instead see a world that rightfully should not be "interdependent" but dependent upon and completely responsive to the whim of the USA.

Blaming Boutros-Boutros Gali and Akashi for the failure of the UN to address the world's problems is ridiculous, however. They were never empowered to do so. Most of the failures of the UN since the Cold War can be traced to the door of the US (with a big assist from Russia on Kosovo). And that lack of American leadership can be traced to the right-wing, which has hated the UN for as long as its been in existence, and has consistently opposed international intervention through the UN to intervene in humanitarian disasters.

The considerable momentum generated by the successful Iraqi elections last January is dissipating as aspiring Iraqi politicians squabble and plot, and it's not very likely that occasional phone calls from senior officials in Washington can do as much to speed up the process of getting a government formed as an experienced, full time ambassador could.

In blaming the lack of forward motion in Iraq on "squabbling Iraqi politicians", you seem to be forgetting that it was the United States that is responsible for this situation --- making it virtually impossible to create a government without extensive "squabbling" by requiring a 2/3 majority to form a government. This was by design ; the last thing that Bushco wanted was "majority rule" in Iraq, because that meant a Shiite government that had close ties to Iran.

(The worst part is that Iraq HAS a perfectly workable constitution that could have been the basis on which elections were held, and governments were formed....)

Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 27, 2005 03:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Joseph's characterization of the UN is, to my mind, fundamentally correct, avoiding as it does the extremes of either villifying or venerating it.

_Unfortunately Bush II and the right wing don't believe in "balanc[ing] global interdependence and national interests when addressing international problems" and instead see a world that rightfully should not be "interdependent" but dependent upon and completely responsive to the whim of the USA._

p. lukasiak: Isn't it possible that the Bush administration doesn't advocate this state of affairs, but instead merely asserts that it is, in fact, the case (i.e. solutions to international problems are, by default, dependent on the power of the US)? And if it is the case, then they're approach is sensible.

_the last thing that Bushco wanted was "majority rule" in Iraq, because that meant a Shiite government that had close ties to Iran._

p. lukasiak: Perhaps you have a point here. Lincoln famously characterized the dream of the Founders (and, by extension, the Union side in the Civil War) as "government of the people, etc." In other words, the peculiar virtue of the American state is that it is a popular government.

What can this mean, in real terms, if not "majority rule"? And insofar as we are seeking to bring our conception of governance to Iraq, shouldn't our first priority be the empowerment (to rule) of a majority?

Posted by: Art at April 27, 2005 04:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Some great comments here and I see some common ground on boths sides.

I'd like to offer a different persective on the UN from a smaller less influential nations perspective. When one takes into account the stated aims of the UN as quoted above, it becomes a highly important body for less influential nations to both have a say in international affairs and to afford some protection to countries unfortunate enough to be surrounded by larger and potentially aggressive neighbours.

As a New Zealander I view the UN as an important (albeit somewhat "rusty") tool to ensure we have a fair say on international events, and to aford us protection in the event that another nation decided to invade us. The Quid pro Quo of course being that we contribute to the defense of other nations/groups of people who may require it.

Its also vital for preventing the interests of those dominant powers in the World - the US being one of course, from acheive undue levels of influence, as well as a forum ostensibly for solving disputes diplomatically, or obtaining a majority consensus on the need for military action.

Now its obvious to most the UN is not performing its stated diplomatic tasks, and I think that p.l is fairly accurate as to why. Which isn't to say that I don't recognise the desire for those powers who are big enough to operate within or without as suits their national interests.

The Republican party are certainly not the only ones who would seek to use the UN for their own ends - the Chinese and Russians being obvious candidates who would place their national interest above International interests.

Which brings us to what I feel is the fundamental issue for reengineering the UN into a more successful body. Which is of course the UN will only ever be truly effective and strong when all nations recognise the need to place national interest behind those of international interest. Which is bloody unlikley to happen anytime soon. I suppose there is a case for an argument that International interests in the long run should support national interests. A peaceful, democratic world is surely good for the national interests of all.

But I'm a realist to, and there is a very long road to go before any such state could be contemplated. But nonetheless for smaller nations like mine the UN still plays an important function in ensuring smaller less influential nations can still have something of a say.

In the meantime what is critical is convincing larger and more influential nations to operate inside the boundaries of the UN as much as possible except in last resort cases. Which means for example no more Iraq invasions - unsanctioned by all but a powerful few. However for that to occur, the Security council needs an overhaul, and some of the members need to be reminded of what the UN charter is - not an opportunity for pissing in each others pockets and playing dangerous and nasty politics and empire building...

So I guess what my take as a member of a small and relatively uninfluencial nation is, that the UN is a vital body and provided it becomes a lot more responsive and useful, has a great deal of potential for good. But the lessons of yesteryear need to be learned and learned fast for that to occur, and human beings have notoriously short memories....

Posted by: Aran Brown at April 27, 2005 07:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Art sez:

p. lukasiak: Isn't it possible that the Bush administration doesn't advocate this state of affairs, but instead merely asserts that it is, in fact, the case (i.e. solutions to international problems are, by default, dependent on the power of the US)? And if it is the case, then they're approach is sensible.

Art, I think that Bushco rejects the idea of "interdependence" that is at the heart of the UN concept. Because the post-Cold war era resulted in the US being the only real superpower, we became a necessary participant in all international efforts. Bushco translates that "necessity for" to "dependence upon" the US, and takes an authoritarian approach to dependence. (I'd compare it to parents who tell their kids "As long as you live under our roof, you'll follow our rules" :) )

This creates problems, not the least of which is that the rest of the world will find ways to make the US "unnecessary" (in much the same way that a children will make plans to move out of their parents house.) The end result is that a mutually beneficial relationship comes to an end --- and IMHO the US comes out the big loser, because it can no longer influence the course of events as effectively and decisively, and becomes vulnerable to collective actions taken by the rest of the world

(imho, the biggest reason that there was no "oil embargo" against the US when it invaded Iraq was that the world could not afford to send the US economy into a tailspin. One of the consequences of the Iraq war, and Bushco's approach to international relations, has been the halt in progress on large scale international free trade agreements, and efforts to create bilateral/multilateral/regional trade agreement that exclude the USA. These efforts signal the impending end of worldwide US economic hegemony --- and that is a far bigger threat to our national security than terrorism. )

Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 27, 2005 01:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wow, I have this sudden inexplicable craving for Phentermine! And Adipex!

Posted by: Anderson at April 27, 2005 08:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Feel better, Anderson?

For everyone else's benefit, every day we get spammers trying to post bogus messages in the comments section. Most of them get held up by the filter, and are deleted before they show up on discussion threads. One got through here, which is what Anderson was responding to.

Posted by: JEB at April 27, 2005 09:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

....and here I thought that my comments had made Anderson feel fat! :)

Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 28, 2005 04:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The UN has never worked, since the beginning, and never will, due to it's very design. Before it was mostly hamstrung by Cold War politics, now different politics work to it's detriment.

The UN is used mostly by Third World countries to bash the US, the OIC countries bash Israel and the US (aided by much of the Third World), and various actors and regional interests block any meaningful action by the UN to collectively address problems. Darfur and Southern Sudan fester precisely because China and France covet oil supplies in the Sudan, and the OIC countries reflexively support ANY Arab country no matter what the circumstances. The Balkans, Saddam, Afghanistan, Tsunami relief, all were solved not by NATO or the UN, but by the US with assistance by other regional actors. The UN exists to wash money from all stripes of dictators, from Saddam to Castro, and as a corrupt debating society.

The UN is a JOKE.

Aran Brown -- New Zealand will find no help from the UN. If they would not act in the Balkans, or West Africa (pick a country), or Somalia, or Sudan, or Afghanistan (even prior to 9/11 there was a great case for overthrowing the Taliban), or Bosnia or Kosovo, or any other place what makes you think New Zealand will be different? You'll have to rely on the same people who saved you from Hirohito the last time, the US and Australia.

"Undue influence?" "Solving issues diplomatically?" and "consensus on military action?" ... I'm sorry but that's simply starry eyed idealism unsupported by the last 14 years of post-Cold War history. Power is power, pretending that New Zealand is as important to the world as the US is a ludicrous proposition. Some issues CAN be solved diplomatically, and are. Others require military force to stop the killers. Pretending otherwise ends up waving a piece of paper and saying peace in our time. Guys like Charles Taylor stop killing when they're dead, that's it. Consensus on military action ends up doing nothing and enabling the killers. Ask the people of Rwanda, Sudan, West Africa, or Somalia.

Collective security arrangements are wise, New Zealand lacks the population, resources, and frankly the will to defend itself should say China or Indonesia suddenly decide to annex it by force. However this means horse-trading on both sides, the Kiwis accepting US bases (with nukes) and the US an obligation to defend defenseless New Zealand. None of this has anything to do with UN, which merely gets in the way.

No more Iraq Wars without the UN's assent? I doubt you'd find anyone outside the loony Left in the US to assent to that. ONLY the US has the military power or the will to solve the festering problems in the world (West African resource wars, Somalia's failed state, Sudan, the Balkans, and Saddam). If New Zealand as in WWII contributed men and resources to destroying mutual enemies (of which frankly the likelihood is close to zero) then of course they should have a say in decisions. Otherwise it's merely freeloading on the US taxpayer and soldiers, sailors, and marines. The US will not give up it's sovereignty without something in return, having people "like us" seems a loser.

More to the point, the US was brutally attacked on 9/11, and it's the policy of the country (borne out by the 2004 election) to make explicit examples of our enemies to show it's a very bad idea to forget our real power. The US IS powerful, we have very real military capabilities even ignoring our massive strategic nuclear arsenal which seems to have been forgotten. The worst of all possible worlds is a return to the 9/10 mentality which accepted the UN "humbuggery" as Twain put it, and gave unhealthy ideas to people like bin Laden that massive terrorist attacks against the US was risk free and desirable.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at April 28, 2005 07:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Aran Brown's interesting comments are a reminder that his country, New Zealand, which nows finds the idea of security within a world community attractive, found both security and identity in a very different kind of community for most of its history.

That community of course was the British Empire and its Commonwealth, in which New Zealand had all the advantages and disadvantages of a relationship with a much larger patron that occasionally counts on its smaller partner for support and assistance but otherwise has little interest in how it conducts its own affairs.

With respect to global politics the British Empire recognized a clear division between civilized and uncivilized states. That division was to some extent arbitrary and incorporated a race-related idea of civilization that we regard as unacceptable today. However, it did have the advantage of placing beyond the pale of civilization many states and cultures that deserved the distinction. There are some things about this lack of illusion that are most appealing.

An international order that accepts as a member in good standing regimes like those of Iraq before 2003 and Sudan today has something wrong with it. International law like any other kind is a reflection of shared values; it is a perversion of its purpose to think of it as primarily as a weapon to restrain the powerful rather than the wicked.

A small, distant country like New Zealand which might have contact with Iraq only as an occasional buyer of its lamb might well look upon the former Baathist regime and its crimes with equanimity, and tolerance of them by the world community an acceptable price to pay for its having a "greater voice" in a system that treats all states as approximately the same. But from my point of view the critical error of American policy toward Iraq lay in not ignoring the world community and destroying the Baathist government in 1991 as condign punishment for its long record of aggression. In so extreme a case I am willing to have law outraged so that right may be served, and like most Americans would think less of people and nations who prefer things the other way around.

Posted by: JEB at April 28, 2005 04:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You self-rightious right-wingers have your Bush licking the sweat off of the Saudi Prince and Bush is protecting Osama, a popular son of Saudi Arabia and you crack-pots pretend to know "human nature" and the real world?

Get a clue...you dudes are patsys for the wealthy elite of America and Saudi Arabia.

You watch war on TV and think you are a brave people?

No wonder the Saudis and most of the world don't take the American population seriously!

Posted by: NeoDude at April 28, 2005 04:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

DailyKos indeed.

Posted by: JackC at April 28, 2005 05:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The point is that nobody has an idea what to do with the UN. The UN is bound to the charter. The charter dates from 1945 (and relies on 19th century and elder concepts). It has been made to prevent the world from a war like WWII. But thanks to the nuclear bomb, there will be no more great power war. The new threats and dangers are completly different, and they are not manageable with the tools of the charter - and with a Security Council that spells: Peking, Moskau, Paris, London, Washington. This is not a world government - the SC is a platform for the coordination of the interest of five particular states.
The whole architecture is anachronistic. Its completly in the spirit of outdated realist school: all you have to do is to protect the frontiers. That doesn't fit to a globalized world that faces completly different challenges. Kofi Annan is trying to hide this fact, by proposing a "reform" that doesn't change anything substantial.
The UN doesn't work, everybody knows that. It only works as a tool for some privileged states to have much more global influence than they merit (France, GB).
But it is, on the other hand, very important to have an international platform for the management of global risks. Washington can't go it alone. Power needs consent, consent gives legitimacy. There has to be an international institutional network.
I thought that the Bush administration would, this year, present some ideas on a new global architecture. But this may be idealistic. Things don't work like this. So what I expect from Bolton is do have at least some ideas in mind about how to transform the UN to an organisation that fits better to the current situation. Maybe, maybe not.
I'm also surprised that there is so little talk - in newspapers and thinktanks - about UN-Reform and world architecture. This is unfortunate. There should be much more concern, because the Iraq crisis was ultimatly a result of the current global architecture (if you want to fight a war, you have to present a reason that is in compliance with the UN charter).
Finally, what concerns the critics of Bolton and those who praise the UN. Last week I had the chance to discuss with Tony Judt in Berlin. I think the idea of these people is simple: to use the UN to contain Washington. They see the Bush administration as dangerous, and they try to stop it where ever they can. In fact, they don't care about UN; all they think about is to stop Bush.
I think we have a crisis of global constitution. We urgently need new ideas and concept. Economics, technology and politics have reshaped the world, but we still live with political ideas and concepts of 19th century. To invent a new kind of global politics is the real challenge. But does anybody care about it?

Posted by: ulrich speck at April 28, 2005 09:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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