Foreign Affairs

Whatever Happened to the United Nations?

As the United Nations General Assembly convenes for their annual session in New York, much of the attention has focused on Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his declarations that capitalism is near death while the “future” belongs to his country.

Four years ago it was Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez who captured the headlines with a theatrical rant referring to an appearance made by President George W. Bush as, “the devil came here yesterday, and it smells of sulfur still today.”

How did such a respectable international governmental organization, one that fought a bloody war including 16-member states which beat back a Communist invasion of South Korea from 1950-1953, come to symbolize little more than a leftist think tank embracing a platform for anti-Western rhetoric?

Though the answer is complex, much of it stems from the egalitarian desire to give all heads of state an equal voice in world affairs. While a noble endeavor, the end result has been to erode a once formidable organization and champion of protecting sovereign nations into an increasingly marginalized, and at times radicalized, entity.

In a sign of the UN’s new world order, Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Mohammar Khadafi’s Libya have a seat on its Human Rights Council. Resolutions condemning Israel have become pro forma, notably with 22 coming in the 61st General Assembly (2006-2007), during a time in which none were passed against the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur.

Although the United States has not held much sway in UN affairs for some time due to routine vetoes from Russia and/or China, as well as other factors—despite providing a home for the organization and roughly 25% of the funding, things actually have gotten worse under the Obama Administration.

In an effort to re-make the country into a more multi-lateral force while apologizing for superpower status, President Obama emboldens U.S. detractors through showing weakness. Upon taking office he offered to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program without any pre-conditions, an olive branch that was rebuffed by Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs.

Meanwhile, Obama’s support of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) sponsored UN Resolution 62-145, which prohibits, “defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred, against Islam and Muslims in particular,” seems to back his worldview that tolerance is a priority when it benefits Muslims.

Though the UN has done a commendable job in relatively small-scale peacekeeping missions in several African countries, Haiti, Kosovo, Cyprus, Lebanon, Kashmir, and East Timor, the question should be asked if the United States is truly getting its money’s worth out of the organization.

Specialized agencies of the UN also appear to have made a positive impact in some developing world populations, such as the World Health Organization, World Food Program, and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Though as large humanitarian agencies, they do not perform primary roles in maintaining security, the UN’s raison d’etre. Furthermore, their roles are largely redundant since they co-exist with parallel governmental organizations in most Western countries such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and non-governmental organizations like Doctors Without Borders and countless other aid groups.

Since the UN appears unable or unwilling to meaningfully confront the most important security challenges to world peace—as envisioned it would by its founders in 1945 who sought to replace the failed League of Nations, it does not appear to make sense for the United States to place much emphasis or resources on the organization its current form.

As the greatest threats to world peace today arguably stem from Iran’s inexorable march to obtaining nuclear weapons combined with their threats against Israel, grave danger posed by shadowy yet lethal non-state actors such as al Qaeda, and a continuously erratic North Korean regime, the UN should be confronted on its plan to halt these dangers before they become worse.

Sadly, rather than effectively dealing with any of these serious challenges the UN has taken a different approach by giving countries with totalitarian regimes and egregious human rights records, such as Iran, Cuba and Libya, the largest platforms in which to scapegoat others for their own problems.

Perhaps it is time to reconsider our relationship with the UN. Is it really worth the trouble?

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