Monday, December 06, 2004

Don't bury the UN, praise it

A couple of weeks ago the Economist had a piece on what the upcoming UN reform document might look like. The piece was long on the need for international law being observed, but didn't talk about who would enforce that law. In my book, law without enforcement isn't law at all, and there is no international tool of law enforcement. Without tackling this point squarely, any talk of "international law" seems clownish. Clownish articles stand out more starkly in the Economist than most publications.

The Belmont Club has been tracking the oil-for-kickbacks scandal, but I feel that any centrally planned economy between unaccountable bureacrats and unaccountable dictatorial thugs would, as a matter of course, be riddled with corruption. The UN is corrupt because it lacks competition and accountability, not because its denizens are of below average virtue (I firmly beleive that bureuacrats of all stripes are entirely mediocare in both morals and intellect.)

So, since the UN is and forever will be a labyrinth of pen-pushing bureaucrats, expensing lunches, pilfering cash, embezzling funds, and ignoring parking tickets, why bother with the agency at all? Yes it does some humanitarian work, but so do lots of other organizations, and its record of preventing war (the UN's main reason for being) is pathetic.

In this weeks Economist, Kofi (father of Kojo who profited handsomly by the oil-for-kickbacks program) spoke about UN reform. His writing is tedious, imprecise, and lengthy, so while I attempted to read the article, I failed.

From other sources, it seems that the main point of the panel was to address the growing problems of "interstate conflict, civil war, economic and social threats, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and organized international crime." The panel itself was convened after the bruising fight with the US over UN authorization to invade Iraq.

It also seems that a key recommendation was to expand the conditions on which to authorize armed interventions, but only if the UN really did have final say of this. It also mulls expanding various stratas of the security council, which may or may not include giving more countries vetoes.

In my view, the key failing of the above recommendations is the same as the key failing of the Democratic party in the 2004 elections -- how do they help us win the fight against Islamic terror? Whether Kerry is President or India is party of the Security Council, the world is still filled with young Jihadis looking for North Korean weapons to detonate in Western cities. Bush, for all his flaws, has a pretty clear vision of what victory in the War on Terror looks like: Saudi Arabia having its second election. Correctly, Bush has perceived that the lack of competition and accountability in Arab governments has lead to those countries relative and absoute declines, which in turn lead to the intolerance and fundamentalism that colors political Islam today. Any forward looking party or institution needs to either offer something better than the above, or 100% embrace the above and promise better execution.

A widely linked New Republic piece by Peter Beinart makes exactly the same point: the Democrats lost because people who were concerned about terrorism voted Republican. I certainly know that every Bush '04 voter I know went that way because they felt that Bush would do a better job there. (Incidently, most of them were for Gore in 2000).

But you know, there will always be an isolationist electoral bloc in the US, and these folks need a political home. Once upon a time it would have been in the Republican party, but for the next decade or so it may be in the Democrat party. This isolationist bloc may end up being large enough to put Democrats in power--somewhere--or it may just mean that Democrats get to play opposition until 2010 or 2020. Either way, the votes need to go somewhere and they aren't going to Bush.

Similarly, the world is full of communitarian folks, once labeled "Communist", then "Socialist", now "Transnational Progressive", and these guys have energies that they will expend *somewhere*. The UN has become, both ideologically and practically, the motherland for these folks, and surely that is less harmful and more constructive than if they were to say, start running a country.

In this spirit, a reformed UN should be tasked with 2 goals: 1) soak up and contain transnational progressives 2) introduce competitive and accountable systems of government in the islamic world, in that order.

To this end, the security council should be expanded, with more nations having seats and more nations having vetoes. There should be more conferences, panels, and studies. Ideally, only democracies would be allowed in, but China may veto that so instead there should be even more committees. Obdurate nations, like North Korea or Iran should have prominent positions on anything to do with civil rights and liberties because of the cachet they would then bring to those panels recommendations. Arab countries should be particularly involved and encouraged to weigh in on the rights of women, the seperation of church and state, and the limits of government to create public virtue.

In other words, the UN should be like it is now, but only moreso. The US and its allies, of course, should not take matters of consequence to the organization any more.

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