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The Unserious U.N.
Turtle Bay makes itself irrelevant.


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In the eyes of its secretary general and Old Europe, the U.N.’s main purpose is to enhance its own power and influence at the expense of the United States. Having failed to do more than delay U.S. action to remove Saddam Hussein, the U.N. found itself in a dilemma. As the Wall Street Journal put it on October 13, 2003, “U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has made it clear that he’s now more interested in defeating President Bush than he ever was in toppling Saddam Hussein. Mr. Annan knows that Mr. Bush’s policy…poses a serious challenge to what he claims is the ‘unique legitimacy’ of the collection of the despots he leads….”

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But Annan knew that 2004 would challenge President Bush more than the U.N. could. The presidential election held hope for Annan that Bush would be removed, and a more U.N.-friendly administration (which any Democratic one would surely be) installed. You have to credit Annan for planning ahead. In December 2003, he established a 16-member panel of gray eminences, the U.N. High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. And, of course, he managed to both stack the deck and deal from the bottom to make sure it came out with the right answers. Has it ever. You can read the panel’s report, which Annan has vigorously endorsed, here.

Annan tasked his panel to craft reforms of U.N. institutions such as the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the Human Rights Commission that should be focused not on dealing with their underlying problems, but on enhancing their appearance. The General Assembly is a forum for bashing America and Israel, and for devising new ways to raid America’s treasury. Annan posed no question of how to end the third-world block voting that has made the General Assembly dysfunctional since the late 1970s. On the Security Council, now gridlocked by the veto powers of France and Russia, Annan wanted only to expand the Security Council, perhaps adding a veto-holding member from the third world to ensure the gridlock continued. And, of course, Annan wanted the panel to enforce his position that “preemptive” war (a.k.a. the Iraq war) is illegal under the U.N. Charter.

The “High Level Panel” was charged by the secretary general to deal with the issue of preemptive war in just that way. In a press conference on December 18, Annan said,

I have tried to work with the Member [states] to find ways of improving our Organization to make it more effective…because some of the questions that the panel will have to deal with touch on…how the international community…organizes itself to ensure that we maintain peace and security. And it really is pushing the development of international law where they will have to discuss questions of when preventive war is acceptable, under what rules, and who approves.

With that statement, Annan gave away the game. He wanted the panel to decide that only under the U.N.’s rules, and only when the U.N. approves, can preemptive war be legal. Though he could have saved them the year of effort, the panel did what they were told and reported their recommendation that only the U.N. can authorize preemptive war, U.S. Constitution be damned. This group–like Gov. LePetomaine’s cabinet in Blazing Saddles–harrumphed on cue, and did their best to help Annan & Co. try to save their phony-baloney jobs. Fortunately, the panel’s proposals are largely dependent on changes to the U.N. charter which have to pass both Security Council and General Assembly votes. Which means most won’t.

Under the rules the panel recommends, preemptive war can only be undertaken when the Security Council says that a threat is imminent. It recommends five criteria for the Security Council to judge petitions for permission to preempt: the seriousness of the threat, proper purpose (what motivates the proposed preempter?), whether it is a last resort, whether proportional means are used, and whether military action is likely to have better or worse results than inaction. There will be many an occasion to debate these criteria, but only among the unserious. In short, and just for starters, these criteria mean: (1) sharing intelligence with the enemy and surrendering the advantage of surprise, essential to catching terrorists where they hide; (2) subordinating the decision to go to war to those who are opposed to our nation’s interests; and (3) spending more young American lives than we must in order to pick a fair “proportional” fight. You might as well replace the Joint Chiefs with the Dixie Chicks. (The panel’s report notes, graciously, that in cases of terrorists and WMDs, the Security Council may have to act more speedily and decisively. How that can be done with France and Russia as members remains to be explained.)

Changes to the U.N. Charter have to pass the Security Council, with the support of all five permanent members. We can, and will, veto the “preemptive war” rules in the Security Council. The panel recommends establishing a “peacebuilding commission” in the Security Council, presumably to have members, such as Syria, who have of late been non-permanent members of the Council. We can veto that one, too. Other nations will stand in line to veto some of the other “reforms.”

Having failed to agree on one recommendation, the panel puts forth two for the expansion of the Security Council . One would add six permanent members and three non-permanent ones. The other would create a third-tier of membership, with four-year terms for these countries that can be renewed. Enact either, enact neither. The Security Council will remain dysfunctional.

Trying to deal with past ghastly failure in Rwanda and paper over the ongoing one in Sudan, the panel said that the Security Council should be able to decide to intervene whenever it chooses, to deal with genocide or ethnic cleansing in nations that are unwilling or unable to stop crimes against humanity. This “reform” is important, only because it is premised on yet another challenge to nation’s sovereignty. In the Alice in Wonderland atmosphere of the U.N., it is a small step from intervening to stop genocide in Sudan to intervening to stop Israel from protecting itself from Palestinian terror. If you doubt this, please reread the July International Court of Justice’s decision on the Israeli antiterror wall, which finds it an unjust repression of Palestinian rights to move freely around the territories and into Israel.

Having worked for a year, during which only the deaf, dumb, and blind can have failed to hear of the Oil-for-Food-for-Bribes-for-Weapons scam, it is only to be expected that the panel recommends precisely nothing to impose any semblance of accountability and responsibility on the U.N. staff. (There is mention of civilian-staffing reform, but that’s only a review to see whether the U.N. has the right people. Perhaps Benon Sevan and Kojo Annan will run this review.)

The real game for this panel–first and last–is to restore the U.N.’s ability to slow and stop the United States from acting when and where it must to combat terrorism. The panel said, “There is little evident international acceptance of the idea of security being best preserved by a balance of power or by any single–even benignly motivated–superpower…. The yearning for an international system governed by the rule of law has grown. No state, no matter how powerful, can by its own efforts alone make itself invulnerable to today’s threats.”

But whether there is “evident international acceptance” was never the question. It is now, and always will be, the primary duty of the president of the United States to protect and preserve our nation, our people, and our interests with or without the U.N. We must lead, because no one else can. The U.N. could follow, but it chooses not to do so. Of Lee Iacocca’s famous three choices, all that is left for the U.N. is to get out of the way.

NRO contributor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think.



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