As we pause, waiting to discover whether Saddam is dead or alive, attention passes to the United Nations. We begin by asking: Who are we mad at?
Forget the French. They were obstructionist and they went further than merely to declare themselves opposed to confrontation. Even though they knew weeks ago that the United States had decided to proceed with military action, the French solicited redundant support, notably from Russia and China, which didn’t add to the power they already had as veto-equipped members of the Security Council. French focus went from blocking the U.S. through the veto to blocking the U.S. from the goal of achieving majority approval. To end up out-bargaining the U.S. for the vote of Cameroon or Chile was after all redundant, inasmuch as the veto was promised. The French effort accomplished only the mobilization of supplementary votes on the other side.
The question to ask now is how to think through the future of the U.N., which hangs to a considerable extent on the future of U.S. participation in it.
What happened on Monday, March 17, was that we came face to face with the basic architecture of the U.N. As noted in this space before, we have had to contend with nations that were given a veto power because of their status as “victorious” nations. France was a victorious nation in a sentimental way, much as one might award a ribbon to a sports contender who, though knocked out before reaching the second round, needs consolation as a good old boy who did well on the penultimate fight.
We have to acknowledge that sentimental regard is, in the nature of things, attenuated by the passage of time. We do not have a parade to celebrate our victory in the Spanish American War, let alone our victory in the Mexican War. Whatever special regard we had for France in San Francisco in 1945, when the U.N. Charter was drafted, has no governing influence on the distribution of power in the U.N. 58 years after the end of the world war.
The United States could call for a convention to reconsider the distribution of veto power. We could reasonably hold that by standards of population and/or wealth, Germany, Japan, and India should be elevated to veto power. If we thought geographical distribution now critical, we might consider Brazil or Argentina, assuming they could scratch up the money to pay dues. And, if we went in that direction, Indonesia would certainly court a vote.
Or, the U.S. could go in an entirely different direction, advocating not the enlargement of veto powers, but the elimination of the veto. We will never have a clearer demonstration of the veto’s negative influence than we have just had. It may be that without taking specific action to go for a constitutional convention, we might proceed on the assumption that, for all intents and purposes, the constitution has been amended. Nobody is going to feel bound by a Security Council veto in years visibly ahead. The Queen of England has the constitutional right to the “royal veto” of an act of Parliament (La reine s’avisera). The Crown has not exercised that veto since 1708, so why bother to take the power from her? The constitution of the U.N. can be held to have been amended by the action of the French, and will go unused, in atrophy.
A third way to go is by such a resolution as was proposed by the philosopher/strategist James Burnham three decades ago. It wouldn’t be a formal resolution in the Security Council, because it would involve no one other than the party that came forward with it.
Such a “resolution” would in fact be nothing more than a standing instruction by the president to our ambassador to the U.N. It would instruct him not to cast his vote on any political motion. Participate fully and vigorously in discussion with other members, exchange with them compliments, threats, bribes, information, gestures of friendship. But don’t vote.
That would be the signal: The United States is not participating in that part of the U.N. that exercises parliamentary authority on political questions. If the U.S. did not vote in the Security Council, over a period of time it would transpire that political votes in the Security Council were without meaning.
That third approach has the benefit of continuing in place all else in the U.N., and permitting the French ambassador to tell his grandchildren that he once exercised something called a “veto.”