Politics & Policy

The U.N.: Symptom of Global Chaos

It’s a dangerous playpen in an increasingly dangerous world.

The conduct of the United Nations seems to be becoming more and not less bizarre and outrageous. The human-rights performance of both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly has confirmed that, more than ever, the U.N. is a ludicrous playpen for the failed states and most odious despotisms of the planet. They gleefully and churlishly revile the serious powers, as if in doing so they somehow reversed the balance of strength, moral stature, and civic merit. A numerous U.S. delegation arrived to participate in the Council’s deliberations, ending a long boycott, and each American speaker earnestly proclaimed it an honor to be present. There followed a piling on of the world’s most disreputable regimes, accusing the U.S. of massive civil-rights violations.


The American delegates sat like mute defendants in a show trial while their country was arraigned by the delegates of Cuba, China, Libya, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and many others — including Egypt, a dependent of U.S. aid that has just declined to admit American inspectors to observe its current farcical elections. Unfortunately, they all had a legitimate argument, as they mentioned the failings of American criminal procedure, the racial imbalances and inhumane conditions in the prison system, and various other more or less well-founded complaints. But it does not lie in the mouths of spokesmen for such infamous regimes to condemn the shortcomings of American legal and social justice.


The American delegation offered no defense or riposte, but, like naughty children after being whipped in the woodshed, they all gamely promised that the U.S. would try to do better. The American-delegation leader, Esther Brimmer, happily declared that “the work of this very council is very close to the history and culture of our country.” It is hard to imagine what she had in mind. The same Human Rights Council conducted, on November 10,  a “universal periodic review” of the status of human rights in Lebanon. Israel accused Lebanon of hosting, being heavily influenced by, and generally facilitating the activities of Hezbollah, one of the world’s largest and most ruthlessly efficient terrorist organizations. The Council handed the issue to the General Assembly, where Lebanon’s representative described Hezbollah as “only a resistance movement that had the honor to resist the [Israeli] occupation.” The Syrian delegate described Israel as, by its existence and its conduct, a provocation “which repeats black pages in the history of modern humanity, particularly it reminds us of what happened at the beginning of the Second World War in Europe.” Israel was founded by terrorism, author of the vilest terrorism “on the planet,” and “Israeli state terrorism” was “the one single terrorism in the Middle East.” On November 15, the General Assembly adopted nine resolutions condemning Israel.


The General Assembly had already adopted, in 2010, twelve resolutions condemning Israel, for a total of 21, against a total of only six resolutions condemning other member countries. These resolutions targeted Burma, Iran, and North Korea, but also Afghanistan, which is making a creditable effort to emerge from the Taliban’s reign of terror, the relatively inoffensive Georgia, and the United States. Sudan, which continues its genocidal actions in Darfur, and whose president has been branded a war criminal by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; Zimbabwe, plundered and oppressed by Mugabe; Cuba — none of these, nor any of the other brutal despotisms of Asia and Africa, generated any official criticism.


The United States spends $6.35 billion on the U.N. annually, 23.5 percent of the U.N.’s budget. There is something self-flagellating in the U.S.’s meek submission to this profligate institute for infantile primal-scream therapy. The U.N.’s peacekeeping efforts are largely cash-raising mercenary operations by poor countries that dispatch forces and rent them out to warlords in local factional disputes. The aid operations have a mixed record, but the debacle in Haiti has been aggravated by the antics of the U.N. aid operation, which has allegedly helped spread the cholera epidemic that afflicts about 20,000 people.


The U.S. has grown from a regional power barely able to hold its own in the War of 1812 to a major power after the Civil War, able to enforce the Monroe Doctrine without the assistance of the Royal Navy (as it demonstrated in helping to evict France from Mexico in 1867). In the following 50 years, its population more than doubled and its GDP vastly exceeded the growth rates of today’s China. America surpassed the British and German empires as an industrial power, built a large navy and the Panama Canal, and seized most of what was left of the Spanish empire (Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico). It joined Britain and France as one of the three leading victorious powers in World War I, and emerged from World War II with a nuclear monopoly and half the economic product of the war-ravaged world. It was rivaled only by the USSR as the supreme power. This contest ended in the almost bloodless implosion of the Soviet Union and the demise of international Communism, recently effectively confirmed by Fidel Castro after the disastrous 51-year Marxist experiment in Cuba. And this unprecedented and benign advance of a country that has led the triumph of democratic government and the free-market economy has been celebrated by a bedlam of silly states outdoing one another in mocking the power that had the effrontery to be the first such preeminent nation since the rise of the nation-state.


There has long been a good deal of this sort of juvenilism in international organizations, but it has become more pronounced, and for the first time the U.S. is participating, as a straight man, in this orgy of America-baiting hypocrisy.


This is a symptom of a much broader problem. As a practical matter, the U.S. will cease to be a superpower if it accepts the nuclear military capability of Iran. No president from the second Roosevelt to the second Bush would have tolerated such a destabilizing development. President Obama is moving sensibly to conciliate Russia, build an alliance with India, and spruce up relations with Japan and Indonesia (the core of a coming containment policy toward China that will also be supported by South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, and perhaps Vietnam). But America is too hobbled financially, and its conventional military capacity too concentrated in Afghanistan and Iraq, for it to be more than a conventional Great Power. Europe is too dyspeptic and mired in the problems of Euro-federalism to exercise any real influence in the world. Russia, corruptly misgoverned, plagued by alcoholism and an anemic birthrate, stranded between a collapsed command economy and a thugocracy, cannot do more than export mischief. India has a billion peasants living in squalor.


In such a pockmarked landscape, even the Turks and the Brazilians and the Iranians can imagine that they are major players. Nobody — except, to a very limited extent, China — has any authority. “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. He can be reached at cbletters@gmail.com.