Saturday, April 16, 2005

John Bolton

I like John Bolton for the UN job. You know why? Because he tells it like it is. I'd always thought liberals liked the "truth to power" thing. But it seems that with the UN, it's some kind of sacred cow that should never be questioned or criticized. So of course they want someone who will just go with the flow. Don't look under rocks for corruption, don't point out the UN's inadequacies. And certainly don't point out the simple truth that the UN can't prevent 99% of the nations out there from doing what they want to do when they want to do it.

Now I'm agnostic on what the UN should actually be. On one hand, you have conservatives saying that the US shouldn't even be there, and at worst, it's a threat to our Constitutional liberties. If the end goal of the UN is in fact a world government of some sort, then they have a point. But on the other hand, if the UN has zero enforcement powers except against weak, internationally isolated states, what is its purpose?

It's generally a truism that any democratic government must have three basic powers: executive, legislative, and judicial. The UN has only one of these, legislative. The Security Council in theory has executive power, but in practice it does not becuase of its unwillingness to actually enforce its edicts. Imagine how much we'd respect our local elected governments if they were completely unwilling to send the police to deal with anything, whether robbery, murder, rape, or what have you. Imagine if all they did was issue resolutions condemning the crimes. And even there, imagine if they did it selectively, so that certain criminals got condemned for everything, real or imagined, and some criminals were even on the city council! So they could protect their friends and get back at their enemies. Heck, in that case, you probably would be thankful they are too cowardly to send in the police!

So let's move on to legislative powers. They do seem to have this, but unfortunately there don't seem to be any restraints on their powers the way there is in the US. The World Court, in theory the UN's judicial branch, can't overturn General Assembly Resolutions. So once again, good thing we don't have any real executive power in this body, or else we'd have real problems with all the capricious resolutions the General Assembly passes. Finally, let's look at the World Court. Theoretically, the world's Supreme Court. Yet any nation can reject the jurisdiction of the court!

So what is the UN for? Some seem to think it's just a forum. But those same people will usually say, without noticing the inherent contradiction, that its resolutions are binding. Of course, in practice, this only means binding on us. A concept which I personally reject. There can be no justice of any sort when the laws only apply to you. Some say that if we set a good example, other nations will follow. That doesn't hold water either. In the real world, every nation does what is in its national interest. If the US decides to unilaterally abide by all UN resolutions, other nations won't be shamed into doing it, they'll see it as an opportunity. Take whaling, for instance. The US has generally abided by this treaty. What effect has this had on Japan? None that I can see except they don't have to compete with our whalers anymore! So those who say the UN is just a forum need to stick to that story. It's the only one that actually expresses the reality of what the UN is and has always been. A forum which occasionally decides, in the most arbitrary fashion imaginable, to enforce its edicts.

So if you want the UN to have real power, how do you fix it? The most obvious solution is to eliminate the veto powers of the permanent members. Also, only allow governments who meet a minimum threshold of respect for human rights to have a seat. Give the UN Secretary General a military force that he can dispatch wherever there is genocide, without waiting for UN debates that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Make election of the Secretary General by popular vote so he is accountable to the people of the nations who put him there. Also have direct popular election of UN delegates while we're at it. Then we might be getting somewhere. And of course, have a UN Constitution which puts strict limits on what the UN can and can't do. The UN is a global security organization, not a potential world government. The only time the UN should be able to override national sovereignty is in gross cases of human rights abuses or aggression.

Such a UN, if reformed in this way right after the end of the Cold War, would have prevented genocide in Rwanda. It would have stabilized Somalia. It would have stopped genocide in the Balkans. It would have forced Iraq's compliance with its cease-fire obligations. It would have dealt with the Taliban long before 9/11. Of course, there would still be practical limitations on its power. North Korea is a gross case of human rights abuses. However, a UN force that was strong enough to take on North Korea, and possibly China as well, would probably be unacceptable to the international community. So in practice it would only be able to be used on the less powerful nations. Iraq probably would have been the limit. However, since the vast majority of genocides and aggression these days happens in the Third World, this solves at least three fourths of the problems. And it means the US can return to its traditional role of defending its own borders, rather than trying to be global policeman.