May 24th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Rudd Budget targets 'middle-class' welfare

EDITORIAL: 'Whom the gods wish to destroy...'

LABOUR MARKET: Post-school education and training: a national crisis

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Oil imports threaten to blow out foreign debt

ENERGY: Germany's rapid development of renewable energy

SCHOOLS: Dubious deal offered to pupils' parents / Faith schools' autonomy defended

CIVIL LIBERTIES: Political correctness suppresses free speech

ABORTION: Why abortion should remain a crime

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: The indispensable role of government

DEFENCE: Lest we forget our duty of care to servicemen

OLYMPIC GAMES: Clean-up or purges? Beijing prepares for the Games

INTERNATIONAL POLITICS: Is the United Nations beyond repair?

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Westerners acquiescing to creeping sharia / Oil fuelling world's conflicts

OPINION: Why we should encourage creation of new Australian states

Plight of young home-buyers (letter)

In defence of global warming (letter)

Wrong way to tackle inflation (letter)

US presidential elections (letter)

Life, not euthanasia (letter)

BOOKS: THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD: Essays Catholic and Contemporary, by John Haldane

Books promotion page

Is the United Nations beyond repair?

by John Bolton

News Weekly, May 24, 2008
The United Nations' mission is compromised by its failure to end corruption, according to John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN.

Although I want to talk about some of the United Nations' failings in the international security area, I first want to mention an issue that doesn't get as much attention, but which in many respects is more troubling and affects American interests in ways that could have a profound impact well into the future. This is what our friends in Europe call "norming".

"Norming" is the idea that the US should base its decisions on some kind of international consensus, rather than making its decisions as a constitutional democracy. It is a way in which the Europeans and their left-wing friends in America and elsewhere try and constrain US sovereignty.

You can see how disastrous this would be just by looking at the geography of the floor of the UN General Assembly. Look out at the representatives of the 192 governments spread out over the floor and you wonder where the US even is. Well, we're there somewhere. But the fact is that we're sitting with a majority of countries that have no traditions or understanding of liberty.

The argument of the advocates of "norming" is "one nation, one vote". That sounds very democratic: Who could object to that? But its result would be very anti-democratic. As an illustration of this, a friend of mine once went to a conference on international law and heard a professor from a major European university say, "The problem with the United States is its devotion to its Constitution over international norms."

We have controversial issues within the United States — issues that we debate, and over which reasonable people can disagree. But these controversies should be resolved through our political process, according to our Constitution, just as other countries can resolve their controversies as they see fit.

Take, for example, the question of the death penalty. This is a matter about which many people feel very strongly, both for and against. Opinions on the subject change constantly as we debate in the US whether we should have a death penalty and, if so, under what circumstances. But at the UN this debate is closed; the death penalty has been ruled out.

The new Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, comes from South Korea — where they still have the death penalty — and last year, during his first few months in office, he remarked that this question is for each government to decide for itself.

Upon saying this, he was all but subjected to articles of impeachment for failing to realise that the UN had already decided that question for all countries.

Another issue on which "norming" is brought to bear is gun control. In 2001, the UN had a conference about international trafficking in small arms and light weapons — weapons that flow into conflict zones and pose a risk to UN peace-keepers. The idea was to discuss methods to deal with this threat.

But the discussion turned out to have nothing to do with small arms and light weapons in African or Asian civil wars. Instead it was about gun control in the US, with advocates of "international norms" pressing for the prohibition of private ownership of firearms of any sort.

These are the kind of "norming" exercises by which foreign governments hope, over time, to build up a coral reef of UN resolutions and pronouncements that can be used to manipulate US policy.

Although the UN is perfectly capable of passing resolutions about the death penalty and gun control — not to mention smoking — it has proved utterly incapable, even after 9/11, of agreeing to a definition of terrorism that would enable it to denounce terrorism.

The UN is incapable of doing this, even to this day, because several member governments think there is good terrorism and bad terrorism. It is inconceivable, in my judgment, that the UN will ever be able to agree upon a definition of terrorism that's not completely vacuous — and therefore utterly useless.

Attempts at reform

We, as Americans, have looked for ways to make the UN work better. But virtually every serious effort to reform it over the years has failed.

Let me give you a couple of examples. Most of us are familiar with the oil-for-food scandal — the mismanagement and corruption that accompanied the efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people after the first Iraq War. Even Kofi Annan, the previous Secretary-General, recognised that this scandal caused grave damage to the UN's reputation.

Thus he brought in Paul Volcker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board, to investigate and propose reforms. One of Volcker's most important findings was that the oil-for-food scandal was not a unique incident — that it represented flaws endemic to the entire UN system. So Volcker proposed a whole series of reforms, chief among them being effective outside auditing of UN programs.

We worked hard with other governments to get these reforms adopted by the General Assembly. Months and months of negotiation led to a vote by the UN Budget Committee, and the reforms were rejected by a margin of about two to one.

Let me repeat this for emphasis: The UN Budget Committee voted two to one against effective outside auditing of UN programs. This tells you pretty much everything you need to know about how the UN operates.

And I should add that the countries voting in favour of these reforms contribute over 90 per cent of the UN's budget, whereas the countries voting against them contribute under 10 per cent.

Stain on UN's reputation

We engaged in another reform effort to fix the UN Human Rights Commission — a body that everybody in Europe, and even Secretary-General Annan, admitted was a stain on the UN's reputation. It spends most of its time defending human rights abusers and passing resolutions critical of the US and Israel. We proposed a series of procedural reforms that would have changed the membership of the Human Rights Commission in a way to rid it of the worst human rights offenders.

But the Third World countries, led by Russia and China, adamantly refused to consider these reforms. One by one, our European friends allowed them to be dropped, so that the reform package got smaller and smaller. I knew that the effort was completely lost when it couldn't even be agreed that governments under sanctions by the Security Council for gross abuses of human rights or support for terrorism would be prohibited membership on the new Human Rights Council.

In the end the Europeans cared less about reforming the Human Rights Commission than bludgeoning the US into being more submissive to the UN. So they expressed outrage at us, rather than at the countries that had rejected real reform. Subsequently, even the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Washington Post — neither of them conservative supporters of the Bush administration — called the new Human Rights Council even worse than its predecessor.

International peace and security was the objective that motivated the founders of the UN after World War II. And it is precisely here that the UN's promise has been least fulfilled during its 60-plus years of existence. During the half-century of the Cold War, the UN was fundamentally irrelevant to the great struggle between liberty and tyranny due to the make-up of the Security Council and the veto power held by the Soviet Union and, later, by the People's Republic of China.

Since the end of the Cold War, many people have thought it possible that the UN could play a more important role in world affairs. These hopes have been completely dashed.

Take the present case of Darfur. Acts of genocide have been committed by the government of Sudan against the people of the region, and unspeakable brutality has gone on for over three years. Yet the Security Council has been incapable of inserting a UN peace-keeping force.

Why is that? In part, it is because China has given protective cover to the Sudanese government. And why does China do this? Because it has a large and growing demand for energy and wants oil and natural gas leases in Sudan. Thus the genocidal government of Sudan has defied the entire UN Security Council for years.

Or consider the case of Iraq. In the aftermath of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent expulsion of Iraqi forces by the US-led coalition, we and Saddam Hussein agreed to a cease-fire based on a number of conditions expressed in various Security Council resolutions. Saddam Hussein ignored those resolutions. Leaving aside the issue of weapons of mass destruction, there's no doubt that he failed to comply with the cease-fire resolution and other key resolutions of the Security Council. Yet when President Bush suggested that the Security Council take its own resolutions seriously, he was rebuffed. This is a perfect example of the UN being willing to talk but not act.

What is the lesson learned when unlawful governments are the subject of repeated resolutions by the Security Council and yet suffer no consequences for ignoring them? We find the consequences played out now in two direct threats to the US and to international order: the nuclear weapons programs of North Korea and Iran. And, as in the days of the Cold War, the UN is fundamentally irrelevant in the face of these grave threats to world peace.

I'm sure all of you recall the Israeli Air Force raid last September that destroyed a major facility in Syria. It turned out to be a nuclear facility that was being constructed with the assistance of North Korea, quite possibly financed by Iran. This reminds us of the real threats we face, of the ineffectiveness of the UN, and of the importance of US military power and foreign policy.

— John Bolton served as US ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006. This article is an extract from a recent speech of his, reprinted by permission from Imprimis (Vol.37, No.4, April 2008), the national speech digest of Hillsdale College, Michigan USA.

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