Monday, October 01, 2007

Fixing a Broken United Nations?

Apparently officials are preparing to undergo a renovation over at the United Nations in Manhattan. Believe it or not they are quoting a cost of around $1.2 billion. That is a ridiculous amount of money. It's not like they need to buy the land the building sits upon. THAT would be pricey. I have a hard time wrapping my head around figures that large. Evidently hotel magnate Donald Trump has some things to say about that estimate. To make a long story short, he feels the sum is grossly inflated. His alternative idea is to sell the current plot of real estate that the headquarters occupies, and use the money to construct a brand new UN building at the former location of the World Trade Center complex. Of course that is unlikely to happen. There are too many folks out there who want the United States to withdraw from the UN altogether- no way will they allow such a "sacred grave site" to be subsumed by what they perceive as the grand symbol of the "New World Order".

In fact our own government seems to hold the United Nations in contempt. The Bush administration has had the temerity to call for reforms to the UN Human Rights Commission. They rail against the fact that Libya, Cuba and the Sudan have had seats on the commission in the past. While it's clear that these nations have spotty histories when it comes to human rights, it's hard to believe in the sincerity of the Bush administration's "concerns". They refuse to honor the Geneva Conventions. They have invaded and occupied a foreign country that presented little or no threat to the security interests of the US. They hold people without trial or due process, and sometimes ship prisoners to unidentified locations abroad where they can be "lawfully tortured". And these are just the programs that the media has reported on. Since the Bush administration is the most secretive executive department in history, we have no way of telling just how deep their crimes against humanity strike.

When Bush, his controllers, or his minions rail against the UN, it is clear that they are playing to the worst jingoistic instincts in the America citizenry. Anyone familiar with the structure of the United Nations knows that although it represents about 190 nations across the world, its real power is centered in the security council. This body has five permanent members and ten rotating seats that are occupied by other countries for two-year terms. Of course the US has a permanent position. The UN charter requires that all member states follow the dictates of this council. If a decision is of particular substance (I'm not sure how they determine this), any resolution is defeated if even a single permanent member disagrees with the majority. This is ominously referred to as the rule of the "Great Power unanimity" (I swear I'm not making this up). What this ultimately means is that the United Nations cannot take any action which offends the United States government. Those who toss around conspiracy theories about a one-world government are clearly ignorant of this fact. If there is such a thing, then the United States is an integral part of it.

Because the US holds this privileged position, it is in the interests of the federal government to sustain its involvement with the United Nations. It may be (at times) frustrated by what it sees as obstructionist powers that seek to forestall a particularly aggressive act. But in truth, the organization can only confer or withhold perceived legitimacy from an offending "Great Power". It has no ability to dictate policy, unless you are one of the 185 (or so) lesser nations of the Earth. There has been talk in certain American quarters of forming an alternative world body comprised only of "Democratic" allies devoted to the principles of the "free market". This seems wholly unnecessary to me, given the existence of NATO, the WTO, the IMF, and the G8 summits. Continued participation in the United Nations makes sense because it provides the opportunity and forum to engage nations that are not particularly aligned with one's own.

Despite this reality, it's clear that the Bush administration's commitment to diplomacy is limited solely to situations that reinforce its own limited agenda. Their flagrant disregard of the institution is obvious when you consider who they have put forth as US ambassador to the UN. John R. Bolton (Bush's 2005 nominee) has clearly expressed his thoughts on this appointment- "There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States" (1994-Global Structures Convocation). I believe that Bush's choice to send Bolton to the UN was intended to convey a very clear message to its officials. If that's not enough indication of the esteem our government has for the UN, one only need look at its history of not paying its membership dues. When the United Nations can be of use to the United States, then it's utilized as a means to an end. Otherwise it is proclaimed irrelevant. Those are the terms by which the Bush administration has embraced the world community.

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