by Alan W. Dowd
Perhaps the most amazing attribute of the United Nations is its boundless capacity to discredit itself. Whether through inaction or action, it never ceases to show the world what a farce looks like. The latest example is North Korea’s accession to the presidency of the UN Conference on Disarmament. This is the same North Korea that has been caught shipping illicit weaponry overseas, testing long-range missilery and detonating nukes—all in violation of UN resolutions. As The Wall Street Journal reports, “The jokes are flying all around the world over this”—and rightly so. The UN is a joke. Here are some of the more recent punch lines.
Given that the disarmament panel focuses on “cessation of the nuclear arms race…nuclear disarmament…and prevention of an arms race in outer space,” it’s ironic but typical of the UN that joining North Korea on the disarmament panel are China, Pakistan and Iran.
China, it pays to recall, has singlehandedly restarted the arms race in space. Its unannounced test of anti-satellite weapons in 2007 and 2010 set other space-faring nations on edge and obliged the United States to refocus on the U.S. military’s role in space. Pakistan helped both North Korea and Iran with their outlaw nuclear programs. North Korea has tested nukes during the Bush and Obama administrations, and is intent on deploying long-range rockets. And Iran is enriching uranium, building underground missile silos and racing to join the nuclear-weapons club.
“It gets even better,” as French presidentsarcastically observed during a blistering critique of the UN’s record in North Korea and Iran.
For example, the UN Human Rights Council, charged with “promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all,” includes China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
The People’s Republic of China simply does not believe its subjects have any human rights. What else could be said of a place where religious activity is dictated by government bureaus, the state determines how many children a family can have, freedom of speech and assembly are nonexistent, and people are sentenced to slave labor for their political or religious views?
Likewise, in Cuba, there is no freedom of speech. The state imprisons individuals for their political views. And there is no economic freedom.
The Russian government silences dissent and smothers the press with intimidation, ginned-up mobs and “random” gangland-style killings. It targets non-Russian ethnic groups with harassment campaigns and worse.As for Saudi Arabia, it allows virtually no freedom to half its citizens—women. Religious freedom does not exist. And freedom of the press and freedom of speech are severely circumscribed.
Yet these regimes sit on a body that sits in judgment of the human-rights records of every country on earth.
This is the bizzaro world of the UN, where those pursuing the noble if naive goal of disarmament sit alongside the world’s most notorious weapons proliferators, where the worst abusers of human rights are chosen to protect and promote human rights, where North Korea’s deadly attack on a South Korean ship is condemned but the attacker is not, where it takes eight weeks to agree on a resolution requiring Iraq to comply with existing resolutions, where those who vote for such resolutions refuse to enforce them, where Srebrenica can be called a “safe haven,” where Rwanda and Bosnia turn for help and receive only Pilate-like excuses.
This is not an argument for the U.S. to withdraw from the UN, though it’s difficult to see what harm it would do. After all, Taiwan and Kosovo aren’t members, and they seem to be getting by. The U.S. and Israel, on the other hand, are members, and as a reward they are routinely kicked in the teeth and double-crossed. But it is an argument for ending the charade thatand too many other policymakers play. The UN does not, to use Obama’s words, have the “capability to keep the peace, resolve disputes, monitor disarmament and support good governance around the world.” And it never will.
At its best, the UN is a place where the U.S. and its closest allies can go to get international cover for genuine efforts to keep the peace—not approval or legitimacy, but cover. At its worst, it’s a joke, “a sham…a frothing of words,” to borrow a phrase from Churchill, who feared in 1946 that the UN would become what it is today.Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security issues.
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