Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Slayer of Dreams

The Little Green Footballs links to an article in Forbes which argues that the United Nations has mutated to the point where its activities are better pursued in Dar es Salaam than New York. It is no longer, the article seems to say, the fulfillment of the shining vision of 1945 so much as a third world mega-kleptocracy on the East River.

When America was the leader of a successful wartime coalition--and the world wished it to continue in that role--it made excellent sense to place UN headquarters in New York. But those days have long passed. America has accepted its world-policeman destiny, and the UN is merely a minor obstacle to the successful performance of that task. The place has become a mere theater of empty rhetoric and shameless deals supporting a growing tide of anti-Semitism and racism and--let us not be mealymouthed--state crime. It is a place where near-bankrupt dictatorships can sell their votes to the highest bidder.

It is also a place where well-connected playboy diplomats from the Third World can indulge in an expense-account lifestyle in one of the richest cities on earth, ignoring the pitiful poverty of their home countries and often using their diplomatic immunity to break the law. This is an insult to the dignity of the human race.

As the UN is now constituted, a far better location for it would be in a city near the gravitational center of the Afro-Eurasian landmass. There it would be close to the realities of the problems it ought to be tackling--poverty; bad, cruel and corrupt governments; international lawlessness; civil wars. The place I'd suggest is Dar es Salaam. 

But it was not just America's global ascendancy that sounded the funeral bell for the UN. The last nail in the coffin was in fact, nuclear proliferation, which the UN itself was charged to prevent, and in typical fashion failed, even when its own existence was at stake. For while the General Assembly and relief agencies make up the UN's public face, it is the Security Council which constitutes its functional core. The main function of the United Nations, beside which all else is subsidiary, was to preserve the peace. And although it rarely ever did (Korea 1950 and Kuwait 1991 excepted) the Security Council was where the Great Powers of the earth, as permanent members, could potentially meet to decide whether to act in belligerence or conciliation, in a global version of the Kaiser's earlier dream where England and Germany could ensure that "not a mouse could stir in Europe without our permission". Great Power status, in the context of 1945, meant those nations which either by possession of nuclear weapons or vast armies, exercised truly significant military power: i.e. the US, USSR, UK, France and China. But by the late 1990s, Israel, India, Pakistan and China had nuclear weapons and that number was rapidly growing. At the dawn of the twenty first century, North Korea, Iraq, Iran and even Libya were on the brink of acquiring the A-bomb. Most significantly, even nongovernmental organizations like the Al Qaeda were in striking range of acquiring possession of weapons of mass destruction, and casually served notice by smashing the World Trade Center across town. But in the soundtrack of history, it was not the twin towers that collapsed that day: it was the United Nations.

On September 11, 2001 it was manifest, to anyone who gave it thought, that the Security Council no longer held the power to enforce the peace or withold it. It did not even contain the all the nuclear powers in the world at the time. It was powerless to prevent an attack on New York city, still more powerless to prevent the expansion of the nuclear club to any degree conceivable and powerless to prevent one of its members from openly acknowledging its impotence. On that day, the functional core of the United Nations died. The cause of its death was disguised by the decision of the United States to exercise its right to self defense by pursuing terrorists into sovereign Afghanistan and Iraq. Post hoc ergo proctor hoc: the perpetual standby of those chronically at a loss for thought. But it really died because the world had moved on, leaving an empty shell on the East River with its worshippers, open-mouthed, all around it. Sic transit gloria mundi. Dar es Salaam isn't such a bad place.