Thursday, December 16, 2004

Ever Always

Glenn Reynolds points out that Philip Gourevitch, author of a best selling book on the Rwandan Genocide, understands the UN mess is bigger than Kofi Annan. Gourevitch writes:

The air of corruption that clouds the United Nations these days cannot simply be fanned away by forcing the resignation of Kofi Annan as Secretary-General, as a growing number of prominent Republicans have been urging. ... Annan bristles at the insinuations of corruption in his ranks, but, in truth, his tenure was tainted from the beginning. In the mid-nineties, when he was head of peacekeeping, he presided over catastrophically failed missions in Bosnia and in Rwanda, where he ignored detailed warnings of genocide, then watched them come true, while the world did nothing to stop it. Those world leaders who later hailed him as a moral exemplar at best ignored that history, at worst regarded it as a kind of credential: since Annan was a compromised figure, they did not have to fear his censure. ...

Last week, Annan released a set of proposals, put forward by a commission of senior international statesmen, for a systematic overhaul of the U.N. bureaucracy and an updating of international law... Yet nothing in the proposals promises to alter the chronic dysfunctions of the system. The proposed new permanent seats on the Security Council don’t carry the power of veto that gave the victorious Allies of the Second World War the exclusive clout they still enjoy. And the U.N.’s withdrawal from Rwanda during the slaughter was due not to insufficient laws but to a complete lack of will among the member states to deal with it. No law can change that. No reform can create a community of nations where none exists.

The Security Council's structural defect is part of its design. It was meant to freeze international action, not promote it. Paralysis is a Security Council feature not a bug. While international multilateral action from recorded history has always been carried out by nations whose interests momentarily coincide, the Security Council was carefully constructed to consist of rivals whose interests clash, each with a veto over the other. The proposals put forward to limit international military action to the Security Council are tantamount to preventing alliance action because all "legitimate" international action is made the province of the parties in conflict. This recipe for enhanced stasis, as Gourevitch points out, has ironically been advanced under the “the Rwanda never again clause” -- when in fact it amounts to a 'Rwanda ever always' clause, as the Congolese and Sudanese know to their cost.