Monday, January 16, 2006

The UN's Monopoly on Legitimacy

In this week's issue of The Week (which, if you don't know, is by far the best of the US news magazines, as it doesn't do any reporting of its own, but rather distills arguments and analysis from a wide and truly balanced range of sources -- right and left, US and international, mainstream and blog-ish -- and presents what others think about the issues and events) is a synopsis of an op-ed by Andres Ortega of Spain's El Pais, in which Ortega criticizes US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton claiming that Bolton has “brought the world body [the UN] to the verge of paralysis” by demanding reform and suggesting that the world would be better served by shifting some of the UN's more important tasks to other bodies, like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe or NATO. As I have mentioned in many earlier posts, both here and on Opinio Juris, the UN is torn between two fundamentally incompatible ideas: law and equality. The UN tries to do both, and therefore it does both poorly.

It is a sort of unwritten rule of international institutions that the more inclusive the institution, the less effective it will be. This is because in order to satisfy all members, an instituiton will have to either be so wishy-washy that it refuses to judge or discriminate, or it will contain so little enforcement power that, either way, it will be ineffective. So, perhaps it is time to build a less inclusive and more effective international order. What's the point in calling the UN the protector and promoter of international human rights if countries like North Korea and Sudan are allowed to be members without any punishment? What seems more effective, as with China, is to build a strong order of which other countries will wish to be a part. Then, if those countries that do not meet accepted standards wish to join, they will have to make changes. This is, in essence, the logic of the US strategy towards China, and can be seen in action during the negotiations surround China's accession to the WTO. The UN cannot offer rogue proliferators, human rights violators, or other bad states any incentives to make them change their behavior. But the West, and the US in particular, can. Security guarantees, economic aid, market access. These are things that states want, and are often willing to change their behavior to get. And if they won't change, then what good is it to pretend that sitting with them in the UN General Assembly will accomplish anything?

True, the UN does do good works, but not in issues like this. It's time to stop pretending that the UN can or will ever be an effective institution. If the UN wants to continue to be an all-inclusive body that respects sovereignty, fine and well. But then it should not also claim to be the protector of international law. Now is the time, under US hegemony and through the institutions of the liberal west, to break the UN's monopoly on international legitimacy.

1 comment:

smilerz said...

The EU is a perfect example of setting standards that a country must meet before participation is possible. Turkey and Eastern Europe have all but bent over backwards to get in.