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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What use is the UN anyway?

Take the above as a genuine question if you like. Perhaps the UN has done some good above and beyond that done by the effect of the balance of nuclear terror in averting a third world war. Perhaps there has been real benefit in the body of international human rights law that it's developed, and in some of its programs. I'd welcome comments setting out just what benefits have been achieved via the UN that wouldn't have been achieved anyway. Let's hope that the list is impressive.

But I have to say that I have my doubts when the UN is unable to agree on a resolution that condemns arbitary executions, gives some examples, and is unable to issue a document with a reference to executions for sexuality among those examples. From a gay rights viewpoint, this is worse than no resolution at all. When such a reference is conspicuous by its absence, and when it's a matter of public record that the UN explicitly decided against including it, the implication can only be that the UN condones arbitrary executions of LGBT people.

When I see some of the outcomes from the UN, I sometimes shake my head and wonder, frankly, whether we'd be better off without it. Feel free to tell me why that's going too far and about some good things that it's accomplished - whenever I brood about what a shambles that organisation has become, I could do with some cheering up.


Raj Jayaram said...

I read about the acronym WOMBAT elsewhere. It stands for 'Waste Of Money, Brains And Time". I think it is perfectly applicable to the UN.

Unknown said...

This guy puts it well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ana9w3uSNA

יאיר רזק said...

The UN is intended to provide a platform for diplimacy, not to further the ideals of the West. It reflects global opinion, balanced for power through the Security Council - not what's right.

The UN does lots of good in helping diplomacy along and organizing global efforts. It's not indispensable - these things would go on without it, although perhaps in a less global format. It does, however, provide a certain "global" stamp of approval on things, that lends them more power and respect. When the WHO (a UN body) says something is bad for health, people take notice.

The main problem with the UN is that it tried to hijack the position of doing "right", e.g. claiming that it aims to facilitate "social progress" and "human rights". Because the content of these terms is decided by majority vote, the UN drifts further apart from morality as non-Western states assert their rising power. Likewise, the WHO has been described as betraying sound medicine for political compromise. The UN is certainly not without its flaws.

Greywizard said...

@ יאיר רזק"The main problem with the UN is that it tried to hijack the position of doing "right", e.g. claiming that it aims to facilitate "social progress" and "human rights"."

Not true. The UN, from its very inception, was intended to uphold human rights, and issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the time of its foundation. Indeed, the compelling desire never to experience again something like the Holocaust was one of the driving forces behind the formation of the UN and its charter.

The problem is that many nations are deeply threatened by human rights, and will not support them. Muslim nations have even drafted a charter of Islamic human rights which is a bit like asking the fox to look after the chickens.

There should be reasonable requirements for membership, and nations defaulting on their obligations, should have membership suspended until they are back in conformity with the UDHR. Since most UN resolutions are not honoured, the point of having the UN, which seems largely to be a venue where rogue nations can gang together to set the international agenda, the point of having a "United" Nations is a bit questionable. It's forcing the diplomatic agenda to dance to the tune of the most serious offenders against human rights principles and international law. I, too, shake my head and wonder.

Time, perhaps, for democratic nations to say enough, and form their own association, where human rights are of genuine concern, and where standards of observance can be set. To pass a resolution inviting the extrajudicial murder of gay and lesbian persons is surely a way of saying that the UN exists in name only, and cares nothing for human rights (which were, after all, intended to be upheld in international law).

DEEN said...

I think in the long run we're going to need some sort of world government. The sort of problems we usually have our governments regulate don't generally respect national borders much. Think about international crime and terrorism networks, multinational businisses that work in a regulatory vaccuum, and of course the environment (overfishing in international waters, global warming, etc). If our problems are multi-national, we're going to need a multi-national government.

However, the UN, as it is currently organized, can't play this part. It is mostly a collection of representatives who are trying to promote the interests of their own countries, not the interests of the world population as a whole. It has virtually no real power. Decision making takes way too long and can be easily derailed by a relatively small number of countries (some of which have veto power too). UN members are not requried to sign the treaties it drafts, and all too often the countries that would matter most don't sign. It can't enforce compliance with the treaties either.

Even though the UN is mostly toothless, however, a lot of people (especially in the US) already think the UN is the herald of a New World Order that will take all their Freedom away. While this is clearly ridiculous - there is no reason a world government couldn't have a proper constitution and democratic elections - it does show how much resistance you can expect against nations giving up some of their sovereignty. Also, becoming part of a world government will mean taking responsibility for all the poor, underdeveloped areas in the world too, which is going to cost us money. We currently see these effects quite clearly on a smaller scale in the European Union, for instance, which can be seen as an on-going experiment in creaing a true multi-national government.

Therefore, I have little confidence that the UN will transform into something more akin to an effective world government anytime soon. However, I don't see any other candidates that have a better chance of doing it either.