Why the United States just doesn’t get the United Nations

This article diverges from my usual business focus, but the role and importance of the United Nations are something about which I feel passionately, so I’m publishing this piece herein. I welcome your thoughts and feedback, either via email or as a comment here.
For years I have been amazed as I’ve listened to people here in the United States demonstrate their complete ignorance of the purpose and tremendous value of the United Nations, even to the point of our country not paying dues to the organization. Ambassador to the United Nations has often been viewed as a second-class or B-level diplomatic job and with the current Presidential perspective, the UN has become a troublesome entity and the appointment of an Ambassador a hassle. John Bolton, denied the appointment, knows what I’m talking about here.
To understand what value the United Nations brings to the world, you have to start out by understanding where the UN came from…

The year is 1919 and the nations of the world have just suffered the ravages of the first truly worldwide war, World War I. In response, the war-ending Treaty of Versailles spawns the League of Nations “to promote international cooperation and to achieve peace and security.” Brilliant idea, but the Treaty itself was so fundamentally flawed that World War II occurred anyway, even with the efforts of the League, and so the League was disbanded during WWII.
In 1942, during the worst hours of World War II, United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech to the nation, a speech called the “Declaration by United Nations” during which representatives of 26 nations pledged their Governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers. That speech is commonly considered the formative event of the United Nations, and in 1945, when World War II was ending, representatives from 50 nations met and drew up the United Nations Charter, formally creating the organization.
The UN was not meant to bring “permanent peace in our times” but from the beginning to offer a venue for argument, dispute settlement and discussions about how nations could both be responsible members of the global community and stand up for their own rights and needs as individual nations, as unique cultures and communities of their own too.
When I hear people say “but all people ever do in the UN is argue” I nod my head, but I think “of course! That’s the point, the very essence, the true value of the UN!” And it is: imagine a world without the United Nations. How do countries then argue about border disputes or settlers meandering onto unclaimed lands or trade disparities, or refugees from warring areas, or … all the many, many topics that are heard on the UN assembly floor? You and I both know how these would all be settled: through bloody and violent warfare, warfare where innocent third parties, where children, families and even passionate young men and women would be killed, all because their governments had no venue to yell and have a calmer third party offer a path towards peace, settlement and a solution.
That the United Nations has a peacekeeping force is brilliant, but even without it, even if the UN were simply a meeting place where nations could argue, complain and disagree, I would be adamant in my support. How can you not support something so critical to the cause of world peace?
But the United Nations does so much more, with its health and welfare efforts. One example: if you are a supporter of UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, did you know that the organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965? Or that UNICEF always rebuilds schools in countries affected by terrible natural disasters so that children can continue to learn and grow? No organization I know has been more active with AIDS education in the third world, with helping women — and girls — have a voice and see the same freedoms men see in different cultures, with ensuring widespread availability of important immunizations to help with the health of everyone in the community. Go on, take a moment and check out the UNICEF Annual Report for 2004 to see even more about what this organization does to help children throughout the world, regardless of race, color, creed, or religion.
Perhaps nowhere has the UN played a more important role than in the volatile Middle East and particularly with Israel and its unceasing dispute with the Palestinians. The UN has been helping that powder keg from exploding over all of us since June of 1948: UN observers and missions have been in the region for over fifty years and it was UN envoy Ralph Bunche who is widely credited with negotiating the cease fire between the Arab nations and the newly formed nation of Israel in 1949. I, for one, am darn appreciative.
I don’t dispute that the United Nations is an imperfect organization and that some of its efforts and leaders let their zeal and personal politics get in the way of their better judgment. “Let ye who is without sin cast the first stone,” however: I expect an organization that represents the vast majority of nations on our planet — the only organization that even tries to accomplish this important task — to be flawed. It’s about whether the value of the UN overcomes any shortcomings and, of course, it does.
You can see from my writing here, I’m passionate in my support of the United Nations, and I’m proud to be a long-time supporter of UNICEF and the other efforts of the United Nations.
That’s why it’s remarkable to me that our government would not only attempt to appoint a mediocre candidate to the position of United States Ambassador to the United Nations (and really, what position can be more important in terms of the US view being represented in the always-changing loose consensus of world peace?) but then that it be rumored that President Bush would bypass Congress — the voice of our nation — and consider appointing Bolten as temporary ambassador to the UN directly?
The irony, of course, is that the very myopia that causes members of the US government to be blind to the tremendous value and import of an organization that truly represents the views of the downtrodden, the third world, the poorer nations and the disenfranchised is also the same government that would move to circumvent the representative voice of its own citizens and appoint someone who is not suitable for the job, has never been part of the diplomatic corps, is clearly not a brilliant statesman, and who just doesn’t really understand the role of the United Nations and how it, not the United States, steers the ship of world peace, how it frequently steers our volatile world away from the brink of World War III.
But then again, we can’t even pay our organizational dues and claim that unlike other nations our efforts under the aegis of the United Nations (our troops being part of peacekeeping efforts, for example) should nullify any debt. Yet the IRS, for example, has specific rulings saying that “payment in services” cannot be deducted. Some branches of government apparently think that debt can be paid through services rendered, while others don’t.
My view? Let’s figure out what we owe, probably something around $1 billion (which sounds like a lot until you look at how our national budget is allocated today and how much per day we spend in Iraq and Afghanistan), pay it, even over 2-3 years as necessary and get back in good standing with the United Nations. Then, for our own sakes and the sake of our children and the world at large, let’s identify and put forward a truly global ambassador, a man or woman who will represent our own interests at the United Nations and help create a world that is more peaceful, safer, and sane.
That’s the best thing we can do to promote a better world, after all, isn’t it?

21 comments on “Why the United States just doesn’t get the United Nations

  1. All very flowery, but why would we (the US) want to support an organization that is blatantly anti-American and works unceasingly to strip all countries of their sovereignty?
    I like the American way of life and I resent any organization that tries to strip my rights from me, especially if it�s not an organization over which I have any electoral sway.
    The UN displays in innumerable ways its contempt for this country, its people, and our beliefs.
    I�m glad that you feel so passionately about the UN. I also feel passionately about it. I think it should be forced from our shores. Let someone else give them a home, but keep them out of our country, out of our politics and out of our lives.
    It�s bad enough the control the US government has over our individual lives. Let�s multiply that by 1000 and have a one-world government.
    Thanks, but I�ll pass.

  2. The fact that FDR is largely responsible for the UN is a big reason for much of the animosity against it. In today’s political climante, FDR is one of the most hated people and they’re working hard to destroy everything he created.

  3. Buz, do you also oppose NAFTA, the WTO, CAFTA etc.? UN opponents typically support these organizations, and yet they have a much bigger impact on sovereignty because they have mechanisms that trigger tariffs and sanctions. Care to name one mechanism in the UN charter that has substantially impacted our sovereignty? The answer is none. The UN is a political body that works mainly through embarassing its members into a minimum level of (perceived) decency. Members are free to ignore the UN, but in some case the result may be sanctions. Since the USA is on the security council, there is absolutely no way the US will ever be hit by sanctions from the UN. So if anything, it gives the US *more* say over *other* nations’ sovereignty than the reverse.
    The UN doesn’t impact our sovereignty nearly as much as they do. In fact, it’s the other way around – remember when we opposed intervention in Rwanda? The UN sure didn’t make us do that.

  4. You’ve given a great history lesson, but you’ve ignored the obvious reason the US has no use for the UN – it is a corrupt, anti-American collection of left wing radicals masquerading as legitimate politicians. It has reduced itself to the level of a eunuch in a harem – looks good, but can’t perform. An example of its stupidity: I served on a UN peace keeping force in Serbia. We came across an area that had been covered in land mines. We removed the mines, only to be told by the UN that we could not do that because we were peace “keepers”, not peace “makers”. We were to return the mines to the Serbs. It was easier to blow them up.
    Read Roman Dallaire’s book on his experience in Rawanda to see how ineffective the UN really is. Also look at the current exposes of Koffi Anan and Maurice Strong, and their involvement in the Iraq oil scandal. These two have stolen millions with the UN’s blessing. When the UN cleans up their act, I expect the US will support their efforts.

  5. I continue to half-heartedly support the UN, not because it serves much of a useful purpose, but as a matter of principle.
    The UN at heart is not about action and intevention, but is and is supposed to be primarily symbolic, representing a commitment to at least trying to peacefully resolve disputes and global social problems.
    If anything, the various “scandals” have occurred because the UN broadened its mandate to include active programs.
    The UN should focus on being the “moral umbrella” for world affairs, not a body shop for foot soldiers given the thankless task of being spectators as geopolitical players pursue their games.
    The UN doesn’t need more teeth… it needs a spine, a distinctly moral spine.
    — Jack Krupansky

  6. List the members of the UN human rights commission and explain how that set of thugs in any way enhances human rights in the world.
    You have your head in a very strange place to think the UN is doing any good in the world.
    Don’t talk about “myopia” when you have a beam in your eye.

  7. 100% completely wrong. The U.N. is without a doubt the most corrupt world organiztion there is, run by a bunch of left-wing radical loonies, and it is of no use at all. They hate America but want us to pay for everything. They blame Israel for everything that they can come up with. Since the U.N. loves European and Arab countries so much, I say kick them out and let them go to France. Or how about Syria or Iran?
    Dave, stick to what you know – computers and such. You’re very good at that.

  8. Half or more of the countries therein are dictatorships, in which there people are no more than slaves – read the news man – how many people are living in squalor while there leaders live it up.
    Again, read the news, there is corruption in the U.N. on a scale never heard of, and the U.N. leadership living like kings in N.Y., this was never intended under the original U.N. thought, was it?
    there is the U.S. doing what it can around the Earth and then there is the rest of the world, led by the U.N. unable to mount a defense of peoples being slaughtered in numerous countries, again many of them held in bondage by people sitting high on the hog in the U.N. The rest of the world led by the U.N., think about it, cannot prevent heinous crimes anywhere in the world, only the U.S. with it’s LIMITED resources and the blood of her children is willing to do so and generally only where her interests lie. Beleive me, she would do more if she could do more.
    But the U.N. is an inept, corrupt, past her prime organization which only seeks to rule the world if you think about it, through politics. Nothing would improve, it would only bring our children down into bondage.
    What, sir, is wrong with you?

  9. I’m impressed with the level of passion that others have regarding the United Nations and our participation too, I must say. Go back and read what I wrote, however: I never said that the UN was without its flaws and challenges, and I never once suggested that the world is an idyllic place, where nations all recognize human rights, offer justice and freedom, and rulers are all enlightened and follow the path that we believe is best for government.
    Of course that’s not true. Of course there are some terrible leaders in the world who are focused on themselves and what they can extract from their country and citizens rather than any inkling of being a servant of their people. Further, with a body such as the UN, of course there’s corruption too.
    What I ask those of you who are quick to criticize is: what’s the alternative to the United Nations?
    If you believe that it should be dissolved, or that it should be relocated from New York to somewhere else (which I can’t see would make an iota of difference in how it worked, who was represented, what decisions were made, etc.), and that perhaps the United States – currently the only “superpower” on the planet (though I sure wouldn’t be counting out China, Japan, India and the eventually-to-be-affiliated Soviet nations) – should just withdraw, tell me what our world would look like without the UN.
    I mean, “The UN seeks to rule the world through politics”. Of course that’s what it seeks, that’s what it’s always sought, that’s the goal of the organization. To have any sort of peace in a disparate world, you have to give up a bit of your own identity, a bit of your own approach to situations, and learn how to compromise, how to recognize the needs of others on the planet, to find “the middle way”. If you cannot give up your own values, if you cannot but clutch desperately at your national identity and not even imagine change, growth, evolution or compromise, then your imperialistic, ethnocentric rigidity will inevitably prove more of a threat to the rest of the world than any tin-pot dictator who remains in power through intimidation.
    Further, remember that the UN isn’t the only organization involved with global affairs either: watchdog groups like Amnesty International, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace perform critical functions too, offering a checks and balances that’s remarkably similar to the Constitutional infrastructure of our own nation (when it works).
    So, again, all you UN naysayers, instead of just criticism, let’s hear about your ideas for a world without a United Nations, or about how to fix the UN to meet your own expectations of a world body for diplomacy and discussion. Oh, and don’t forget to talk about UNICEF, UNESCO, and the many, many other great groups within the UN too: it’s a lot more than just a bunch of ambassadors yelling at each other.

  10. “When I hear people say “but all people ever do in the UN is argue” I nod my head, but I think “of course! That’s the point, the very essence, the true value of the UN!” And it is: imagine a world without the United Nations.”
    Yeeeah they’re just a harmless discussion club 😉
    “How do countries then argue about border disputes or settlers meandering onto unclaimed lands or trade disparities, or refugees from warring areas, or … all the many, many topics that are heard on the UN assembly floor?”
    The same way they did before the UN. You’re suggesting it’s not possible to speak with two or more nations without the UN? riiight.
    I suppose nut jobs like U Thant and Kurt Waldheim had your full support to. But they’re gone now so how about we all gather round in a big circle and read some of Maurice Strong’s tree worshipping insanity?
    Get a clue, they think the world’s population is a “resource to be managed” which is why they luv China so much.
    There’s plenty more where that came from (oil for food, Kosovo, Sierra Leone etc).

  11. Basic UN reform – budget: Any country who wishes to pay 5% of the UN budget should get a seat on the security council – to get a veto on the security council costs another 5% of the UN budget. Security council membership includes General Assembly membership. A voting membership in the General Assembly will cost each country an equal percentage share of any UN budget not paid for by security council members. Non-voting members of the General Assembly can talk for free. This should level the field and break us out of the past.
    Basic UN reform – location: The UN and all of its subordinate agencies should be relocated to a third world country – perhaps India as the world’s largest democracy. The salaries of UN bureaucrats could then be adjusted downward to fit the less expensive living costs and make a significant reduction in the UN budget. It just doesn’t make sense to house the UN in one of the highest cost areas for living expenses in the world – business takes advantage of this by offshoring these kinds of jobs (often to India).
    Basic UN reform – observer: Every member of the UN would pledge not to interfere with accredited UN observers. These observers would be able to move freely about the world going any place that the general public of any given country could go. These observers would be able to document whatever they observe using video and audio equipment and further will be able to collect test samples in these areas.

  12. You state our “dues” are 1 billion dollars. What are the “dues” of some of the other large countries? For that much money, we should have an organization that would try to improve the other countries, not just drag the U.S. down to third world standards.

  13. How about this for an alternative? Pull out of the U.N., bulldoze the building (which does not come close to meeting the building code) and build condos or something. Then form a Union of Democratic Nations (I would have said League but the League of Nations and Extrodinary Gentlemen screwed that up as a choice) whose members are nations that democratically elect their leaders from a slate of canidates, have more than one political party, enjoy political, economic, and personal freedom, and personal franchiase is not limited by race, sex, or religious restrictions. It is asinine that the U.N., which votes on resolutions it doesn’t have the will to enforce, is composed of ambassadors from many countries whose people have no idea what it is to elect their own leaders or to have the right to protest the actions of their leaders.

  14. I understand the logic behind your proposed Union of Democratic Nations, but then realize that the opportunity to influence non-democratic countries through diplomacy would vanish. Also, who decides what truly is a democracy? For that matter, I think it wouldn’t be hard to find people in the United States who would contest that we all have the freedoms you list, Mike.
    A form of government, like the UN itself, is a perpetual work in progress…


  16. The UN is a great organisation, that has done more good than it has harm.
    If a scandal was to discredit any organisation, the UN would be one of the least guilty.
    Peace has been hard to keep lately, but without the UN it things would be be much worse.
    Keep the UN. in spite of it embarrasing the USA

  17. If the UN is relevance in the 20th century, then what is the Vantage point surrounding the emerging philosophies and Contextual relevance of it?

  18. Thanks for the history lesson. Unfortunately, like many things with the greatest of intentions, the UN has devolved into a corrupt and contemptable entity. The US pays the lion share of dues. Why? So that we can provide a venue in our own country, for America haters. At the very least, move the headquarters. We have housed this abomination for far too long.

  19. The UN doesn’t know enough about our country history to be ordering us to make changes plus they don’t tell the history about slavery in Africa like we go to listen to UN when they still hold [Black Christians Africa Slaves] in Africa And UN is causing more race problems between the BLACKS WHITES MEXICANS and trying to get the Indians involve in it to. The Indians are for sovereignty always been that way they are for the south.

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