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Should the U.S. act without U.N. approval when the situation warrants action?

In a Nutshell

Yes

No

  1. Member countries act in their own interest rather than the common good, leading to bad decisions.
  2. No one else is going to look out for the security and interests of the U.S.
  3. Countries will disagree and obstruct just to thwart the U.S.
  4. We often have intelligence that the U.N. doesn't that we can't release.
  5. Debate takes too much time and leads to inaction.
  6. The tough but necessary actions are often the most risky and unpopular.
  7. The veto and chairmanship procedures of the U.N. administration has become somewhat of a joke.
  8. We need to maintain a threat of acting alone to push the U.N. to not make anti-U.S. decisions.
  9. There are some world problems that only the U.S. is willing to deal with (e.g. North Korea).
  10. The U.N. is not a true democratic institution since many of the countries are communist or dictatorships.
  1. Anti-Americanism will continue to grow.
  2. It creates the impression that the U.N. is irrelevant, and other countries may feel they too can act alone.
  3. Different perspectives of other nations can show us our actions may be wrong.
  4. The U.N. process forces us to use diplomacy and enhance relationships.
  5. Ignoring the U.N. makes us sound hypocritical since we condemn Iran and others for the same reasons.

Overview/Background

Conventional wisdom says an orderly world body is needed to ensure world peace and prosperity. The United Nations is the closest thing the world has to that concept, and it is considered a representation of the "court of world opinion". Recently the U.N. has come under fire for it's inaction and ineffectiveness. The U.N. has been accused of being anti-American, as evidenced by the French, Germans, and others thwarting America's attempts to build world support for a war with Iraq. Seventeen resolutions had been thoroughly ignored by Saddam Hussein over the course of of 12 years, yet the U.N. refused to take action. The U.N. has failed to act in other hotspots like Rwanda, Bosnia, the Congo, Indochina, etc. leading to millions of deaths. Many accuse the U.N. of turning into a version of the ineffective "League of Nations" that allowed Hitler to overtake Europe and start a war that cost 55 million people their lives. Many accuse the U.N. of turning into a meaningless debating society. The question remains, should the U.S. act outside the wishes of the U.N. when action is necessary. This question becomes especially relevant as we begin to confront Iran on its nuclear program.

Yes

  1. Member countries act in their own interest rather than the common good, leading to bad decisions. As we saw through the whole Iraq debacle, countries don't act for the good of the world when they make their decisions. Who has the biggest Iraqi oil interests? France and Russia. What veto-wielding nations put up the most resistance? France and Russia. The former German leader Schroeder was narrowly elected on an openly anti-American/anti-war platform. Thus, no matter how much evidence is revealed concerning Iraqi atrocities, he couldn't change his stance and politically survive. So he put his own interests ahead of his nation and the world. Not a single security council member denied or questioned whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Yet, he didn't declare any banned weapons and didn't turn over any biological or chemical weapons. If nations weren't acting in their own self-interests, the U.S. may have had full support. Other conflicts and concerns of the U.N. follow the same pattern. Each country's political situation, business interests, petty differences, and security interests mean more to the individual country than world peace or the common good.

  2. No one else is going to look out for the security and interests of the U.S. The U.S. should take a higher moral ground unlike other self-interested countries as often as possible. That said, we still have to look out for the interests of the American people. No other country is as concerned about our economy, security, productivity, and general well-being than the Americans themselves. No one is going to think, "Hmmm, this security policy will help us a lot, but it may hurt the Americans; therefore, we should reject it."

  3. Countries will disagree and obstruct just to thwart the U.S. The U.S. remains as the only superpower in the world. This frightens a lot of other countries. The U.N., other world organizations, & global treaties have turned more into checks on U.S. power than world betterment organizations. No other situations illustrate this more than the Iraq conflict. France, the most nationalistic of any of the U.N. members, sees itself as a counterbalance to U.S. power. Despite being our "ally", they have done everything possible to whip up anti-U.S. sentiment and make life difficult for U.S. diplomats. And who's side did they line up on? Saddam Hussein. France, China, Russia, Germany, and others have become so blinded by their fear of American power that they were willing to support the brutal Iraqi dictator. Other world agreements like the Kyoto Treaty and International Criminal Court were clearly put in place partially to check U.S. power, which is one of the reasons why Bush refused to join them.

  4. We often have intelligence that the U.N. doesn't that we can't release. The U.S. government often has a lot more information to make a decision than the rest of the U.N. Most people don't understand how the intelligence business works. You rarely get clear, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence on items of interest, and even if you do, the intelligence often becomes obsolete in a matter of days. You get pieces here and there, which when added up, send a clear signal of what's going on. Unfortunately, CIA credibility has been harmed from questionable actions in the Cold War era. In addition, even when the evidence is clear and convincing, we may not be able to release it for two reasons: 1) It may compromise our sources; in other words, it may get agents who have collected the information killed, or it may cause the enemy to change it's patterns and methods; e.g. when Osama bin Laden discovered we were monitoring his cell phone transmissions, he simply stopped using them; 2) The enemy may move the sensitive item, making us unable to destroy it in a war; thus, we may have knowledge of the location of a bioweapons lab and plan to hit in a war, but if we release the intelligence, the lab is moved.

  5. Debate takes too much time and leads to inaction. Look back at all the U.N. Failures over the years: Cambodia, Rwanda, Iraq, Kosovo, Ivory Coast, and so on. Time is often of the essence in solving a crisis. Thousands of people may be suffering or dying daily. Diplomats and politicians are outrageously slow in coming to a decision. You have hundreds of nations with vastly different interests and viewpoints all trying to be heard. The diplomatic situation in Iraq took over 12 years, yet diplomats still wanted more time. Unfortunately, the U.N. has essentially turned into the League of Nations, a powerless debating society.

  6. The tough but necessary actions are often the most risky and unpopular. Sometimes you have to take risky, dangerous actions to deal with all the murderous thugs that come along from time to time. Often you must sacrifice hundreds or thousands of lives to save millions. Whenever you put lives on the line, it's a difficult decision. Most nations don't have the courage to make these decisions, especially when it puts their political popularity on the line. As we saw on 9/11, you can't just wait forever and hope that all problems work themselves out.

  7. The veto and chairmanship procedures of the U.N. administration has become somewhat of a joke. The administration structure of the U.N. has become increasingly ridiculous. Five nations all have the ability to veto resolutions, possibly going against the opinion of hundreds of other nations around the world. And one of these nations is France, a confrontational nationalistic nation that has a weak military and was recently ranked as 30th in the world in financial power. India has the 2nd biggest population in the world; Japan is the 2nd strongest financial power; yet neither has a veto and neither has the ability to even vote on a critical resolution such as the war in Iraq. On the other hand, small nations like Chile and Cameroon held the cards in a decision that affects the whole world. Libya, ruled by the brutal heartless dictator Qadafi, has chaired the Human Rights committee along with Sudan, whose government carried out ethnic cleansing. Iran was recently chair of the Weapons Nonproliferation committee. This would be funny if such important decisions weren't made through these committees. Do we really want to hold ourselves to decisions made by such an organization?

  8. We need to maintain a threat of acting alone to push the U.N. to not make anti-U.S. decisions. As we've discussed, the U.N. is going to make decisions solely to thwart or weaken the U.S. By acting now and then without U.N. consent, we send a message that if you don't respect our needs and don't make a sensible decision, you can count us out. This pushes the diplomats to work out a solution. If George W. Bush didn't threaten to act without U.N. consent, do you think any of the final resolutions against Iraq would have been made it through? Clinton couldn't get anything passed after Saddam threw the inspectors out in '98 because many countries in the U.N. believed he was too politically weak to act.

  9. There are some world problems that only the U.S. is willing to deal with (e.g. North Korea). Isn't it interesting that with Iraq everyone wants us to take a multilateral approach, but when we ask to do the same thing with the North Korea situation, everyone tells us to deal with it ourselves through direct talks? Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea, who are the nations most affected by Kim Jong Il's irrational behavior, don't want to even discuss the situation. It's America's problem. The U.N security council doesn't want to vote on anything related to North Korea, despite the fact they've restarted a nuclear program and pass out weapons to other countries like hotcakes. They recently sold ballistic missiles to Yemen, a heavily Islamic nation that could easily be hostile to the U.S. in the future. North Korea is such an impoverished nation that it would probably be willing to sell anything to anybody, including terrorists. Yet, this is only America's problem. Once again, the U.N. has shown how useless and hypocritical it can be.

  10. The U.N. is not a true democratic institution since many of the countries are communist or dictatorships. Some say it's hypocritical to push the spread of democracy yet ignore the "democratic" pronouncements of the U.N. Unfortunately, the U.N. isn't really a democratically-run institution. Think of all the countries with a voice in the organization -- Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, China, and so on. These are not countries that have free elections, open debate, unlimited candidates, a system of checks'n'balances, and all the other things that ensure the people have the ability to choose their leader. Thus, for example, when a country like Iran votes No on a resolution, it doesn't necessarily reflect the wishes of the millions of Iranians but instead the wishes of a small group of Islamic extremist thugs that managed to seize power. Imagine if the U.S. mob gained control of the entire country and put a new government in place managed by one "Don", and all future power was passed down to his sons. If that mafia family sent representatives to the U.N., should the rest of the world follow their wishes because they "represent the United States"?

No

  1. Anti-Americanism will continue to grow. Much of the resentment towards America is caused by the impression that we think we are above everyone else, that we can arrogantly flaunt global treaties, the international criminal court, U.N. resolutions, etc. because we feel like it. We seem hypocritical when we push for democracy in other countries but don't want to follow the decisions of the democratic U.N. institution. We seem hypocritical when we tell Saddam and Kim Jong Il to follow U.N. mandates but don't follow them ourselves. It's no wonder that anti-Americanism continues to grow. We then find that even when we want to do a noble and necessary thing like disarm Saddam, the loss of good will causes countries to oppose us. We have to start working towards countering anti-Americanism. This can only happen if we start following the procedures of the U.N.

  2. It creates the impression that the U.N. is irrelevant, and other countries may feel they too can act alone. When we disregard the decisions of the U.N., it sends a message to other countries of the world that the U.N. and world opinion are irrelevant. If we can do things like attack Iraq without U.N. approval, why shouldn't India invade Pakistan? Why should North Korea stop it's nuclear program? Why should Hamas and Islamic Jihad cease their terrorism? Consistently following U.N. pronouncements is the only way to ensure it's relevancy in the future.

  3. Different perspectives of other nations can show us our actions may be wrong. The U.S. government is obviously not always right. The future is impossible to predict, and the U.S. is often no better than any other country in making those predictions. People from different backgrounds and political systems can offer us valuable opinions. Who knows better how the Arab world works better than Arabs themselves? Who knows the North Korean situation better than South Korea? If the rest of the world is telling us we're wrong, just maybe we are wrong.

  4. The U.N. process forces us to use diplomacy and enhance relationships. World peace and prosperity depends on nations interacting and working together. The U.N. processes ensure that diplomats must constantly be in contact. Veto and council structures ensure bargaining and give & take diplomacy. We need to continue all efforts in building a new world order, and the U.N. process is the key.

  5. Ignoring the U.N. makes us sound hypocritical since we condemn Iran and others for the same reasons. One of the constant arguments against Saddam was that he ignored 17 U.N. resolutions. Bush said repeatedly that Saddam has "thumbed his nose to the international community". Doesn't it make us look like hypocrites if we do the same thing? How can we have any credibility in citing resolutions against North Korea or others in the future if we ourselves "thumb our nose at the international community"?

Is anything missing? Is any of the material inaccurate? Please let me know.

Written by:
Joe Messerli
Page Last Updated:
11/19/2011