Should the U.S. act without U.N. approval when the situation warrants action?
Overview/BackgroundConventional 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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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"?
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
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
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
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.
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"?
Written by: Joe Messerli
Page Last Updated: 11/19/2011