Restoring the U.N. to its rightful place

All of our posts about the United Nations have me thinking about what America’s approach to that organization should be. Nothing in the Constitution requires our participation in the U.N., nor can any such obligation be implied from our form of government. Thus, the question of whether and to what extent we should be involved with the U.N. should be resolved purely in terms of our national interests.
Whether our national interests favor participating in the U.N. depends on what kind of U.N. we’re talking about. The U.N. of my youth was, as far as I can tell, a debating society that ran some scam charities. It was probably in our interests to participate in that organization. First, we seemed to exercise a significant amount of influence on the proceedings. Second, it provided lines of communication through which we could conduct diplomacy. Third, nothing negative seemed to happen that would justify the ill-will we would have incurred had we withdrawn.
Today the U.N. aspires to be something akin to a world governmental body. Obviously, it would not be in our interests to particpate in a U.N. that attained that status. Such participation would mean that decisions regarding our interests would be made by people who do not share them. As I said yesterday, this would be true even if the U.N. reformed itself, for example by limiting membership to democracies.
However, the U.N. of today does not exercise world government type power. In fact, to the extent that it is a world “player” at all, this is mostly because we have allowed it to be one. We are not required to go to the U.N. before taking military action or otherwise implementing our foreign policy objectives. Other members don’t do this. George Bush I and George Bush II both thought that the U.N. could promote our national interests by approving and participating in wars against Iraq. George Bush II badly miscalculated. But this isn’t really an argument in favor of abandoning the U.N. (although for reasons probably having to do with my temperment, this would be my personal preference). Rather, it is an argument against future attempts to use the U.N. the way Bush I and Bush II did.
In sum, our national interests don’t now require that we abandon the U.N., but only that we accord it no deference or respect. We can conduct our affairs without seeking U.N. approval, and we can use our Security Council veto liberally to thwart the schemes of our adversaries. In short, we can restore the U.N. to its rightful status as a debating society. If there comes a time when the price we pay for this course of action approaches or exceeds the price we would pay for quitting, we can consider our options.


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