Eric and Brendan,What is

Eric and Brendan,

What is there not to like [about the United Nations]? It's all the nations of the world. Unless you're planning on leaving the planet, you'll just have to grin and bear it.

If you think it could usefully be reformed, that's generally accepted, especially by those who take a hopeful view of the organization. It has evolved but important steps, such as setting up a permanent UN army may prove to be for ever out of reach. 

You two have far more faith in the United Nations than I do.  You seem to feel that no matter what the repercussions in Libya, that everything will be kosher because it has the UN stamp of approval.  I consider the UN to be highly overrated, and this entire Libyan episode is yet another example of it.  I love the UN on paper, but in practice I think it is a farce.

What the UN lacks, and what it needs most, is clear, coherent, and authoritative leadership towards a universal goal.  The UN was basically created as a means to prevent developed nations from engaging in another world war.  Times have changed, and perhaps it needs a reformed mission statement.  Lets say that the UN took the position that it sought to move the world towards global peace by encouraging global democracy.  That would serve to narrow its scope, and focus it more on a defined objective.  Would it then be more respected and effective?  I think not.  Until the UN can be a truly global force, free from petty international rivalries and short term domestic considerations of its individual members, it will always be hopelessly dysfunctional.

Lets look at the dynamic between America and France.  The French have what I would call a more "feminine" approach to international relations.  I read somewhere that men and women had different approaches to social dominance.  Men tend to view society as heirarchical.  They want to move up the ladder until they are at the top of the pyramid, so to speak.  Women tend to see society as grouped into a series of concentric circles, and their idea of social succes is to be located at the center of this arrangement.  The Americans want the ability to line everyone up and get them to march towards a common purpose, whereas the French are perfectly happy if the world views them as the premier source for advice on fashion, recipes, and relationships.

Americans see a need for global leadership.  At some point, someone has to say, "All right.  We have argued about it long enough.  Everybody get in the back of the truck and lets head on over to Libya.  You can continue to bicker about it on the way, but I'm driving."  The need for leadership is crucial, and in many ways it is quite natural that America should assume that role, as America is the only one with a truck and gas money.  As we have seen so far in the Libyan affair, America can get nations to line up for a common cause, but once American leadership ends, things tend to break down.

The French do not have the economic, military, or diplomatic resources that the Americans do, but feel themselves to be culturally and intellectually a more suitable choice for global leadership than the Americans.  (Actually, I would say that many nations feel that way.  Not as a slight to America, but it is natural for people to think that they could do a better job.)  Their strategy for leadership is to actively cultivate spheres of influence, such as a bloc of French speaking nations inclined to side with the French in international affairs, or as presenting themselves as an alternative to American leadership for any transient allignment of nations on any particular issue.  Essentially, the French have made a career out of consistently defying America as vocally as possible.  This comes from a nation that is for all practical purposes an ideological ally.

Now look at the nations who are not ideological allies.  The Russians have their own pretensions of global leadership, but with a rather uninspiring domestic model hardly worthy of emulation, while the Chinese consider "global leadership" to be something of an oxymoron.  Put all of these personalities in the same room and you have the greatest excuse for the most elaborate, inefficient, and dystopian bureaucracy engaged in the latest international reincarnation of The Great Game.

Why did the French get so far out in front of the Libyan situation?  Because they were so far behind in support for the Egyptian and Tunisian democracy movements.  Why did the Americans join in with the French aggressiveness?  Because Obama is increasingly being seen as lacking a sophisticated agenda domestically, and didn't want to give the Republicans another talking point in 2012 as the Arab Spring appeared to fizzle.

Your error is in assuming that the United Nations is a supranational organization diligently working through international crises to find the wisest long term solutions to the world's problems.  In reality it is a sloppy consortium of ad hoc decision makers more prone to base their votes according to the lingering resentments against who got chosen to host the next World Cup or Olympic Games.  It is viewed by many Americans as a vastly corrupt, inefficient and confused bureaucracy which is prone to a liberal, elitist, and anti-American strain which is obviously endemic to vast bureaucracies.  It is viewed by many Arabs as simply another tool that the West uses to indirectly maintain their former imperialist control over them.  It is viewed by any nation that has ever hosted a peacekeeping operation as nothing more than an elaborate scheme to allow Belgians to pocket $100,000 a year while eating popcorn as the Serbs shoot every male over the age of 14 in Srebrenica.

So yes, Eric, the United Nations is composed of its individual members, but until the organization has a global vision and a clarity of global purpose that supercedes the prevailing moods and petty rivalries of its individual members it is going to be considered largely irrelevant to the majority of the planet.  Watch and see what happens with the implementation of UNSC 1973, as poor planning, poor execution, poor leadership, and poorly defined goals takes its toll on the people of Libya.


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