“The United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support—to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective—to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak—and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.”—John F. Kennedy, inaugural address, 1961
But if these words were intended as more than sanctimonious hyperbole, the world in 2018 is in perilous condition—and the U.N. has contributed to its status rather than alleviating it.
To understand how the U.N. arrived at this point, let’s look at its background. Founded in 1945 by 51 countries after World War II, the U.N. “is committed to maintaining international peace and security; developing friendly relations among nations; and promoting social progress, better living standards, and human rights.”
The U.N. website describes its main purposes as
- to keep peace throughout the world;
- to develop friendly relations among nations;
- to help nations work together to improve the lives of poor people, to conquer hunger, disease and illiteracy, and to encourage respect for each other’s rights and freedoms; and
- to be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations to achieve these goals.
These are “motherhood and apple pie” objectives.
More realistically, the U.N. was a victors’ construct designed both to preserve peace and maintain global dominance. The five original permanent Security Council members, with veto rights over all security-related action, were the Republic of China (now Peoples Republic of China), France, United Kingdom, USSR (now Russia), and the United States. In politico-military terms, this is a “chandelier balance” in which three or four actors can prevent aggressive action by the other(s).
Despite France’s feeble national power; the civil war implosion of the Republic of China, leading to communist domination; and the British Empire’s terminal weakness, the system worked initially.
General Assembly membership was still manageable, and Latin American allies gave the United States significant leverage. To respond to North Korea’s 1950 invasion of the South, the United States orchestrated a “uniting for peace” General Assembly resolution which, combined with Moscow’s egregious error in boycotting U.N. activities, permitted the United States to create a United Nations Command to resist Pyongyang aggression. It may have been the last truly successful U.N. security-related action.
On a personal note, I once was an axiomatic U.N. supporter and believed its myth. In high school, I entered and won a city-wide contest about the U.N. sponsored by the Odd Fellows fraternal order. The prize was a week in New York to visit and study the United Nations at the end of which I doubtless knew more about the U.N. than ever before or since.
In ancillary tourism, I even learned who is buried in Grant’s Tomb. Upon returning home, the Odd Fellows hosted a meeting during which I recounted observations, and was treated to apple pie a la mode—a delicious first culinary experience.
By the 1960s, however, times had changed. Decolonization generated a flood of countries ultimately tripling General Assembly membership, espousing political attitudes essentially hostile to U.S. interests. Throughout the 1960s, Washington beat back efforts to seat Beijing as the representative of “China” but was defeated in 1971.
Likewise, during an extended military action in Southeast Asia, the U.N. showed no sympathy for U.S. regional objectives.
It was not long before Americans viewed the U.N.’s NYC presence as generating mobs of ungracious foreigners who didn’t pay their parking tickets and regarded the U.N. bureaucracy as a source of cushy jobs in obscure areas—primarily paid with U.S. assessments.
And, over the past generation, Washington has had special problems with the General Assembly (UNGA) and Security Council. During the past decade, UNGA relentlessly has condemned Israel for its relationship with Palestinians. In scores of resolutions, driven by the Arab-Muslim bloc, UNGA offers undifferentiated criticism of Israel while extolling Palestinian objectives. Concurrently, we defeat any Security Council resolutions criticizing Israel while not also denouncing Palestinian militant actions.
Washington has also faced issues with the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Its 47 members are supposed to “promote and protect human rights around the world.” Membership, however, includes human rights abusers such as China, Egypt, Pakistan, Cuba, and Venezuela. Throughout its existence, it has devoted more resolutions to criticizing Israel than of all other countries combined. On June 19, 2018, the United States withdrew from UNHRC accusing it of bias against Israel and failure to hold human rights abusers accountable.
Essentially, Washington has given up on the United Nations; it is a ritualized “talk shop” for exchanging insults rather than accomplishing security-related objectives.
In 1994, as a recess-appointed U.N. Ambassador, John Bolton said, “The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories … If it lost ten stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” Now National Security adviser, Bolton’s views presumably haven’t changed.
David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.