Oil for Food program AGAIN found wanting, …

  • '18 '17 '16 '11 Moderator




    If he’s so powerless then why does he have a position? Maybe we could reduce world government by dissolving the position of UN SecGen permanently and allow the security council to take up any responsibilities he may have?

    You know, I haven’t been successful in getting that little quote box to pop up. Hope it works this time.

    I didn’t say Annan was powerless, but implied that he has power within/over the organization of the UN. And that, of course, is the reference point for much of his actions: he has fired people, admonished others, removed diplomatic immunity, etc. But he is not a head of state. And the UN is not really a world government. Yes it operates on international law, but it does not have independent police power or the ability to tax, etc. As I said, the UN is a place for diplomacy. It has little true power outside what its members delegate it. But at the same time, it could not operate the way it does, it could not function, without some level of independence.

    And that I think is the biggest difficulty for people to get their minds around: there really are two UNs, and they don’t necessarily coincide. The first is the representative one, including the GA, the Security Council, the ambassadors to the UN, etc. It’s, in some respects, the ineffective one. Then, there is the Secretariat, which has oversight over UN programs like UNDP and UNICEF. This is somewhat independent of the UN’s members, and it’s probably better that it is so. But it also has much less power than the “other UN.”

    So consider: if you dissolve the Secretariat side of things (and that’s really what happens if you eliminate the post of the Secretary-General), you would have a forum for world debate with maybe some action by the Security Council. But you largely lose the moral voice that the UN can speak in, particularly on issues of poverty in the developing world, human rights, response to disasters. And, I would argue, you want that voice there, but you don’t necessarily want it to have too much power. You can argue that the voice isn’t necessary, that international relations is simply realpolitik. But that’s a rather meager view of the world, and it ignores the fact that having an international forum for discussion is itself a really good thing. Add to this the UN’s pretty good track record in dealing with the places that no one wants to deal with (the tsunami comes to mind, as does sub-Saharan Africa), and you can get a sense of why the Secretary-General position exists. Would you want the 15 voices of the Security Council to be dealing with this? Or would you rather have an elected leader, speaking with the moral authority of the world community, and establishing and directing an agenda which drives poverty reduction, health, and collective security?

    I think, as an exercise, it would be useful for you to describe what exactly you think the UN can do. It has far less political power than many people think, but much more moral and coordinating power than it is often given credit for, and it’d be interesting to see where exactly you fall on this.

    What do I think the UN should be able to do:

    Provide a safe environment where enemies can meet to attempt to work out their differences without worry about any direct threat to themselves or their entorage.

    That’s it.

    What do I think the UN can do?

    They can impose sanctions
    They can unite to impoverish nations
    They can make war upon other nations
    They can unfairly influence nations not hostile towards each other to become hostile towards each other
    They can spend incredible amounts of money
    They can be involved in graft, corruption and illicit activities of all flavors

    They have done all of the above at one time or another. Sometimes iwth approval from the security council, sometimes without it.

  • Interesting….

    Well, your second points first, since they are easier to address. Generally, I think you’re conflating the UN as an administrative/ & coordinating body with the idea that it controls its member states. All the things you say the UN can do - well, it really does matter which organs are empowered to do those things. Like I said, the Security Council imposes sanctions, but of course, not without the input, agreement, and indeed direction of the five permanent members. For war, the UN does not make war on any nation - it has no standing army. Rather, the Security Council can choose to provide international sanction for a particular war, and there are various reasons why this may be nice, but not necessarily needed.

    For uniting to impoverish nations and inciting hostilities, I’m afraid you have to provide some specific examples of such. What UN (not member state) action directly led to the creation of hostilities that didn’t either pre-exist its involvement or emerge independently? Likewise, how have UNDP, UNESCO, and UNICEF created poverty? Or are you referring to a peacekeeping mission’s failure, and that causing poverty? In which case, wouldn’t the blame more rightly be placed on the paramilitary forces in, say, Rwanda causing the misery?

    But, you’ve got to be really careful here. If the US, UK, and France use their powers within the Security Council to authorize the use of force against country X, and China and Russia abstain, in what sense then did the UN as an independent body declare or make war on X? If they decide to impose sanctions on country Y through the Security Council, in what sense did the UN as a representative of world opinion place the sanctions?

    As I said, you have to stop thinking of the UN as a unitary political body guided by Kofi Annan. It is not. It is a coordinating diplomatic body with many centers of dialogue and internal power, and your comments have a danger of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Yes, there are numerous shortcomings, but a more careful view of how it operates would allow greater insight into what has worked and what hasn’t. After all, it is hard to argue that the UN hasn’t had an impact on international affairs, and even harder to say that, of all that impact, none of it was good. The human rights regime is much more powerful because of the UN’s existence, for example.

    But, I think this ties into your first point about what the UN should do, although this is getting away from the original subject. In your other posts, it is fairly clear that you prefer local-level, laissez-faire government, devolving power to the individual and allowing that person a greater latitude of freedom in making their own decisions. (Please correct me if this isn’t right.) I’m saying this because it appears that your feelings towards the UN are perhaps couched in this philosophy. And I will tell you that that philosophy largely does not work in international relations. Yes, it is certainly possible for states to exist as semi-isolated islands from each other, letting countries take care of what is inside their own country. Yes, it is possible for countries to voluntarily come together to handle existential threats (WWII) and effectively repel them.

    However, recent modern history, to take one example, does not suggest that that is always effective. We write on what is essentially a WWII board, and so it’s easy to overlook what preceded it. But don’t forget that classical liberalism was shunned for much of the mid-19th to late-20th centuries for a reason, and they had a lot to do with the Great Depression and World War I - voluntary arrangements, very complex in their nature, which nevertheless imploded and caused enormous suffering. Add to this the fact that international institutions make cooperation INFINITELY easier, and you can see why the volume and pace of global trade has advanced faster in the past 50 years than in any individual period beforehand, and why sustained, sometimes even intrusive interstate relations are so vitally important.

    Obviously, I am writing in broad brushstrokes, and any individual could write a dissertation on what I’ve just mentioned (and perhaps Thomas Friedman has with his latest book). But a UN as a simple staging ground for enemies to have discussion, as you suggest? Places like that exist, either in a bilateral or multilateral context (think Camp David or Switzerland). And they didn’t work. The UN’s individual track record on this account is up for question as well, but I cannot see any other institution tackling the same range of issues (poverty, science, culture, politics, development, trade, laws of the sea, etc.) that perhaps no other body will touch. I’m by no means for global government, but the UN fulfills a coordinating role that its critics often fail to appreciate.

    I’m looking forward to your comments on this! And if someone can tell me what I’m doing wrong with quote box, I’d love to know.

  • '18 '17 '16 '11 Moderator

    I like broad brush strokes, the devil is in the details. 🙂 And yes, I’m all for local governments reigning supreme with remote governments only existing to help mediate differences between local governments. Such as if the city of Palatine, IL and the city of Schaumburg, IL are in feud, then the county of Cook, IL could step in and set up a safe area for these two cities to negotiate and help mediate an amiable solution to both parties. However, in all other instances, the county government would be totally devoid of any power or responsibility leaving it up to the cities to establish the minor laws (major laws would be listed in the US constitution which would be ratified by the people anyway.)

    The UN could, for example, place sanctions on a country that would economically cripple that country. These sanctions would be voiced by one Kofi Annon even though ratified by the security council.

    Also, to further incite the situation, let’s say that country’s neighbor decides to vocally oppose these sanctions starting up riots in the streets. The UN could then send “peacekeepers” or whatever they call their police forces with machine guns and body armor, into that nation to quell the uprisings (thus basically declaring war on that nation.)

  • Hmm…well, I’m going to leave aside the broad brushstrokes issue, since that probably could be a topic all its own. Plus, I’d like to return to the original subject of this thread, so thanks for that opportunity. 🙂

    Again, careful in your assertions of what Annan can do. You’re right, he can voice support for sanctions (although he rarely does so, which could be a weakness). However, the Security Council collectively are the ones who push for, outline, and ratify sanctions. In addition, there is nothing in the UN Charter that says that states can’t do this all on their own. The U.S., for example, imposed sanctions on both Iran and Libya through ILSA (Iran-Libya Sanctions Act) without recourse to the UN. Likewise, the EU has an arms embargo against China which falls outside UN jurisdiction. The reason states use the UN for sanctions (and it’s really not all that often that they do) is for the comprehensive oversight and international support it can generate. Moreover, enforcement of sanctions lies chiefly with the member states. After all, the UN has no military, economic, or political power to force compliance, even if they can monitor compliance. Consequently, that’s why it is a very big deal when the Security Council gets together and decides something, but why it’s more difficult to say that the UN is therefore behind the sanctions. Attributes too much authority to Turtle Bay, in my view.

    Now, peacekeeping is a dicey area. Technically, as I said, the UN has no standing army. When a request (or order) for peacekeeping comes in, the Secretariat asks member states to send troops. The states get a specified amount of money per head (believe me, that really is an incentive for some states), and troops are put under military commanders accountable to the UN, but coming from other countries. For example, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire of Canada commanded Belgian troops (among many others) in Rwanda. He reported to the UN Secretariat, who in turn was monitored by the Security Council (SC). Consequently, when Dallaire stated that he needed more troops to prevent an impending genocide, he had to call back to the Secretariat, who referred to the member states with troops on the ground, who ultimately decided that they wouldn’t support more soldiers going to Rwanda. Again here, the Secretariat serves a coordinating, not controlling role.

    As for a true declaration of war, well, that’s a different matter, and one that has not been resolved. Having a military presence in another country would typically be considered a military occupation. But, what if the military forces come from neutral parties and are there to either prevent hostilities or help reconstruction efforts? What if they are there under a humanitarian mission, to separate combatants to prevent genocide? Is there any sense in which this is a military aggression? Or is it more akin to a police action (which I submit are different things)? Again here, however, authorization for the use of force against others (not just in self-defense, but more actively) can only come through Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which can only be invoked by the Security Council (and it has rarely done so). So, if the states on the Security Council are making the decision and providing the troops, in what capacity is the UN declaring war other than in its role as a coordinator for what states are going to do?

    I think an underlying subtext of what you are saying is that the UN is responsible for the suffering caused by sanctions and war done in its name. This is undoubtedly true to an extent. But I would argue that the UN, being a body bound by international law, is much more of a tempering force on the excesses of states. It coordinates, yes, but as an independent body it places more strict limits on the use of force than a military establishment necessarily would. Those limits are sometimes rather silly or harmful in light of atrocities, say, but my underlying point is that the UN perhaps does not hold the lion’s share of responsibility, and in fact may very well be a positive, moderating force in conflict.

    By the way, why do you spell Annan’s name “Annon?”

  • '18 '17 '16 '11 Moderator


    By the way, why do you spell Annan’s name “Annon?”

    Because I can’t spell. 🙂 I try, sometimes I even cheat and type in MS Word and paste into here, but Annan’s name isn’t in my dictionary. hehe.

    I’d say all acts instigated by the UN and done by the UN is the UN’s responsibility. Just like the Coalition of the Willing is responsible to rebuild Iraq to at least the same level as it existed before the war, it is also the UN’s responsibility to recover a nation’s economy after sanctions are lifted or repair a country after it’s temporarily borrowed army leaves.

    Speaking of armies for the UN, did you hear of that case years ago about this American Captain (think he was a captain) that was court martialled because he said he’d refuse orders from a French officer even in an UN engagement? His defense was he took an oath to defend the constitution and follow orders by hte officers appointed over him by the President of the United States. The army’s charge was that UN officers placed in charge of US forces were appointed by the President of the United States.

    This really means that the UN is a higher authority then the President, at least to me and obviously that captain. This is also exactly why the Republican Congress post WWI refused to join Wilson’s League of Nations, and one of the many reasons I agree with that decision.

    Organizations, such as NATO, can do all the same things the UN can only they arn’t limited by wanting to maintain a global community of states. Instead they can restrict membership to allies and friends while collectively using their geo-political and economical leverage for the benefit to it’s members. The UN cannot, it must listen to all countries because they want complete membership of the world. However, as many an American politician has discovered, by trying to please the entire community (in their case American Citizens, in the UN’s case the entire world) you end up pleasing no one.

  • Ah, I think we’re closing in on the crux of the matter. But first, the question was never whether the UN had responsibility in the Oil for Food Scandal. It most certainly does. The concern, in my mind, was always how much responsibility the UN had, or more specifically, how much does the Secretariat have versus other actors, say, Benon Sevan or the members of the Security Council (including the US). To which I’d say that the situation is significantly more complicated than is generally perceived, and that the Secretariat, and Annan himself, are having their culpability inflated.

    Second, I’m not certain that I agree that, in your court-martial example, UN appointed officers are higher than US officials. They case turns rather clearly on the superior-subordinate relationship. The critical factor is that the foreign ranking officer receives his authority and command over US soldiers by authorization from a duly appointed US official, in this case the President. New (the soldier) made the argument that he was a US soldier and refused to serve under UN colors. He wasn’t court-martialed for refusing to follow an order of a foreign commanding officer, but rather for refusing the order of his own US superiors. This is a case of insubordination of a US soldier towards his own officers, and by extension the President in his capacity as Commander-in–Chief. Conversely, you couldn’t really say that this example demonstrates that the UN is higher than the US either. This appears to be a US military internal disagreement which was not referred to, or addressed by, the UN.

    But, now we hit the crux of the matter. Should the US even bother with the UN since it is, as you rightly state, meant to represent all nations, and that therefore hurts its ability to operate? Also, is the UN higher than the US, and does that situation impact US national interest? My own opinion is that the UN still serves vital global functions, although it must be recognized that it has some critical limitations in furthering any state’s particular objectives. But, first, I don’t think it is really possible to credit the UN as being “above” the US in some way. The US is tied to its obligations to the UN, no doubt, but that is simply the price of membership. The US can technically opt out of the organization if it really chose to do so. Moreover, membership in the UN is just like membership in any other international body, like the WTO and the World Bank, or less prominently things like tax treaties and migration agreements. All of these result from processes of negotiations, and the US, as the remaining superpower, is less beholden to the UN or other institutions than any other nation. But opting out probably isn’t a good idea, for a host of reasons. The most prominent right now is that working through international institutions is often more effective in the long-term, and it serves to reassure other states of the beneficence of US power. Coalitions of the willing, pick-and-choose diplomacy – how does that create a sustained engagement separate from the whims of the President, say, or some other important policymaker? International organizations institutionalize our relationships and make a lasting impact on all those involved. As an example, do you think Europe and the US, and particularly England and the US (who fought each other so recently) would be so close without NATO, the Breton Woods institutions, and even the UN?

    Second, then, what functions does the UN serve in pursuing American interests? Certainly, military objectives are limited by the UN, and because of this fact, the UN has increasingly been turning towards a more development focused agenda. It provides a path of least resistance that nevertheless can be agreed upon by the major developed and developing countries. It is here, and one other place I’ll mention later, that the UN really comes into its own. Its record for dealing with conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction is pretty good, certainly better than the US. It is also a great vehicle for advancing US anti-poverty objectives, since the UN concentrates a great deal on that. It provides an avenue for engaging countries which are diplomatically isolated, but which the US nevertheless needs to deal with (I’m thinking of Iran here and the DPRK. Remember, the restarting of the Six-Party Talks came from bilateral talks between the US and DPRK on the sidelines of the last General Assembly meeting). And in the rare instances of agreement, the UN speaks with the highest moral authority, which can legitimate some pretty wide ranging actions (Iraq in 1991). Finally, and here was the other issue I was referring to, the UN might be able to deal with the big issues of US global policy. It is much easier to push through an agreement on the definition of terrorism in the UN rather than having to negotiated individual bilateral treaties with all the countries of the world.

    From all this, while I agree that the UN is unwieldy to work with and at times obstructs US positions, the institution itself is not without merit, particularly as a means to pursue American interests.

  • '18 '17 '16 '11 Moderator


    Problem with your second paragraph is this: French colonel orders US private to fire on US refugees. Who does the US private obey? His oath of office to protect US citzens against all enemies or his oath to obey those orders from officers appointed above him? Notice, no where in the oath does it say all legal orders, or only those orders that are moral or ethical.

    It’s also assumed that a US Colonel would not order a US Private to fire on US refugees. I’m sure it would happen, but I’m stating that this is the assumption I’m making because it’s the same assumption many other have made and why the chain of command works at all.

    As for the UN working, I’d say in part. It is a place where unarmed political opponents can meet in safety to negotiate treaties and truces to cease hostilities. It is not the great mediator, it is not effective in rehabilitating criminal leaders and it is most ineffective in regulating the world as a whole.

    Rather, I’d say that NATO and Warsaw Pact were much more effective at this. This is because NATO and Warsaw Pact could expell members leaving them devoid of allied defenses and make them vulnerable. This fear of vulnerability is much more effective then having the UN say you cannot sell oil except to raise money for food then have nations buying oil from you under the table maintaining your vast riches. This also works in reverse, nations like Iran could strive to become more humanitarian so as to seek and be granted membership into alliances of their peers and thus gain more protection and more benefits. (I could see a 10% across the board discount to all NATO members from all other NATO members, etc. Or a 10% penalty from Warsaw Pact members for buying outside of the pact.)

  • I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to continue a debate without the other person being able to respond. I guess if any of you would like my thoughts on Jenn’s post, then let me know. Otherwise, it’s been a good discussion.

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