Monday, August 08, 2005

Another long, slow turn in the downward spiral
at the United Nations

Basically a giant clown-car filled with nepotistic crooks

I've believed for some time that the U.N. needs more than reform. It needs to be superseded by an organization whose membership is limited to secular democracies, an organization that would therefore possess both the desire and the rectitude to do good. This alliance would also serve as a constant reminder to citizens enduring the rule of tyrants and theocrats that they would be better off following our lead. The U.N. is sacrosanct, however, as I have been reminded countless times in conversations with friends on the left. Always the same old line: it's not perfect, but nothing is; its collective heart is in the right place; it's done so much good over the years. I no longer believe there is a grain of truth in any of these defenses of the U.N.; the organization is intrinsically flawed, rotten to the core, and has now sunk so low that it is arguably a hindrance to the goals of world peace and prosperity.

The U.N.'s structure makes it simultaneously undemocratic and slow--two faults that usually do not coincide. The Security Council is at once elitist (granting limitless veto power on the basis of who kicked ass half a century ago) and blinkered by an overdeveloped sense of international egalitarianism (granting rotating membership to states that have no business being involved in anyone's "security"). The General Assembly is not worth mentioning. The executive leadership is corrupt, and arrogant to boot. Every time you turn around one high-level official or another is hiring this cousin while steering a contract to that nephew. The lower echelons of the organization harbor child rapists and pimps. When peacekeepers aren't sodomizing minors or shooting one another, they're opening the gates of so-called "safe-havens" so their charges can be marched off to extermination camps. All opportunities for meaningful reform probably passed years ago, if they ever existed. When the current scandal involving the secretary general and his son has to compete for attention with one involving the previous secretary general's shady dealings with his brother-in-law and nephew, it starts to look like an institutional problem, not just a couple of bad apples.

Now the Volcker Commission has found evidence that Oil-for-Food Director Benon Sevan and one other U.N. official encouraged corruption in the program for personal benefit. Sevan and his wife received cash deposits in their bank accounts of nearly $150,000, while Alexander Yakovlev, a U.N. procurement official, had almost a million dollars in kickbacks wired into an account in Antigua. The Associated Press tries weakly to suggest that this turn of events is actually not so bad, since some have accused the U.N. of wasting and stealing millions or billions of dollars intended to relieve the hardships imposed on the Iraqi people by sanctions. Volcker even discovered motive: Sevan and his wife repeatedly overdrew their accounts prior to his transforming the program into his own private cash machine. The commission's latest report also suggests that Kofi Annan may be looking for new digs come September and the release of the next report, since emails have revealed that he knew more than he has admitted about his son's manipulation of Oil-for-Food.

In May of this year, Annan's chief of staff, Mark Malloch Brown, gave a speech to the U.S. Congressional Committe on International Relations. His address amounted to a half-hearted admission of problems in the U.N., followed quickly by an appeal for more money, followed by a not-so-subtle suggestion that we stop sticking our noses in the U.N.'s business. Just write the check and shut up, alright?
"I would also argue that just as the United Nations is under-funded, so is it in some ways over-supervised."

What Brown goes on to describe in his speech is not a surplus of supervision but the well-known bureaucratic labyrinth the organization has created. Red tape is not oversight; just because it inhibits action does not mean it inhibits criminal action. Brown demonstrated how U.N. officials have grown accustomed to the presumption that their every pronouncement is incontestable. Before the press and members of the Congress of the United States, he exaggerated figures related to the cost and scale of current peacekeeping operations, stating that there are eighteen active operations costing nearly 4.5 billion dollars annually. The U.N.'s own published information contradicts him. At the time of his speech, there were only sixteen active operations, and that number hasn't changed since and apparently won't any time soon. Those sixteen operations cost 3.6 billion dollars annually. Call it carelessness or chicanery, in either case it reflects poorly on an institution entrusted with so much. We've waited too long for the U.N. to get its act together. It's time to find someone else for the job. It's time for an effective alliance of democracies.


Blogger Mr. Snitch said...

And don't get me started on what lousy shape the building itself is in...

11:18 PM  

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