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Monday, January 17

The UN's Paper Sword

In late December Claudia Rosett updated John's audience on Kofi Annan's stonewalling. She pointed out that the history of Kofi's actions as head of the UN demonstrate that there would be nothing behind any US government assumption that a "greater good" could be served by supporting Kofi's refusal to resign.

What I find unsettling about her observation is that it reminds me of John Loftus's discussion with John more than a year ago about ElBaradei. I've been reminded of that discussion several times since, as IAEA negotiations with Tehran have unfolded.

Loftus detailed that the US had the goods on Baradei, who for years during Saddam's rule put on a blindfold with regard to al-Tuwaitha. Loftus said that Tuwaitha is so radioactive that Putin had to warn Bush that US troops should take care not to bomb the facility during the invasion of Iraq.

When John asked why the Bush administration didn't use what they had on Baradei to blow him out of the water, Loftus replied he didn't know. But he speculated that Baradei with the goods on him might be seen by the administration as useful in pushing Iran hard on their nuclear weapon program.

If that's how the Bush administration was thinking, we've all seen how useful Baradei has been with the goods on him.

I understand the need not to convene Kangaroo Court but not rushing to judgment works both ways. The initial Bush stand on Annan, after the UN Oil-for-Food investigation captured US headlines, was "wait on the evidence." Okay. But then don't find Annan innocent ahead of the evidence.

Maybe the best course for the Bush administration is to use the rest of Annan's tenure to figure out what the US should do about the United Nations. Annan, after all, is simply the most visible symbol of the UN problems, which are systemic.

The question is whether the system can be fixed without remaking the UN from the ground up. This point was brought home to me while reading an essay Ever Always by the Belmont Club author, who once again exposes the root of a problem:

"The [UN] Security Council's structural defect is part of its design. It was meant to freeze international action, not promote it. Paralysis is a Security Council feature not a bug. While international multilateral action from recorded history has always been carried out by nations whose interests momentarily coincide, the Security Council was carefully constructed to consist of rivals whose interests clash, each with a veto over the other.

"The proposals put forward to limit international military action to the Security Council are tantamount to preventing alliance action because all "legitimate" international action is made the province of the parties in conflict. This recipe for enhanced stasis, as Gourevitch points out, has ironically been advanced under the "the Rwanda never again clause" -- when in fact it amounts to a "Rwanda ever always" clause, as the Congolese and Sudanese know to their cost."

The security council is the sword arm of the United Nations. Time and again the "enhanced stasis" that is the council has resulted in the UN wielding a paper sword against crises such as Sudan. Only the crushing weight of the United States, brought fully to bear, loans the security council a sword of steel.

However, the United Nations, as with the IMF-World Bank, was conceived as a US policy instrument. Now that our policy instrument has gotten away from us, do we really want to see the UN Security Council in possession of a steel sword?

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