Today marks the opening of the 61st annual session of the United Nations General Assembly. But just yesterday we were marking a turning point in a war that threatens the lives of decent people all over the world - a war that we cannot afford to lose.
The U.N. above all other institutions claims the right to lead this war, to play the part of the general in its prosecution. This organization calls this role a birthright, for its founding Charter took root in the calamity of a genocide that brought civilization to the brink of annihilation.
But is the United Nations a help or a hindrance to our success on the battlefield of ideas and the very real trenches that lie beyond? Parentage is not a sufficient qualification for leadership two generations later. Let us consider, therefore, the U.N.'s contribution to the war effort.
Just last Friday the U.N. gave the world its answer to 9/11. The General Assembly adopted its first-ever "Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy." The title is grand. The substance was not: it called for the implemention of a General Assembly resolution from 1991, which draws a distinction between terrorism and the "legitimacy of the struggle of national liberation movements." The document was also telling for what it omitted: a definition of terrorism, a reference to state sponsorship of terrorism and a call to sanction states that harbor and assist terrorists. Worst of all it began, not with defeat of terrorists, but with "measures to address conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, which it describes as "prevent[ing] the defamation of religions, religious values, beliefs and cultures," "eradicate[ing] poverty" and reducing youth unemployment.
What does such a strategy do for winning the war? It throws sand in the eyes of the troops on the front lines and renders the goalposts a mirage.
The previous post-9/11 record was just as bad. Shortly after 9/11 the U.N. created a new body to take the lead on responding to terrorist threats - the Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee. To this day, the CTC has never named a single terrorist, terrorist organization, or state sponsor of terrorism. What does such a record do for the war effort? It leaves the stewardship of the war against terrorism in the hands of an agent that cannot define it.
The U.N.'s top human rights body for six decades, the Commission on Human Rights, was charged with identifying and responding to human rights abuse. During that time, 30% of all its resolutions condemning a specific state for human rights violations were directed at Israel, while not one resolution was adopted condemning states like China, Syria, or Zimbabwe. In recent years, Libya served as Chair. In the name of enhanced credibility, the Commission was replaced this past spring by a Human Rights Council. Its members include Cuba, China, and Saudi Arabia. Since June, the Council has adopted three resolutions and held two special sessions critical of human rights violations in specific states. Now 100% of them are on Israel. In the meantime, thousands die in killing fields and deserts and torture chambers around the world. What does this U.N. game plan do for winning the war? It defines the enemy as the Jew.
Last weekend U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan, decided to go to Iran and shake hands with President Ahmadinejad. The message Annan delivered, in his own words, was that "The international community should not isolate Iran." Mr. Ahmadinejad has embraced genocide, called for the eradication of a U.N. member state, denied the truth of the Holocaust even though its ashes form the cornerstone of U.N. itself, and broken his treaty obligations to end the pursuit of nuclear weapons.Yet the Secretary-General still believes the President of Iran does not deserve isolation. What does such a message do for winning the war? It tells us to appease, apologize, and run away.
The U.N. system produces hundreds of reports, resolutions, letters, journals, and circulars critical of human rights abuse by particular states. It multiplies their impact through the world's largest multilingual human rights internet database, a constant stream of press releases, and the sponsorship of meetings year round across the globe. Of the top ten countries of human rights concern to the U.N. in 2005, Israel was first and America was 10th. Iran was 18th. The human rights actions statistics for 2006 are even starker. So far Israel is first and America is 3rd - of all 192 countries on earth. Human rights are the watchword of our time. They have become the rallying cry both for the forces of good and of evil. What does the U.N. campaign to demonize America and its democratic allies do for winning the war? It provides sustenance for our foes and sows confusion among our friends.
Time and again the United Nations has stood opposed to America's attempts to ensure a decent world order, for itself, and for others.
America has tried to galvanize legal and political forces by calling the millions dead, displaced, and dying in Sudan "genocide." But the U.N. reported last year that events in Darfur didn't meet their criteria for genocide.
America has called for immediate sanctions to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But the U.N. Security Council called only for another report. Published a week ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that it "remains unable to … verify the correctness and completeness of Iran's declarations with a view to confirming the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme." And we're meant to wait.
America has named Hezbollah a terrorist organization. But the U.N. refuses to do so - notwithstanding the 3,900 missiles directed at Israeli civilians this summer. On the contrary, said Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch-Brown, "It is not helpful to couch this [Lebanon] war in the language of international terrorism" - this because Hezbollah is "completely separate and different from Al Qaeda."
America has worked arduously to support the nascent democracy in Iraq. But the U.N. has dragged its feet responding to appeals to train Iraqi judges and prosecutors.
America has sought repeatedly to put Chinese violations of the civil rights of a billion people on the U.N. agenda. But all such attempts have been defeated by maneuvers that take draft resolutions off the table before they can even be put to a vote.
America has called for the Security Council to take action on the dire situation in Burma or Myanmar. But the subject has not even made it to the Council's agenda.
America attempted to introduce minimal qualifications for membership on the Human Rights Council relating to actual human rights performance. The General Assembly rejected the idea out-of-hand.
Why have our best efforts to enlist the U.N. in the battle against intolerance and extremism failed? Who are these opponents, wrapped in the U.N. flag, who inculcate the view that American unilateralism and non-cooperation is the root cause of the world's ills?
Opponents of such reform include U.N. staffers like the secretary-general and his deputy, who claim they are hapless functionaries operating at the mercy of member states - notwithstanding self-motivated trips to Iran, handshakes with Hezbollah, "doing business" with Saddam Hussein, and blaming middle American ignorance for the credibility gap. They are the 45 "Not Free" nations - to use Freedom House labels - who pass judgment on others in the General Assembly. These are the state sponsors of terrorism. The ones who don't let women vote or drive, or who kill them in the name of "honor." The ones who raise their children to die while murdering as many others of a different faith as possible. The ones who shoot mothers and babies from behind. The ones who claim that authoring a cartoon, a movie, or a book can justify a death sentence.
They are also the 58 "Partly-Free" countries. Some of these are cronies, others are just cowards. Some are like-minded with their more notorious neighbors, others are very dependent.
Together, these nations represent the majority of the 132 developing states and the majority of 192 U.N. members. They are unified not by a desire to democratize, or even to develop, since many are quite content with kingdoms and with servitude in their own backyards. They are a team because they are adroit at U.N. politics, and they have learned that the cartel is good for business. This holds true particularly for the largest single bloc amongst them - the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference.
The one loose-knit collective that has miserably failed at coordination within U.N. is the Community of Democracies - the pretense of a democratic caucus that counts Nepal, Qatar, and Russia among its members.
The remaining 89 "Free" countries are not only outnumbered at the UN, they are pitted against each other. The plethora of non-democratic regimes in the U.N. framework creates an incentive for a second-string player like France to take on the role of the power-broker and middleman. The possibility of using their influence with dictatorships to offset American power is too tempting for many EU nations. The halfway point between America and the state sponsors of terrorism, however, is not where any democracy ought to be. The U.N. system, though, does not merely divide and conquers democracies - it makes the loser pay for the experience. Just eight developed democracies contribute three-quarters of the entire U.N. regular budget.
There is an alternative, an antidote to the self-doubt and moral relativism planted in our midst by Turtle Bay. Senator Frist calls it a "council of democracies outside of the U.N. system … [that would] truly monitor, examine and expose human rights abuses around the globe." Such a gathering is an idea whose time has come: the United Democratic Nations - an international organization of democracies, by democracies, and for democracies. It is time to say enough.