- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 28, 2003

The recent election of Cuba to another three-year term on the U.N. Human Rights Commission shortly after Fidel Castro jailed 78 opponents of his regime and executed three accused hijackers is further evidence the United Nations is “a dangerous place,” as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan once put it. The U.N. also is a mischievous place where consensus is confused with morality.

The cynical vote endorsing Cuba was no surprise to anyone aware of the frequent harm permitted or endorsed by the sprawling cluster of U.N. entities — from the Security Council to score of specialized agencies and commissions.

The raison d’etre of the U.N. is the Security Council. Its mandate is to keep the peace — a laudable goal — but it has no real authority to curb conflict or throw back aggression. The council is little more than a forum, a standing conference, a place where delegates of the great powers and lesser states can discuss and vote on issues as their governments direct.

The Security Council is not an actor in the global drama, but only one of many stages where the drama is played out. During recent debates on Iraq, the council often resembled a hall of mirrors or an echo chamber that distorted reality and subverted responsible statesmanship.

The Security Council is powerless. It has no army, no territory, no economy, no citizens. It has no farms or factories, universities or cathedrals. And most important, it has no historical memory. The council is an artifice of the liberal imagination.

The real actors in the quest for security and freedom in a dangerous world are sovereign states, a motley crew, that use the council to pursue their own interests. The fateful decisions of war and peace and human rights are made by sovereign states, not by U.N. resolutions or U.N. peacekeepers dispatched to trouble spots. Neither the dreams of Woodrow Wilson nor of latter-day idealists can alter this hard fact. The U.N., like its failed predecessor, the League of Nations, has no power. Neither body played a discernible role in defeating the most grievous enemies of freedom and human rights in the 20th century.

That task fell to the United States, Britain and other Western allies who fought and defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

When communist North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, Harry Truman immediately committed U.S. forces to throw back the assault. Even though the U.N. Security Council, due to the absence of the Soviet Union, provided a retroactive fig leaf for Truman’s initiative, it was the president’s action that defended the South Koreans.

Again, during the Cold War, it was America, with the help of its NATO allies, that faced down the “Evil Empire” without firing a shot. Ronald Reagan combined power and morality with words: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Of course, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the High Commissioner for Refugees, and other U.N. agencies have provided valuable humanitarian services, but they could operate equally well, perhaps better, without the cumbersome U.N. bureaucracy.

One must ask whether the political U.N. — the Security Council and Assembly — is worth the investment in money and hope. After all, before the League and the U.N., the world already had a more inclusive system for dealing with war and peace — international diplomacy. Every state large and small was a participant.

The world also has a growing body of international law that provides rules for settling disputes. And there are the Geneva Conventions for protection of POWs and civilians in time of war. All governments are free at any time to join with other states to protect their interests.

True, the U.N. Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have raised the banner of peace and justice, but the U.N. itself has done little to advance these goals. Far more influential has been the example and policies of the United States. For more than 225 years, America — with all its virtues and its faults — has been the chief inspiration for and guarantor of freedom and justice in the world.

Perhaps the time has come for the United States to consider withdrawing from the body that promised so much and has done so little.

Ernest W. Lefever is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His most recent book is “America’s Imperial Burden: Is the Past Prologue?”

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