Monday, October 10, 2005


By Joshua Muravchik, AEI Press, $ 20, 175 pages

As the United Nations celebrates its 60th anniversary, the institution is currently being blasted with criticism from all sides. While it is universally agreed that the United Nations is in need of reform, there is considerably less concord on the nature of said reform. As international relations tend ever more toward multipolarity at the expense of the United States and its security interests, it is likely that the reforms being discussed at the United Nations. today could gravely affect us tomorrow.

With this in mind, it is hard to imagine a better time for Joshua Muravchik’s latest volume to appear. In “The Future of the United Nations,” he considers the United Nations a realistic alternative to American “benevolent hegemony,” and finds the body severely wanting in terms of both America’s national interest and the security interests of the world at large. That said, Mr. Muravchik stops short of condemning the United Nations in toto. The writer goes to great lengths to laud the body’s humanitarian initiatives. But where the United Nations fails, he argues, is in its quixotic quest to assume the mantle of what the author calls a “proto-world government.”

Mr. Muravchik argues against such “mission creep” on the part of the United Nations, in part because it is impracticable for it to function as a would-be legislative body. But beyond the problem of institutional overreach lies a deeper problem with U.N. power grabs: They run counter to the spirit in which the United States devised the United Nations after winning World War II, and often work to counteract Washington’s interests even as the United States is the institution’s prime benefactor.

One of the more useful aspects of this book is its recapitulation of the United Nations’ history. It is not often noted that France and China were both ceded U.N. Security Council membership at the pleasure of the United States, but Mr. Muravchik makes that point here, as if to indicate the anticipatory good faith extended by America to both of our current strategic competitors. The writer contends that when the United States attempted to shape the world in the wake of World War II, our eagerness to form the United Nations led us to unnecessarily squander precious political capital to that end.

It is ironic, Mr. Muravchik adds, that the United Nations we shepherded into being effectively has checked legitimate American security interests for the balance of its existence. In part, the international body has functioned as such a check because of its own endemic corruption; at considerable length, the writer depicts the United Nations as a cauldron of low-grade sleaze with nepotism and cronyism vitiating the institution at all levels. Mr. Muravchik ably delineates the case against the Kofi Annan era at the United Nations, while making it clear that the body’s corruption and inefficiency did not start with the secretary-general. Rather, this chronic malaise is rooted in “an inertia that would shame most governments,” typified by an institutional willingness to belabor arcane anti-Western and anti-Israeli tropes in the General Assembly at the expense of tangible concerns.

In arguing that the United Nations move away from its more overtly political functions, Mr. Muravchik makes a Churchillian case for the integrity of both the Anglo-American alliance and for future “coalitions of the willing” as we saw in Iraq as two possible security solutions. As well, Mr. Muravchik argues in favor of America forging a larger alliance with what the author describes as an “alliance of democracies.” But it is hard to gauge how viable such an alliance would be.

Especially given that fellow democracies such as India have routinely opposed American aims in the United Nations, it is uncertain that such an alliance would really vouchsafe America’s long-term national interest.

Though there is much that is useful about Mr. Muravchik’s book, it ultimately raised unanswerable questions for this reviewer about whether the United States has sufficient leverage to reshape the often-hostile United Nations into a body more in sync with American geopolitical aims. In attempting to chart the future of the United Nations, and the U.S. role therein, we are forced to consider anew the ultimate mutability of all things political.

It is entirely possible that the United States will be a net loser in the current round of reforms, as the emerging powers of the 21st century assert their places in world affairs. The principal value of Mr. Muravchik’s book, in that context, is its attempt to outline a way to protect American prerogatives on the world stage at a time when they are under siege.

A.G. Gancarski is a writer in Jacksonville, Fla.

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