The World War II Allies recognized by war’s end a need to establish a world organization as a tool to “maintain international peace and security” - providing a voice for all members. Created Oct. 24, 1945, it worked well initially. By the 1970s, however, nondemocratic member states realized this tool could be manipulated to counter the interests of democratic members. Today, the original intention of the democratic founding members of the United Nations has been drastically undermined. After a 65-year journey, the United Nations’ good intentions have become a road less traveled - one over which a nondemocratic cabal runs roughshod.
How did an organization created with a charter to save future generations from war and ensure equal rights for all mankind become so ineffective in fulfilling its mandate?
The original 51 founding nations automatically became members of the U.N. General Assembly. Each member held one vote, so small nations enjoyed equal footing with larger ones. Votes by democratic states dominated the General Assembly from its formation until the early 1970s.
By 1973, assembly membership had grown to 135. Leaders of some nondemocratic member states realized the assembly’s one-vote-per-member structure provided a great opportunity to organize bloc votes to embarrass and gradually offset the goals of democratic states. This initiative was headed by Cuba’s Fidel Castro (to counter U.S. interests) and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi (to delegitimize Israel).
Lacking a majority, the Castro-Gadhafi cabal embarked upon a campaign to persuade many “developing” countries - nations with no real policy reason to vote against either the United States or Israel - to join them. These included original U.N. members Brazil and the Philippines as well as later members Zambia (1964) and the Bahamas (1973).
The hypocrisy of the cabal’s manipulation of the General Assembly has been most evident over the past decade in the composition of the U.N. Council (formerly Commission) for Human Rights. While well-known human rights abusers have been included, the pinnacle of hypocrisy is the uncontested May 2004 election of Sudan - despite its ethnic cleansing efforts in Darfur.
The Castro-Gadhafi bloc increasingly began to set an anti-U.S. General Assembly agenda. Its success is evidenced by the voting record for the 2009-10 session, in which the U.S. lost approximately 80 percent of 57 resolutions adopted by roll-call vote. And things may soon get worse as nondemocratic state members are trying to lock in another bloc of votes.
Among the developing states, many of the 12 Pacific Island nations stand out as having voted against the United States less often than most others, particularly by not voting for close to 20 annual resolutions condemning Israel. This pro-U.S. voting pattern of the Pacific Island nations was why the Arab League extended an invitation to the islands’ foreign ministers to meet in Abu Dhabi this past June. At that meeting, a brief discussion of development assistance was followed by strong urgings to the Island nations to fall in line with the Arab League in casting U.N. votes. A framework action plan was presented to provide the Arab League with an office in the Pacific Islands and to conduct consultations “on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.” Clearly, the Arab League seeks to buy Pacific Island votes.
As many General Assembly member states are reluctant to vote their individual conscience, we must counter the influence the Arab League seeks to wield in the Pacific Island region. This involves demonstrating that we care.
After pulling out of the region in 1994, the U.S. Agency for International Development will return in 2011 - but with a paltry $9.5 million budget to deal with problems caused for the Islands by a rise in sea level. We must increase our financial commitment to effect significant progress in confronting problems caused by climate change.
There is still a chance to refocus the U.N. on the democratic founding members’ original intent. The cabal has been able to win over to their side, by peer pressure or ethically challenged means, ambassadors of countries (some receiving millions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid) in the developing world friendly to the U.S. and lacking policy reasons for opposing U.S. positions.
Many times, the heads of government of these states have no idea how their U.N. representatives are voting. They need to be informed and told why such votes trouble the United States. A bipartisan group of U.S. congressmen has begun this task - one the State Department has difficulty undertaking because, as a matter of protocol, U.S. ambassadors do not usually reach out to heads of government.
It is still possible to return the U.N. to the principles spelled out in its charter. It starts with uniting those countries whose governmental leadership believe in the U.N.’s founding principles - even if their U.N. ambassadors do not.
James Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam and Gulf wars, writes often on national-security and defense issues.