It’s time the United States considers quitting the United Nations. In the past, only the right-wing fringe argued for pulling out of the U.N., which, after all, was created in 1945, not only with the United States’ blessing, but largely at our urging.
In the nearly 58 years since, the U.N. has had, at best, a mixed role in preventing and resolving conflict. More often it has served as a debating society, whose member states were as likely to ignore as to adhere to the very covenants, declarations and resolutions they voted to adopt.
I say this as someone who has observed the workings of the United Nations firsthand. From 1992-1996, I served as the U.S. expert to the U.N. human rights subcommission, a position to which the U.N. human rights commission elected me. Each August for four years, I traveled to Geneva to participate as a voting member of the subcommission, whose role it was to hear testimony concerning human rights violations around the world.
Though we rarely were able to reach consensus about grotesque violations in countries such as China or Cuba, my fellow subcommission members had no trouble condemning the United States for its alleged transgressions, especially our supposed racism. Among the 18 subcommission members, only the British, Ukrainian and Belgian representatives were stalwart friends. Even the Belgian representative reflected his personal rather than his government's views, which he was entitled to do since each of us was supposed to act as “independent” experts. The French delegate was viscerally hostile to anything American; the Norwegian was sanctimonious; the Latin Americans were usually cowardly; the Africans, East Europeans and Arabs, frequently duplicitous.
Nothing about the recent U.N. back-stabbing over Iraq has surprised me. The real question is why we put up with it. What exactly has the United Nations accomplished in recent years that we could not have done on our own? The Gulf War, though sanctioned by the U.N., was almost entirely an American effort, with the usual help from the Brits and a handful of other nations. The U.N. has failed miserably in preventing horrific mass murder in Rwanda, the Balkans and Cambodia. It has been totally ineffective in promoting peace in the Middle East, engaging in vicious slurs against Israel while coddling thugs like Yasser Arafat. It has been unable to prevent terrorism anywhere.
Meanwhile, the United States is expected to bear a ridiculous share of the cost of operating the United Nations. The U.N. assesses dues based on the member country's relative share of the world's economy. Since the U.S. economy represents about a quarter of the world's economy, we're expected to pay 25 percent of the costs of running the bloated, frequently corrupt U.N. bureaucracy. We're also expected to share an even greater burden of the U.N. peacekeeping budget. The United States' failure to pay its full dues we've been as much as a half billion dollars behind in recent years causes much consternation among elite opinion leaders here and abroad.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal last week, American Enterprise Institute scholar Joshua Muravchik argued that France's veto threat actually rescued the United States from a serious blunder, namely creating “a presumption that Security Council approval is the necessary prerequisite for the use of American force abroad,” which he claimed “would have posed incalculable dangers to world peace in the long term.”
Muravchik is right. The best way to be sure that we are never tempted to do so in the future would be to withdraw our support altogether. If we are not prepared to do that, we could at least continue to withhold payments, give our excellent U.N. ambassador John Negroponte a new job befitting his talents, and downgrade our representation and participation in this feckless institution. Pretending that the United Nations is worthy of our unqualified support is not in our nation's best interest.