A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Is the UN Useless?

As I watch world events unfold of late, particularly in Lebanon and Iran, a question that I have had in the past has resurfaced once again? Is the United Nations useless? So that I am not misunderstood, let me state that I am not one of those individuals who favors kicking the UN out of New York and withholding tax dollars, nor do I think that it is the task of the United Nations simply to kowtow to the wishes of the United States; but I have to confess that I have come to the conclusion that the world body has become quite irrelevant when it comes to dealing with matters of significance. Consider the following:

First, regardless of what one thinks of the war in Iraq, whether or not it was a good idea to invade and if so, whether or not the occupation has been competently handled, it must be acknowledged that the UN failed miserably to enforce its seventeen resolutions prior to the war insisting that Iraq divest itself of chemical weapons, nor seek to manufacture them. Every time Saddam Hussein failed to demonstrate that he met the requirements of the world body, the UN’s response was simply to pass another resolution. It is reminiscent of the playground where the boy tells the bully if he crosses the line in the dirt, he is going to let him have it. When he crosses that line, he draws another line farther back, issuing the same threat. When that line is crossed he continues drawing his lines while talking big. Had the United Nations shown the willpower and enforced its resolutions, the question of whether or not to invade Iraq may have never even surfaced. It looks as if the UN is continuing the same inept approach with Iran, issuing another resolution giving them another month to halt its plans for uranium enrichment. Tehran’s response: the resolution is irrelevant.

Second, historically the nations of the world have been willing to follow the pronouncements of the UN only when it suits their interests. Take France, Germany, and Russia who undermined the embargo against Iraq, and, of course, the United States who refused to acknowledge the United Nations position in reference to its covert operations in Nicaragua during the 1980s. How effective is a body whose allegiances are adhered to only when it suits its members?

Third, part of the significance of a military force is its ability to strike fear in the hearts of those persons it threatens. How respectable are the peacekeeping forces of the UN? One is hard-pressed to find examples of where UN forces have been effective in keeping the peace. They have been stationed in Lebanon for thirty years, and we are now witnessing the results of the ineffectiveness of their presence.

Fourth, the corruption at the United Nations is so widespread that it raises the question of the moral integrity of the institution. I am well aware of the fact that corruption exists in government; it would be quite a surprise if there were no shenanigans going on at all anywhere. Nevertheless, the corruption of the United Nations seems to have permeated many levels of the world body, including stories of bribery, rape, kidnapping, sex slavery, and human trafficking perpetrated by its members (e.g. Nairobi in the seventies and eighties and currently in Sudan). The Oil for Food scandal was not simply perpetrated by a few people nor was it a fluke of the organization. Moreover, corruption continues because there is a complete lack of accountability. I won’t even go into how a country like Libya can be a member of the UN’s Human Rights Commission.

Fifth, how unified can a body be whose members have such different political philosophies and agendas? (e.g. the USA is clearly pro-Israel, other countries are clearly not.) It has been said that the UN is a pluralistic body. Pluralism is the diversity of beliefs around an essential core of unity. There is no doubt that the United Nations is diverse, but what unifies it? Without unity a group cannot be pluralistic, only fragmented. I recently read a definition of the United Nations as an idealistic concept, but a dysfunctional reality.

Having said all of this, I am not yet ready to give up on the United Nations, but what I think we need to do is to scale down our expectations of what the world body is able to do. It has also been said that all politics is local. Perhaps that is not only true for congressional districts in Kansas, but also for provinces in Iraq and territories in Australia. From the space shuttle it may not be possible to see geo-political boundaries, but when planted on terra firma, those boundaries clearly matter. How the Church that lives by the conviction that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female (Galatians 3:28), works this out in its mission to the world is a complex matter, and a subject for another day.


Ted M. Gossard said...


I wish there were more knowledgeable people than myself reading this post. You have brought up some excellent points here. And neither am I an enthusiast of the UN.

I find it interesting that nearly all the Christians I know are strong conservative Republicans, who more than less believe the UN is a total waste and should not exist. And that it is even antithetical by nature to God's kingdom, likened to the nations that rise up against the LORD and against his anointed one in Psalm 2. I can't exactly agree with them on that, though it seems nations will unite in an unholy, end times alliance.

I think I'm with you on this. We have to lessen our expectations, realizing the limitations inherent in such a body as this. Politics is big, and what is a "demon" to one is an "angel" to another.

I suppose they have unifying principles in the UN charter. But, again, it is limited in its effect because they are not really united (different goals that can be at odds).

I do think that there may be value in the UN by simply getting things out on the table, and talking them through. It becomes apparent who is saying what. And the differences that exist. As well as those states that choose to isolate themselves.

I'm more of one to think that governments at odds can say one thing, but quietly say something more pragmatic to others in private discussions. I think having people together in this agency, in spite of all the difficulties and failures along the way, is probably better than just dissolving the UN. Hopefully discussions and some good will can take place, that otherwise would not occur.

Sorry for this lengthy response.

Allan R. Bevere said...


There is no need to apologize for a very eloquent response.

It seems that you and I are very much of the same mind on this subject.