Can Havel Save The UN?

Glenn Reynolds has an interesting op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on getting rid of Kofi Annan and replacing him with Vaclav Havel:

Things have gotten bad enough that some are calling for Mr. Annan’s resignation, amid talk of former Czech President Vaclav Havel as successor. (“Havel for Secretary General” bumper stickers are on the Web.) But however you assess Mr. Havel’s chances of becoming secretary general, for Mr. Annan the comparison is devastating. Mr. Havel, after all, is a hero on behalf of freedom: A man who helped bring about the end of communist dominance in Eastern Europe, despite imprisonment and the threat of death — a man who could write that “Evil must be confronted in its womb and, if it can’t be done otherwise, then it has to be dealt with by the use of force.” Mr. Annan, by contrast, is a trimmer and temporizer who has stood up for tyrants far more than he has stood up to them.

If the comparison is damning to Kofi, it’s even more damning to the U.N. Mr. Havel once wrote Czech dictator Gustav Husak, “So far, you . . . have chosen . . . the path of inner decay for the sake of outward appearances . . . of deepening the spiritual and moral crisis of our society, and ceaselessly degrading human dignity, for the puny sake of protecting your own power.” One might say the same of the U.N. bureaucracy.

Havel probably wouldn’t take the job, partially for health reasons, but partially because the problem with the UN goes beyond its Secretary General. The problems with the UN are endemic and stem from the culture of bureaucratic entitlement and moral self-superiority that has grown over the decades. The UN gives the same amount of legitimacy to Syria, a state that is a major exporter of terrorism, as it does to India, the world’s largest democracy. Fundamentally, that approach doesn’t work. When a country like the Sudan is given the chance to sit on a human rights council, it shows how utterly asinine the whole system has become. It’s like letting Adolf Eichmann sit on a council on anti-Semitism.

The only way that the UN can ever regain any moral legitimacy on the international stage is to virtually start from scratch. Not all countries are equal. A country that has an unelected monarch is not morally equivalent to a democracy — nor should they be treated as such. Decisions on human rights and international law should not be made by those nations which treat both with contempt.

Furthermore, the UN should be held to absolute standards of accountability and transparency. The UN”s finances are utterly inscrutable, which is how Saddam Hussein ended up with $21 billion in stolen humanitarian aid while UN bureaucrats made out like bandits on the massive level of corruption. Currently there is absolutely no accountability to anyone on behalf of the UN, which is a perfect recipe for corruption and outright theft. If the UN’s books were opened, it would make Enron look like nothing — but again the UN is allowed to operate without even a hint of independent oversight.

Even with someone with the moral vision of Vaclav Havel at the helm, the UN may already be too far gone to be saved.

One thought on “Can Havel Save The UN?

  1. Though I’m a strident liberal internationalist, I must agree with your critiques. The UN needs reform or rebirth badly. Unfortunately the US doesn’t seem to be up to the task of international legal reform, and the EU doesn’t have the power for it.

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