Reforming The UN And Other Sisyphean Tasks

Philip Gourevitch has a trenchent and sober piece on the future of the UN in The New Yorker. What he finds is that reform must be more than skin-deep:

The air of corruption that clouds the United Nations these days cannot simply be fanned away by forcing the resignation of Kofi Annan as Secretary-General, as a growing number of prominent Republicans have been urging. Their pretext is the accumulating allegations of complicity of U.N. officials in scams that transformed the oil-for-food program in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq into a racketeering enterprise whose single greatest beneficiary—to the tune of twenty billion dollars—was the tyrant himself. Last week, Annan was obliged to admit that his son Kojo had “disappointed” him by taking payments from a Swiss firm that the U.N. had hired to monitor Iraq’s imports while under U.N. sanctions. And the Secretary-General has also been called on to answer complaints of widespread sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in the field and accusations from the U.N. employees’ union of a lackadaisical attitude toward sexual harassment by U.N. officials.

The problems with the UN go beyond just Annan’s complicity in the Oil-For-Food scandal, and beyond that scandal itself. The problems with UN is that it has utterly failed to live up to its own mandate. It is not an objective enforcer of international law, it’s become the Debating Club for Tyrants. Meanwhile, places like Rwanda and the Sudan suffer staggering human losses, and the UN cannot find the time to act between rounds of bashing Israel and the United States.

Reforming the UN would be a reform that started from the ground up and would essentially involve reforming the organization anew. Sadly, no one, not even President Bush has the political will or patience to do so, which is why the UN will remain a horrible failure of an organization.

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