Carroll Andrew Morse has an interesting piece that explains the UN as being the world’s largest trade association:
Despite the focus on Annan, most people realize that problems with the UN run deeper than any single individual. The UN is plagued by both systemic corruption and a fundamental structural flaw; it makes no distinctions between governments which represent their people and governments which use the instruments of state power to repress and exploit their people. But the real problem with the UN is even deeper. The real problem is that democratic governments have joined non-democratic governments in a forum whose primary goal is the expansion of government authority.
The United Nations is the pre-eminent trade association for people involved in the business of government power. Actually, it is more focused than that. The United Nations is the trade association for the world’s executive branches — the place where executive branches come together to promote their individual interests to one another, and to promote the expansion of executive authority in general. This point is often missed by UN critics who dismiss the organization as nothing more than the world’s greatest debating society. These critics confuse being voluntary with being powerless. Organizations like The American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, the International Tobacco Growers’ Association are all voluntary — but certainly not powerless.
Once it is understood that the United Nations is a trade association for the promotion of executive authority, its behavior becomes almost rational. The trade association extends professional courtesy to its members — its cardinal rule is not to step on the toes of another executive. Saddam Hussein violated this rule by invading Kuwait and displacing another executive. Hussein paid for this mistake; the UN stepped in to enforce discipline amongst its members.
This explanation seems quite rational and helps to explain some of the aspects of the UN – however, at the same time it also must be noted that the UN is like a trade association that can never be shut down and whose executives cannot be removed. If a major figure in the AMA was caught sexually harrassing other workers the chances of them escaping with what amounts to a slap on the wrist would be slim to none. If a trade association head were caught in a scandal of the magnitude of the Oil for Food scandal they’d either be looking for a job or looking at a prison cell for a very long time.
But the UN is a different animal. It’s been divorced from anything resembling accountability for so long that the concept is entirely alien to them. When you can steal billions of dollar in humanitarian aid and make sure to get your cut knowing that even if you’re caught you have diplomatic immunity and will almost certainly never face justice even a saint would be tempted. The typical bureaucrat at the UN is hardly a saint.
The only cure for the UN’s problems is a system of complete and total reforms that includes absolute standards of transparency. International corporations are subjected to infinitely more scrutiny than the United Nations – at the very least the UN should be held to the same standard as a business like Microsoft.
Of course, since the UN is politically untouchable, no reform will ever get through. Unless someone is willing to hold the UN’s feet to the fire and demand the substantive changes that would prevent scandals like the Oil for Food debacle from ever happening again, the UN will continue to be a trade organization that represents the interests of dictators and kleptocrats worldwide.