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Handing Iraq Over to the UN By: George Kerevan
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, April 16, 2003

THE first time I ever went to the Big Apple, one of the top things on my list of things to see, alongside the Statue of Liberty and the Guggenheim Museum, was the graceful tower of the United Nations building. It was designed by the American architect Wallace K Harrison and has mosaics by the folksy American painter Norman Rockwell. But long gone are the days when any American would associate the UN with the homespun, patriotic values of Rockwell. These days, the UN is put in the same category as Area 51 - an alien flying saucer base on US soil.

Yet paranoia and conspiracy theories aside, what is the future of the UN after the Second Gulf War? And should it play a role in administering Iraq? Most people in Britain probably think the jaw-jaw of the UN is a good thing and its presence in Iraq preferable to American military government. But whatever side you take on the war, the failure of the Security Council system in this instance demands we at least consider the need to reform the UN. Besides, the track record of the UN in actually running countries is woefully bad in practice.

The UN has a vast bureaucracy, like the European Union. It has either inherited or invented a plethora of international agencies for dealing with refugees, health, human rights and so forth. These are subject to management by the 191 member states in the UN General Assembly. Precisely because the UN is a consensual organisation, every country has to have a say and get its staff on the agency payrolls. Perks are good and there are no taxes. Corruption is rife. Imagine if, after God caused the construction team of the Tower of Babel to speak different languages, they perversely decided to keep on building and you’ll get the general idea.

Consider Kosovo - which is in Europe, in case you’d forgotten. Four years ago, and without a UN resolution (which Russia had threatened to veto), NATO bombed Serbia to stop ethnic cleansing of the local Albanians in Kosovo. Afterwards, it was put under UN administration. How has it fared?

Disastrously, according to the respected Kosovar journalist, Beqe Cufaj. Writing on 23 March, he summed up the situation: "This morning, when Berlin announced that the UN secretary general and the Security Council have tasked Germany and its government with compiling an urgent plan for humanitarian aid to post-war Iraq, a Kosovar could not help but shudder ... Because if the Iraqi people have to undergo anything like what we have in Kosovo, God help them."

In Kosovo, after four years of UN administration, the economy is still in ruins and there are daily power cuts. Just in case you are tempted to blame the electricity problems on the bombing, Kosovo’s power plants were undamaged by NATO. The Kosovars blame the chaotic state of their power system on the UN. According to UN sources, some $9 billion has been spent on reconstructing Kosovo. But endemic poor accounting by the UN meant that a lot of this cash was embezzled. At the end of this month, the former chairman of the Kosovo Energy Corporation’s advisory board, a 36-year-old German named Joseph Trutschler, will go on trial charged with embezzling $4.3 million. God knows why, since he was paid a staggering $500,000 for his more official services.

UN involvement in Haiti in the Caribbean was even more useless. In 1994, for the first and only time in its history, the UN Security Council voted to overthrow an anti-democratic government after a coup deposed the elected president. So much for the doctrine of national sovereignty being defended by the opponents of regime change in Iraq. In September 1994, the US troops were directed by President Clinton to invade Haiti.

Afterwards, the US troops withdrew in favour of a UN peacekeeping force. But the anti-Western UN civil service was deeply unhappy about having been put in charge of running a Third World country, even if it was a recognised basket case. The UN mission in Haiti was headed by a former Algerian foreign minister, Lakhdar Brahimi. At least he spoke French, which could not be said of the 1,000 soldiers from Bangladesh who went to maintain order. Ultimately, the UN shrugged its shoulders and withdrew, and everything returned to the hell that passes for normal in that part of the world.

Then let’s not forget Rwanda, where nearly a million Tutsi people were slaughtered in 1994 in ethnic violence when the UN "peacekeeping force" was pulled out at the beginning of the bloodshed after ten Belgian troops had been killed. God forbid that UN peacekeepers actually do any fighting. The UN also failed miserably in running Cambodia, where it organised elections and then let the losing party blackmail its way into the government.

All of which suggests that turning the administration of Iraq over to the UN is a bad idea. Better to create municipal democracy as fast as possible and give locals some personal interest in reform through land distribution and privatising the economy to Iraqis. Rather than corrupt UN aid, America and Britain should set up local banks and lend cheaply to local businesses. Next, get a constituent assembly elected and tell them power will be handed over when they have written a constitution and had it accepted by popular referendum.

What about reforming the UN proper? Professionalising and de-politicising its agency workers is one thing. But how do you create a forum whose members have enough in common (beyond realpolitik) to provide the consensual diplomacy that is clearly missing at the moment?

The American writer Mark Steyn argues that the UN bureaucracy is itself a barrier to such global consensus making - "Multilateral institutions like the UN seem to have more to do with the Congress of Vienna than with the modern world, a hangover from the pre-democratic age when contact between nations was limited to the potentates’ emissaries. That’s why it so appeals to both the Euro-statists and the dictators."

Steyn thinks that in the era of the internet, instant financial transfers and cheap holidays abroad, the bloated trans-national bureaucracies such as the UN are, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, an obstruction to better global relations.

Another post-UN concept that has taken root in America since 11 September is the so-called Anglosphere, promoted by commentators such as James Bennett. This prioritises formal relations between the English-speaking democracies which have a consensus-making common culture and history. However, such an Anglosphere hardly requires a joint secretariat.

Besides, we want an international order based on the rule of law, genuine respect for human rights, and democracy - and I’d prefer if that applied to the non-English-speaking world as well.

The current UN is the only global forum we’ve got. The challenge is to achieve some degree of reform from within. One route is to democratise the UN by giving the remaining non-democratic members the choice of becoming democratic or facing suspension. Only the absence of a democratic China makes that a difficult proposition.

But that won’t be too long. Then the alien flying saucers will be forced to flee.

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