The entire world this week turned its gaze towards the United Nations, where U.N. chief arms inspector Hans Blix delivered his preliminary report Monday on Saddam Hussein's grievous failure to disclose any information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs.
The experience of being led around by the nose by wily Iraqi security services must have been particularly aggravating, for the normally stoic Mr. Blix took a rather sharper tone than most observers had expected. "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it," Mr. Blix wrote. "And which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace."
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has previously been among the more dovish Bush administration members, very aptly accused Iraq of continuing "to defy the will of the United Nations," and British Defense Secretary Jack Straw — bless his heart — called the Iraqi performance a "charade." Meanwhile, the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Russia, China and France, demanded that the inspectors be given more time. Talk about a charade.
Those who have suspected that the U.N. system is badly broken will find plenty of evidence for it in the current impasse over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. As things stand now, many countries are ironically pointing accusing fingers at the U.S. government, which actually bent over backwards to include the international community, a.k.a. the United Nations, in the efforts to disarm one of the maddest and most dangerous dictators the Middle East has ever seen.
But when it comes to the United Nations, there is no end to the absurdities of the system. As readers of the column in this space last Wednesday will recall, Libya is now proudly ensconced in the chairmanship of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. The U.S. government launched a valiant but futile protest against this terrible travesty, but ultimately the slowly churning wheels of the United Nation's rotating chairmanship structure brought up Libya as the representative of the Africa Group.
Despite the fact that the Bush administration demanded a secret ballot in Geneva to block Muammar Gadhafi's new status as a champion of human rights, in the end, 33 countries out of 53 endorsed Libya's elevation within the committee. He will be ensconced in this honored position for the next year. It was a sad day for the United Nations and surely for human rights as well.
The column asked whether a more absurd candidate could have been found, and posited the possibility that, yes, a choice of Iraq would have been worse. Now, this was thrown out only in jest, of course. But just as one thought the United Nations had reached the outer limits of folly, the human imagination is again beggared by reality.
Guess who will take the presidency the U.N. Conference on Disarmament later this year? None other than Iraq. In fact, for the period of May 12 to June 27, Iraq will share this responsibility with Iran, another member of the "axis of evil," and also another of the world's worst arms proliferators. This amazing fact was dug up by Art Moore of NewsNetDaily.com, who is to be congratulated on this important find.
As a U.N. spokesman told Mr. Moore, "All the members at some point sit briefly as the chair of its work. And that includes countries that are party to disarmament treaties and those that aren't." That means, Iraq, too, or what may be left of it by then.
According to the United Nation's own press release on the opening of the 2003 session of the Conference on Disarmament — billed on its Web site as "the world's sole multilateral forum for disarmament negotiations" — "The presidency of the Conference rotates amongst its member States according to English alphabetical order; each President holds office for four working weeks." This year, it seems, is the year the I's came into their own: starting with India, the conference will also be chaired by Indonesia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Ireland and Israel.
Hasn't it occurred to anyone that not all countries are equal when it comes to disarmament, human rights, rule of law or any of the other causes that the United Nations was supposedly created to promote? Apparently not. One of the deep flaws of the U.N. system is that every country in the world, dictatorship or democracy, are treated equally — with the exception of the five permanent members of the Security Council. Slavish observance of rotation rules supreme because each country fears that if the order is upset, they may jeopardize their own coveted and prestigious turn in the leadership.
In fact, there could be only one reason in the world for Iraq to head a conference on disarmament — that it takes a thief to catch a thief.
Helle Dale is deputy director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.