The United Nations, that much-maligned and much-misunderstood
institution that has the potential to do much good for mankind, is
at a crossroads.
The United States, its most powerful member nation, can help
reform it and make it better. Or it can sink it.
Traditionally, most Americans have supported the UN, if for
nothing else than its enormous achievements in the fields of world
health, aid to children, feeding the hungry, and relief for millions
of refugees. A US withdrawal from the UN now, for which some of the
more extreme critics are calling, would clearly render it defunct.
It would also be immensely damaging to the US at a time when the
Bush administration is seeking to demonstrate its desire to work
with the international community.
True, the UN can be a place of maddening bureaucratic torpor, and
at times, as in the case of Iraq, of self-destructive political
impotence. Its current image is hardly helped by an unfolding saga
of corruption and managerial incompetence in the international oil-
for-food program that enabled Saddam Hussein to siphon off billions
of dollars for palaces and weaponry. Its embattled secretary-
general, Kofi Annan, has been called on to resign by a US Senator -
Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman.
In my time at the UN, Mr. Annan was the able and tough head of
its widespread peacekeeping forces. Though he has made some
injudicious remarks about the US role in Iraq, and has been
embarrassed by his son's ties to a company contracting with the UN,
Annan deserves a postponement of judgment until the "full disclosure
of the facts" about the oil scandal, which President Bush has called
for, is at hand. Though one other senior UN official is under
suspicion, the evidence so far points to officials in France and
Russia as the principal culprits.
This underlines what is often misunderstood about the UN, namely
that it is no more than an association of world nations, some of
which observe and practice its high-minded principles, some of which
do not. Some place self-interest above helping or policing others.
Some lie. Some shamelessly manipulate.
But the collective effort has generally been more constructive
than not in tackling humanitarian problems. As for war and peace,
the UN has deterred some states from going to war, and kept the
peace afterward between states that went to war and gave it up. From
most of this, the US has benefited. In international peacekeeping
operations, for instance, a multinational force saves billions of
dollars over a unilateral US operation. …