In recent years, the United Nations has often gone out of its way to avoid getting involved in the world's trouble spots. It ignored genocide in Darfur. Pulled out of Iraq in 2003. Done nothing to stem Iran's nuclear ambitions. Can an organization this compromised do much to improve things?
Well, the world body is about to welcome a new leader -- South Korea's Ban Ki-Moon, who takes over at the end of this month from Secretary-General Kofi Annan. A change at the top usually prompts renewed optimism, so we need to encourage Ban to fundamentally reform the organization. After all, an effective United Nations is in everyone's interest.
We all aspire to be free and to live peaceful, productive and abundant lives. And totalitarianism, terrorism and genocide threaten us all. The free world must unite to defeat rogue regimes, terrorist networks and state sponsors of ethnic cleansing.
However, the U.N. isn't meeting these challenges.
Instead of reaffirming "fundamental human rights," the United Nations shelters the worst human-rights abusers. Faced with rape, pillage and nearly 200,000 deaths in Darfur, for example, the Security Council hasn't acted to stop the violence.
Part of the reason the U.N. fails is that it has 192 member countries, and more than half repress their people to some extent -- politically, economically or both. The U.N. naturally mirrors the community it represents.
So while we push for an ideal U.N., we must work with what we have -- a body that won't in the foreseeable future advance the cause of liberty -- and focus on what it can do well and what it cannot.
The World Health Organization, for one, does good work. We need a body like that to prevent and control the spread of major threats to human health. Additionally, U.N. peacekeepers have helped protect people in troubled areas such as El Salvador, East Timor (after a slow start) and Angola. But we should remember the United Nations is a peacekeeper, not a peacemaker.
Because the U.N. so often fails, freedom-loving democracies often need to act in defense of their own strategic interests. To make that easier, we should form a respectable body of nations with clean human-rights records outside the formal U.N. structure to attack major human-rights violations.
It should set objective and tough standards for membership, including adherence to the rule of law, democratic elections and a clear commitment to upholding the dignity of human beings. Some may label this merely a Western club that excludes abusers from the table. But for now, that seems the only way to promote our principles of human rights and to avoid giving countries that abuse those rights legitimacy.
The world also needs a Global Free Trade Alliance. Any country willing to open up to trade and investment and maintain a secure rule of law with low levels of regulation could join. This would strengthen the world's economy, promote peace and security, and act as an example of the power of free societies working and trading together.
Finally, the countries that fund the U.N. must demand a solid return on their investment.
The top 10 contributors to the United Nations pay 80 percent of its budget, while 128 countries combined contribute less than 1 percent. We shouldn't be ashamed to use this leverage, since those opposed to reform aren't ashamed to press their numerical advantage in votes to stop it. When the United States withheld parts of its contribution in the 1980s and '90s, the U.N. engaged in real reform.
The secretariats and agencies at the United Nations are riddled with scandal and corruption. Kofi Annan couldn't, or wouldn't, make the necessary changes. The new leader must -- if he wants to make the U.N. relevant in the 21st century.
First appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times