May 20, 2003

May 20, 2003 | Commentary on Middle East

Don't Involve the U.N.

The shameful looting of antiquities from Iraq's national museum in Baghdad has prompted international calls for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to oversee their recovery. The U.N., it is argued, should be entrusted with restoring the historic treasures.

Serious doubts, though, exist regarding the credibility of UNESCO. The U.S. boycotted the institution for 18 years - from 1984 to 2002. The jury is still out as to whether it has solved the problems that prompted the withdrawal, including rampant fiscal mismanagement, an overwhelming anti-Western bias and a radical social agenda.

We don't need a politicized bureaucracy such as UNESCO to solve the antiquities problem. A far better option would be a U.S.-British led international task force that draws together the world's leading experts from places such as the British Museum, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Yes, the United Nations has a role to play in postwar Iraq, but it should be a purely humanitarian one. An organization that failed to enforce no fewer than 17 resolutions calling for Iraqi disarmament lacks the moral standing to administer the country or to safeguard its cultural heritage.

Indeed, the Iraq issue has cast serious doubts on the U.N.'s credibility as a whole. The U.N. is slowly dying as a force on the world stage and will go the way of the League of Nations unless it is radically reformed and restructured. It failed spectacularly to defuse the growing threat posed by Saddam Hussein, and its influence likely will continue to wane. The U.N.'s charter has been sullied further by the fall from grace of the organization's Commission on Human Rights. Libya's chairmanship of the commission and the panel's courtship of nearly every brutal dictatorship from Sudan to North Korea are abhorrent spectacles that have shattered the U.N.'s reputation.

U.N. intervention in a post-Saddam Iraq would merely strengthen the hands of those nations, such as France and Russia, who opposed regime change in Baghdad and appeased the Iraqi dictatorship for decades.

As President Bush's father might say: This must not stand.

Nile Gardiner is a visiting fellow in Anglo-American security policy at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank.

About the Author

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Related Issues: Middle East

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