November 5, 2003

November 5, 2003 | Commentary on Education

Recreating the United Nations

The United Nations rose from the ashes of World War II, when the leaders of the victorious allies agreed to work together to prevent another full-scale war. They founded an organization aimed at maintaining security in a Cold War world.

But now the world has been shaken again, and the world body must decide if it's willing to reform to fight the new global war-the war on terrorism. If it won't change, it will be nothing more than a toothless debating society.

Consider Iraq. Over more than a decade, the United Nations passed 17 resolutions demanding Saddam Hussein disarm. He ignored the resolutions and instead exported terror to Israel-paying blood money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. The U.N. responded by admitting its impotence. It pulled its weapons inspectors out of Iraq in 1998.

But when the Bush administration vowed to take action against states that support terrorism, Iraq was in the crosshairs. The president tried to work through the U.N. He went so far as to get Resolution 1441 passed, giving Iraq "a final opportunity"-as if it should have needed one-"to comply with its disarmament obligations."

When Saddam remained belligerent, the U.S. led a coalition into Iraq to remove Saddam and enforce the long-ignored U.N. resolutions.

Instead of showing gratitude that some U.N. members finally had acted to enforce its resolutions, Secretary General Kofi Annan complained that President Bush had violated Article 51 of the U.N. charter, which allows members to use force only in self-defense.

But in the wake of Sept. 11, it's clear countries can't wait until they're attacked before they act. Terrorists won't give fair warning, and they won't declare war. They just attack, wherever and whenever they get the chance. The U.N. charter should be re-written to allow members to take pre-emptive action. It also should be changed to acknowledge that member states have the right to use force when their vital interests are threatened.

The United Nations also risks becoming a debating society because the countries that pay next to nothing have the same power as the countries that contribute the most. The United States, for example, provides 22 percent of the U.N.'s general operating budget. By contrast, France, Great Britain, China and Russia combined contribute less than 15 percent. However, as members of the Security Council, each of those nations enjoys veto power over the U.S.

Not every country can pay the same amount. But the United States should insist on a more equitable distribution of funding among members of the Security Council. Non-Council members should pay more as well. It's not fair that the current U.N. system allows nations that barely contribute to the world body to, in effect, jeopardize the security and safety of those who contribute the most.

Finally, the U.N. needs to start taking its job as international human rights watchdog seriously. In 2001, the United States was removed from the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. We're back on now. But today, Libya chairs the commission.

That's right, Libya. It's run by a dictator, suppresses domestic opposition and tortures prisoners, so it's hardly a poster child for human rights. But Muammar Qadhafi probably feels right at home, since other repressive regimes such as Syria, Cuba and Zimbabwe also are on the commission.

It's time for the UNCHR to crack down on human rights abusers. If it won't, the United States should threaten to withdraw from the commission and stop providing funding for it.

The United Nations still can play a key role in the world, by supporting democracy and providing a forum for the airing of human rights abuses. But it must make some difficult choices. The world changed on Sept. 11, 2001. It's time for the U.N. to change, as well.

 

Ed Feulner is the president of The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office