September 24, 2003

September 24, 2003 | WebMemo on International Organizations

President Bush's Wake-Up Call to the United Nations

President Bush's major address yesterday to the United Nations General Assembly in New York was a powerful wake-up call for an organization that is in danger of becoming irrelevant on the world stage.

The President's speech projected clarity, vision and direction, three qualities sorely lacking in a UN organization that looks more like a glorified debating society than a serious global body designed to confront the world's growing threats and problems.

Restructure the UN
It was both a passionate defence of US policy on Iraq, as well as a clarion call for the UN to address the rising double threat posed by international terrorism and rogue states developing weapons of mass destruction.

President Bush also urged the UN to "act decisively to meet the humanitarian crises of our time", from fighting the AIDS epidemic to combating famine and human trafficking. The UN's credibility in recent months has been gravely damaged by the fall from grace of the organization's Commission on Human Rights, which notably failed to voice any concern over the plight of the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein. Libya's chairmanship of the Commission and its courtship of practically every brutal dictatorship from Sudan to North Korea, has gravely damaged the UN's reputation.

Unsurprisingly, the latest polls show that 60 percent of Americans believe the United Nations is doing a "poor job". It is an organisation already existing on life support. If it is to avoid going the way of its predecessor, the League of Nations, it must undergo radical restructuring, including revision of its Charter, reform of its major Commissions, and the streamlining of its bloated bureaucracy.

Terror Networks and Rogue States
President Bush warned of "the deadly combination of outlaw regimes, terror networks, and weapons of mass murder" and called on the nations of the world to "have the wisdom and the will to stop grave threats before they arrive." While avoiding making direct reference to North Korea, Iran and Syria, three states developing weapons of mass destruction, there were echoes of the 'Axis of Evil' speech in 2002 that served notice to rogue states that the US will not tolerate outlaw regimes that threaten international security.

The Security Council should support the President's call for the UN to adopt a new anti-proliferation resolution designed to criminalize the spread of WMD if it wishes to be seen as a credible force for security on the world stage. Indeed, the relevance of the UN in the coming months will be sorely tested by its willingness to deal with the growing crises over nuclear weapons production by Pyongyang and Tehran.

Defense of Iraq Policy
In his address, the President passionately defended the decision of the United States, Great Britain and key allies to remove Saddam Hussein from power and to embark upon the rebuilding of the Iraqi nation from the ashes of tyranny. The credibility of the United Nations was largely shattered by the Security Council's failure to address the Iraqi threat.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair displayed outstanding world leadership at a time when the United Nations demonstrated a lack of moral fortitude and a blatant unwillingness to enforce no less than 17 resolutions calling for Iraqi disarmament. There is little doubt that the appeasement of the brutal Iraqi dictatorship by members of the UN Security Council will go down in history as one of the most shameful episodes of the early 21st Century.

The President was right in his speech not to make any major concessions to nations such as France that opposed the liberation of the Iraqi people, and which have insisted on UN control of post-war Iraq. The French, suffering from delusions of grandeur concerning their position on the world stage, are keen both to undermine US policy in Iraq while at the same time enhance their own interests in the country. A UN-run post-war administration would merely serve as a Trojan horse for European nations opposed to regime change, enabling them to stake their economic and strategic claims in Iraq

President Chirac's call for the almost immediate handover of power to the Iraqis was both mischievous and irresponsible, and should be dismissed. It should of course be a key goal of the Bush Administration to hand over power to a new Iraqi government following free elections as soon as it is feasible to do so. However, the US and Britain must first ensure that the foundations are laid for a secure and prosperous Iraq, free of the threat of terrorism and tyranny.

Negotiating a New UN Resolution on Iraq
In his address to the United Nations, President Bush successfully struck a delicate balance between maintaining US control in Iraq and offering the UN greater involvement in shaping the future of the Iraqi people. The President called on the UN to assist in the writing of a new Iraqi constitution, the training of civil servants and the supervision of future elections.

However, in its negotiations for a new United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq, the Bush Administration must reject any resolution that dilutes the political and military powers of the Anglo-US administration of the country. While the United States should welcome greater involvement by the UN in humanitarian relief operations in Iraq as well as post-war reconstruction, Washington should oppose giving the UN a lead role in administering the Iraqi nation.

The United Nations should continue to play a subordinate role in post-war Iraq, with the United States and Great Britain taking the lead in administering the Iraqi transition government. The US and UK must be able to ensure that their key aims in Iraq are successfully carried out without UN interference.

UN Influence Diminishing
President Bush's speech to the General Assembly will undoubtedly fuel a further bout of soul searching at the United Nations, almost a year after he warned that the UN could be doomed to irrelevance. The United Nations continues to slowly decline as a force on the world stage, and will go the same way as the League of Nations unless it is radically reformed and restructured.

The UN failed spectacularly to deal with Saddam Hussein, and its influence is likely to diminish further in the coming years unless it demonstrates a greater willingness to address the threat posed by international terrorism, state-sponsors of terror, and rogue regimes developing weapons of mass destruction.

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at the Heritage Foundation

About the Author

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