Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Purpose of the United Nations

After two devastating world wars, the nations of the world got together in San Francisco in 1945 to form the United Nations. The goal was to prevent further wars by pledging to resolve conflicts peaceably or, if that were not possible, to act collectively to reign in rogue nations. The fundamental idea was that no one nation could decide on its own to act as judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to making war. This applies especially to powerful nations whose self righteous attitudes often led them to believe that they could ignore the views of other nations.

The goals of the United Nations have not always been achieved. We have plenty of examples of nations acting unilaterally by going to war and many examples of groups of nations that ignored the United Nations. In spite of these examples, most nations still profess allegiance to the principles that led to the founding of the United nations.

Here's Chapter 1 of the Charter of the United Nations.
Article 1

The Purposes of the United Nations are:
  1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
  2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
  3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
  4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.
Article 2

The Organization and its Members, in pursuit of the Purposes stated in Article 1, shall act in accordance with the following Principles.
  1. The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.
  2. All Members, in order to ensure to all of them the rights and benefits resulting from membership, shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter.
  3. All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
  4. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
  5. All Members shall give the United Nations every assistance in any action it takes in accordance with the present Charter, and shall refrain from giving assistance to any state against which the United Nations is taking preventive or enforcement action.
  6. The Organization shall ensure that states which are not Members of the United Nations act in accordance with these Principles so far as may be necessary for the maintenance of international peace and security.
  7. Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.
Today we are dealing with the possibility that the most powerful nation in the world will attack a much weaker nation in spite of the opposition of many other nations, especially important permanent members of the Security Council. No peaceful resolutions are being explored and very few politicians in that powerful nation are expressing concern that they are ignoring the United Nations. All the rhetoric from that nation seems to be based on the idea that their leaders are judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to policing weaker, more vulnerable, nations. Most of those politicians do not see a problem with bombing another nation in order to punish it for a wrongdoing. Violence and war are viable options and, in this case, the first choice.

To those of us who live in other countries, that is not the kind of behavior one would like to see in the most powerful nation in the world.

I think it's about time that the United States of American quit the United Nations since it clearly has no intention of living up to its commitment to peaceful resolution of conflicts and collective action in cooperation with other nations.


25 comments :

  1. Shame on the political parties and the people bakcing them.

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  2. The problem is that the UN is unavoidably a political institution, whose members are at least as likely to act out of self-interest rather than on principle. Whether or not one feels Putin's use of his veto to block any military action is correct, I think it's difficult to argue that his decision is based on anything other than his own political goals. And if, for the sake of argument, the US's plans were morally justified, it would be a mistake to abandon them just because of the vote of a single nation.

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    1. A few countries (like the US and Russia) having the power of veto while 99% don't is already a nail in the coffin of what the UN stands for. Some good does come out of it but the whole thing is a joke.

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    2. lutesuite says,

      Whether or not one feels Putin's use of his veto to block any military action is correct, I think it's difficult to argue that his decision is based on anything other than his own political goals.

      That's always going to be a problem when you make a commitment to international co-operation. Russia and China would argue that the USA is only acting on its own political interest. Grownup nations have to learn to put their own interests aside for the sake of international peace.

      And if, for the sake of argument, the US's plans were morally justified, it would be a mistake to abandon them just because of the vote of a single nation.

      No, it would not be a mistake to abandon one's own perceived notions of moral superiority if you can't persuade others, even close allies like Great Britain, that your views are correct. That's the whole point of the United Nations.

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    3. @Pedro Pereira

      So, you agree that the USA is being hypocritical and should stop pretending that it is interested in the goals of the United Nations?

      I thought the Security Council and the veto power of the major nations were brilliant moves. The United Nations would never have happened without them. Now it's up to all the countries that signed the UN Charter to make it work.

      The USA is acting like a child bully for no good reason. Attacking Syria is not enough of an issue to risk destroying the United Nations and making almost every country in the world hate the USA (more than they already do).

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    4. @ Laurence A. Moran

      That's always going to be a problem when you make a commitment to international co-operation. Russia and China would argue that the USA is only acting on its own political interest. Grownup nations have to learn to put their own interests aside for the sake of international peace.

      Yes, it would be nice if the gov'ts of sovereign nations acted like grownups. Well, we can always dream.

      No, it would not be a mistake to abandon one's own perceived notions of moral superiority if you can't persuade others, even close allies like Great Britain, that your views are correct. That's the whole point of the United Nations.

      True, but that wasn't my point. Rather, it was that if it turned out that military intervention was the best solution to the problem of ending the bloodshed in Syria (and I'm not saying it is), then it would be foolish to forego this on the basis of a veto by a single member of the UN in the interest of preserving the integrity of the organization. In that circumstance, the UN would be shown to be counterproductive.

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    5. @Lawrence Moran:

      ""So, you agree that the USA is being hypocritical and should stop pretending that it is interested in the goals of the United Nations?""

      I agree that the US or any other nation will hapilly follow the principles of the UN AS LONG as they don't conflict with their own economic and political interests. If a conflict of interests arises then politics takes over, as usual, with the most pathetic excuses.


      ""I thought the Security Council and the veto power of the major nations were brilliant moves.""

      The power of veto was a brilliant move for those who have it.


      ""The USA is acting like a child bully for no good reason.""

      Totally agree, although they've been doing that for half a century already.


      PS:By the way, how do I change portions of the text to italics?

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    6. Like this: [i]italics[/i] -- but replace angle brackets with square ones. Likewise [b]bold[/b] and [a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperlink"]hyperlink[/a]

      If you change the brackets, you will get italics, bold and hyperlink. You may also combine them by embedding: bold italic hyperlink

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  3. No peaceful resolutions are being explored

    Excuse me, we've been exploring peaceful avenues ever since the civil war in Syria started 2 years ago. The problem is that the various factions fighting it out are only interested in victory, whatever that means.

    The problem here is that the American president shot off his big mouth about use of chemical weapons being a red line. Well, now it's, apparently, happened and it put up or shut up time.

    Let's be clear about this, there are no good options here. All possible actions, including doing nothing, are bad so we are left with trying to choose the least bad. So far, the number of dead now exceeds 110,000 with most likely an equal or greater number wounded, with in excess of 2 million persons displaced. And it's only going to get worse.

    The US and Israel have to share some responsibility here as they have tacitly supported the Assad kleptocracy in Syria for 40 years because Assad pere and Assad fils didn't make trouble on the Golan Highths.

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    1. One clarification, the use of lethal chemical weapons was already a red line long before Pres Obama said anything about it. Their use is against international law and the Geneva Conventions. The United Nations should be deciding what to do about the Assad regime's crimes, not the United States.

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  4. Gee, Prof. Moran agrees with the John Birch Society that the government should get the US out of the UN and the UN out of the US. Very fine company.

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  5. The majority of US citizens, including myself, are against US military intervention in Syria. However, some kind of random genetic drift seems to have fixed some very harmful ideas in the minds of many of our political leaders. The Iraq experience should have selected against those ideas, but bad ideas seem more resistant to natural selection than genes are. (Or perhaps I am not allowing enough time.)

    (It occurred to me in writing this that the scientific method itself is a form of evolution.)

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  6. If the UN were capable of doing its job, that would be great. What we really need is a peacekeeping (actually, peacemaking) force that would separate the combatants and impose negotiations. There is no possibility that will happen, given the presence of Russia and China in the security council. All other alternatives, and in fact all feasible alternatives, would be ineffective or with the potential to make things worse. (Failure to act fits in the latter category.) So what do you propose? What peaceful resolutions? How?

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    1. If I were the President of the United States I would have avoided drawing a line in the sand and putting the USA in the position of having to act alone to punish the Assad regime for possible violations of an international treaty against the use of chemical weapons. (Which, by the way, Syria didn't sign.)

      When it became apparent that chemical weapons might have been used I (as President) would have appealed to the UN General Assembly for a resolution against Syria. That resolution, if passed, could lead to a Security Council resolution on sanctions. Russia and China might vote for such a resolution but, if not, that's the end of the issue. It's not that important.

      Obama didn't listen to me and that's why he's in such a pickle. If he's lucky, Congress will deny him permission to bomb Syria and give him an excuse to save America from looking like a bully. Obama will look foolish but that's inevitable.

      What we really need is a peacekeeping (actually, peacemaking) force that would separate the combatants and impose negotiations.

      Civil wars are internal affairs. The United Nations has no mandate to get involved in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. Would the North have been happy if Great Britain and France had forced a settlement during the American civil war?

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    2. So your solution is apparently to do nothing. That's certainly something you could defend. But don't pretend that the UN could arrive at anything else.

      Your opinion, then, is that everyone was right to do nothing to stop the Rwandan genocide?

      Foreign intervention in the US civil war might have been a good idea, though probably impractical. And of course it would have had the unfortunate effect of leaving millions of Americans in slavery, so I'm thinking there are arguments against it that don't apply to Syria.

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    3. At the very least, when Obama drew that line in the sand, he should have had a very clear idea of how he would respond in the (quite likely) event that Assad crossed it. It appears Obama did not.

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    4. If I were the President of the United States I would have avoided drawing a line in the sand and putting the USA in the position of having to act alone to punish the Assad regime for possible violations of an international treaty against the use of chemical weapons.

      I agree here. Unfortunately, Obama didn't follow Prof. Moran's advice so we are where we are.

      Civil wars are internal affairs. The United Nations has no mandate to get involved in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. Would the North have been happy if Great Britain and France had forced a settlement during the American civil war?

      But there has already been intervention by outside parties. In particular, there are thousands of Hizbollah fighters from Lebanon that have firmed up the ranks of the Syrian Army. This is in addition to Iran supplying weapons and military advice to the Assad government. For that reason, the US Civil war is a poor precedent.

      By the way, it is interesting to note that Charles Darwin was one of the opponents of British intervention in the US Civil war because of his opposition to slavery. He and his influential inlaws, the Wedgewood family, probably had a non-trivial affect on the decision of the British Government to stay out of it.

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    5. John Harshman says,

      Your opinion, then, is that everyone was right to do nothing to stop the Rwandan genocide?

      John, we've known each other for a long time. You know full well that I would not condone the Rwandan genocide. In fact, this was a case were the United Nations was quite rightly involved in the attack on Rwanda and peacekeepers were in place. They were not given authorization or reinforcements to stop the massacre and this is a massive failing of the United Nations.

      Canadians are well-aware of this tragedy since it was a Canadian general, Roméo Dallaire, who was in charge of the UN mission.

      When I say that nations should not intervene in the internal affairs of other nations I mean that as a generality—not a strict rule that applies in every single case. I think you know that.

      Do you believe that the events in Syria are similar enough to the Rwandan genocide to merit unilateral (almost) intervention by the USA? Or are you just nitpicking?

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    6. I think an argument can be made that the events in Syria are similar enough to those in Rwanda to require action, and at least to defuse your argument about "internal affairs" and "sovereign nations". When a regime starts wholesale massacre of civilians, then yes, I think there's a good claim for intervention. There may be countervailing claims against intervention too, but you can't just dismiss the first.

      Now regarding unilateral intervention, it seems clear that if there is going to be any, that's the only sort that will be possible. Russia shows no signs that it will ever abandon its ally. There's clearly a downside to acting without international sanction. And one would have to weigh that against the downside to no action. And there appears to be no possibility of an effective middle ground.

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    7. I basically agree with John. I would like to add that, if the worst comes to the worst, the intervening force should really act rather than stand aside and watch. The Dutch soldiers who represented the UN Protection Force in Srebrenica during the Bosnian war did nothing to prevent the massacre of 8000 Bosnian civilians (the worst thing that has happened in Europe since WW II, now officially declared an act of genocide), because they were only "peacekeepers" and violent action was outside the scope of their mission.

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  7. What was your position during UN-approved Serbia bombing? You know, the one where "up to 500,000 Kosovar Albanians were missing and feared dead".

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    1. I'm very uncomfortable with the NATO bombing of Serbia. It was not approved by the United Nations Security Council.

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  8. I'm going to agree w/ Dr. Moran here, the US should simply quite the UN and the 'international system' altogether, there clearly isn't one. If there's no international response to national-socialists (that's politics of the Baath party) gassing civilians in large numbers---the _sin qua non_ for broad, forceful, international intervention---then there's simply no international system to speak of.

    The handwriting was basically on the wall with respect to this when the international system failed to do anything about Rwanda, and even members of the UN had to avoid using the word 'genocide', because that could trigger action. We were literally arguing semantics when it came to this supposed international system.

    "They were not given authorization or reinforcements to stop the massacre and this is a massive failing of the United Nations. "
    And the inability to do anything here is yet another massive failing of the UN. It seems to only fail massively when it comes to the prevention of military conflict and mass murder. It does very well with programs like the World Health Organization, and also fails, but perhaps not massively, when it comes to international development.
    We should definitely drop the pretense then that there's any international system when it comes to military conflict. The proof is in the pudding, it's over.


    LM: "That's the whole point of the United Nations."
    So, consensus for action, but not for inaction. But isn't inaction an actual action in these sorts of cases?
    Shouldn't the bulk of criticism here be on Russia and Iran for supporting Assad's regime? Wouldn't any political solution at least involve Russia agreeing to an arms embargo? IF Russia had any commitment to the international system, wouldn't they at least offer than /now/, as a concession to the US to avoid war? But they don't, b/c it should be obvious that there's no real international system, it was always a figment. At best things like the convention against chemical weapons was an agreement between western european powers to not use them against each other.

    "I thought the Security Council and the veto power of the major nations were brilliant moves. The United Nations would never have happened without them. "
    But it's a joke. The Security Council is paralyzed by design and by default. It can't actually do anything. Why even have it, why not just have a General Assembly and recognize it as having nothign to do with international law and human rights, but instead as a formal structure for international debate and consensus?

    "Civil wars are internal affairs. The United Nations has no mandate to get involved in the internal affairs of sovereign nations."
    Does it /really/ matter that one of the actors here, the alawite lead militias of the Assad family, managed to take over most of the mandate of Syria-Lebanon? Does that quirk of international developmental-history really matter (likesay, comparing cancer, within-the-organism, to a between-organisms cold?)
    And if it does make all the difference, what about the Syrian State bombing supporters of their rebels in Lebanon? Doesn't that elevate the conflict to the international level? Or are you saying there can only be intervention if Syria used chemical weapons in, say, Lebanon?

    This is very much an international problem, and the system of alliances that are working around it is looking very much like europe, pre WWI. It should be obvious that we're headed to huge regional conflict here, one that will absolutely, and is right now, drawing in the "World Powers". And once again not only is the international system incapable of doing seemingly anything about it, but the systems most ardent supports don't seem to think it should be able to do anything about it.

    We're constantly left with the international system being something that only exists in hindsight.

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  9. LM
    "Would the North have been happy if Great Britain and France had forced a settlement during the American civil war?"
    Might've actually been a bit better off eh? Heck the Brits & French might've not tolerated jim crow laws and the like quite so much. Leaving it as an internal matter resulted in militias like the KKK too.
    But, of course, your main point has to be taken, intervention is usually seen as illegitimate by the people being intervened against.


    Pedro Pereira; re:veto power.
    The original idea behind the UN Sec Council didn't include veto power. The US wanted the Soviet Union to participate in the council, and the Soviets insisted on a veto, FWIW.

    "I agree that the US or any other nation will hapilly follow the principles of the UN AS LONG as they don't conflict with their own economic and political interests."

    This is silly, this is basically saying 'we're committed to not being committed to our UN commitments.'.

    John Harshmann:
    "Now regarding unilateral intervention, it seems clear that if there is going to be any, that's the only sort that will be possible."

    Which, ridiculously of course, is the entire argument behind american exceptionalism and of an uni-polar american world/hegemony. That's where the UN/International System has /actually/ left us, the only alternative to mass murder ends up being "Team America". It's stunning.

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