Saturday, April 23, 2005

UN reform and US policy; the next SG; and John Bolton

A few final thoughts re UN reform (and thanks to Peggy at Opinio Juris for the kind mention).

The reality is that systematic UN reform is extraordinarily unlikely.

As to security issues and the Security Council, those ideas are dead-on-arrival; the most that might happen are cosmetic changes.

As to issues of poverty reduction, economic development, migration, infectious disease, and so on - well, there are more possibilities here for actual change. Not systematic changes, but possibly technocratic changes to make these functions modestly more efficient.

The focus of change at the UN will likely occur in the jockeying and jostling for the next SG. Annan may set something of the agenda, but he and his crew, with the exception of Mark Malloch Brown - a functionary who somehow always rises no matter what disasters happen around him - are a spent force. The expectations around the next SG are likely to set the tone for what happens next at the UN. If those expectations are that the SG is a "world leader" - a celebrity in the way that Annan turned himself into a celebrity - then it is likely that no reform of any consequence is on the table. Expectations of a "world leader" type-SG, looking for adulation from international NGOs (even when they criticize and carp in the fashion of the loyal opposition) and from Western European states-turned-NGOs, will mean even less in the post-Annan UN than they do now. Annan's standard-operating-procedure - swagger like a powerful world leader before adoring audiences, then humbly announce that you are no more than a servant of the sovereign states of the UN when things go wrong - has worn a bit thin. A new SG in Annan's mold will be likely to try it, but it will not bring about any UN reform.

A better type of SG would be one who, consistent with the analysis I've laid out below, understands that the task of reform is to trim expectations and missions and visions. Glory in being a technocrat, and create a technocratic institution. That means that you can't deal with world peace, except insofar as the great powers let you - but if you abandon those kind of pretensions, and work on the competence, fiscal rectitude, and technical skills part, you can have great power and influence in improving the lives of countless people across the globe.

The best person to press this agenda on behalf of the United States is John Bolton. The US does not need a diplomat at the UN at this moment, it needs someone who cuts to the chase. We are not at a moment in which papering over the differences in vision is a useful thing - it merely prolongs the inevitable death and makes the cost of genuine reform higher down the road. I am not the Bolton brand of realist - but I take it, and him, intellectually very seriously, and I recommend his 1997-98 essay on realism and Burke in the National Interest, here (thanks RCP).

The borking of Bolton is a disgrace. (The inimitable Mark Steyn captures my views nicely, here.)

(Update, Saturday, April 23, 2005: I completely forgot to add what I originally started out to say, which is that the fundamental question in all this for the US is what policy to adopt in case, as is likely, that deep UN reform goes nowhere. The question, really, for the United States, is not so much would should UN reform look like as what the US response should be if there is no serious prospect of UN reform. It's a more important and more difficult question. About which I am still thinking.)

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