Thursday, April 21, 2005

UN reform, post 3: Existing reports on UN reform

How does any of this comport with the recently issued reports on UN reform offered by the High Level Panel and by the Secretary General? The answer is simple - both those reports are deeply and irremediably flawed. They are nonstarters not only from the standpoint of US interests (and the interests of other great powers – China has unequivocally rejected them) but from the standpoint of US values.

The High Level Panel Report. The High Level Panel report is noteworthy for five positions (discussed earlier in this blog here and here and here).

The first is its linking of security and development. It is essentially hortatory and need not detain us.

The second is the assertion of the nearly exclusive authority of the Security Council to authorize the use of force, save in very narrow circumstances. It needs little discussion that this is and should be a nonstarter for the United States. It essentially rejects US positions on the war in Iraq (and Kosovo, for that matter) and would unacceptably tie the hands of the United States to the judgments of China and Russia, among others, on the use of force in nearly all circumstances. Brent Scowcroft, a member of the Panel, should be deeply embarrassed, given all of his supposed American-interest realism.

The third is its call for reform and expansion of the Security Council. There is merit in some of these proposals, although the idea that yet a third Western European state, Germany, would join the SC as a permanent member – bringing no significant military assets to the table and bringing instead its useless 'functional pacifism' – is unfathomable. All these proposals founder, in any case, on China’s declared unwillingness to entertain them. These proposals are likely to draw nearly endless attention from policy analysts and academics, and yet not go anywhere.

The fourth is its call to reform the UN Human Rights Commission. These ideas again have tactical merit – although a better strategic idea would be to get rid of the Commission altogether and take over its functions outside the formal UN structure, through something like a caucus of the democracies.

The fifth is its attempt to define terrorism (I have discussed this issue at length elsewhere and also here and here in this blog). The definition is acceptable – as far as it goes. It defines terrorism as acts against civilians, with certain other conditions. (The Secretary General’s report, see below, accepts this language and is highly commendable for its willingness to apply it to suicide bombers attacking Israelis.) It also accepts the separately defined acts of terrorism in already existing treaties and conventions.

What it does not cover – what makes it cripplingly incomplete from the standpoint of the United States, or any democratic sovereign facing terrorism – is that this civilian-limited definition of terrorism does not cover what the United States indubitably regards as terrorist attacks against military targets. For example, the HLP’s definition of terrorism would not cover an IRA attack against a British military target, nor would it encompass civilian collateral damage ensuing from such an attack. Similarly, it would not cover the terrorist attack against the USS Cole, for the reason that in order to rule out an attack against what, in war, would be a legitimate military target, you must have some criterion for determining who is legitimately able to make war and who, if not, is a terrorist. The US can grant the virtue of the report’s definition, but only as a partial definition. There is currently no indication that the US government sees a problem in this definition, and this is a considerable danger for US anti-terrorism policy.

The Secretary General’s report. The SG’s call for reform essentially adopts the HLP’s views and recommendations, with one fundamental addition (see my earlier post, here, as well as the comments by Wretchard at the Belmont Club, from which I have drawn substantially for my views). The SG’s report treats the role of the UN as the essential go-between in a proposed grand bargain between the wealthy world’s desire for security from terrorism and the developing world’s desire for development. The UN is proposed to act as the mechanism, and the means is essentially income transfer from north to south. Hence the sharp emphasis in the report on reviving the so-called “0.7%” of GDP for official foreign aid – as much as possible of it to move through UN bodies.

It is not overstating matters by much to describe this grand bargain between rich and poor as a kind of hostage stand-off – give us money or you’ll have terrorists, with the UN serving as the transfer agent, for a fee. It is, beneath the anodyne language of the bureaucrat bolstered by the supposedly bold and imaginative language of a bureaucrat under siege, an astonishing extension of the vision of the UN. It needs to be rejected out of hand, of course, as a nonstarter.

The specific causal connection between the world’s poorest people and terrorism is questionable – Afghanistan is a special case, and what is far more representative of terrorism is not its connection to absolute poverty, but instead to incomplete modernization, whether unintegrated middle class Muslim youth in Western Europe or the moral disaster that is Saudi Arabia. Islamic terrorism is about ideology, and the SG is merely engaged in a special version of poverty related “root causes” of terrorism argument.

As for the 0.7% solution, income transfer has been discredited for decades as a solution to poverty – what is needed is improvements in governance to provide the basis for private investments that provide jobs and private incomes to the world’s poorest people and, above all, reform of agricultural and textile protectionism by the rich world. There is an important role for serious, costly investments in public infrastructure in poor nations – in health, education, and so on – and it might cost less than 0.7% and it might cost more. What is not needed is income transfer for its own sake, income transfer through what has alas been proved to be the UN’s rake-off machine, and income transfer marketed as a means to buy off would-be terrorists.

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