Monday, November 21, 2005

Michael Glennon on UN reform, High level panel report, and just war theory

I believe I have flagged this Policy Review article by Michael Glennon, Tufts University, before. Idealism at the UN, Policy Review, February-March 2005.

There are several reasons why this article is important. One is that it addresses squarely the question of differing ideals, as well as differing national interests, in how states and, particularly, members of the Security Council, view what warrants the use of military force. States really do differ in their idealisms about the use of force. The failure of the High Level Panel report, and by extension efforts at UN reform, to recognize those differences and instead elide them under a spurious idea that there is a shared vision and legitimacy, is one of the many things that, as Glennon says, self-marginalizes current efforts at UN reform.

Glennon locates this discussion of legitimacy and the use of force in a skeptical examination of the just war paradigm which, as he notes, plainly informed the criteria which the High Level Panel put forth for the use of force. Glennon's skepticism focuses on the Western Christian nature of that doctrine - it is not universally accepted by any means, even in its secular version - but especially in the assumption that there is a sufficient consensus on what constitutes just cause in war. He notes acerbically that Augustine himself, in the City of God, did not think the question of what constituted the just cause more than the failure of "impious" men to see the truth - and notes that the section on just war in Augustine is followed by an approving chapter on the "persecution of heretics." Idealism is easy if we all have the same ideals and they all reduce to the same course of action. But of course we don't see things all the same way in matters of justice, Augustine aside (Glennon might have referenced Lincoln's agonized irony on this matter in the Second Inaugural Address).

Well, reform at the UN is going nowhere, at least at the level of issues that this article, and the High Level Panel, address - Security Council reform and the use of force. Those issues are clearly off the table, as well they should be, since, in the absence of any of the unity of ideals that reform would presuppose, there is nothing much to discuss or do. But UN reform also appears to be stalled at well below those levels of lofty ideals and abstraction, to judge by the current General Assembly session, which is tasked in the Final Outcome document from September with many important matters. Isn't it time to treat the central bodies of the UN - the General Assembly, the Security Council, etc., as simply talking shops? Give up on any kind of reform other than the question of auditing to defend against outright embezzlement, abolish institutions that are inherently about questions of values and therefore, in a UN system, inherently capturable by the bad guys, such as the UN Human Rights Commission, and keep the UN out of areas in which it can only do great mischief, such as regulation of the Internet?

Glennon's article is worth reading for its just war theory discussion as well as for its UN reform discussion.

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