The UN

Nikita Khrushchev wrote in his incomparable memoirs that Soviet admirals, like admirals everywhere, loved battleships, because they could get piped aboard in great style amid the respectful hurrahs of their crews. It’s the same with the UN, now more than ever reduced to the servile function of after-sales service provider for the United States, on permanent call as the mop-up brigade. It would be a great step forward if several big Third World nations were soon to quit the United Nations, declaring that it has no political function beyond ratifying the world’s present distasteful political arrangements.

The trouble is that national political elites in pretty much every UN-member country–now 191 in all–yearn to live in high style for at least a few years and in some case for decades, on the Upper East side of Manhattan and to cut a dash in the General Assembly. They have a deep material stake in continuing membership, even though in the case of small, poor countries the prodigious outlays on a UN delegation could be far better used in some decent domestic application, funding orphanages or local crafts back home.

Barely a day goes by without some Democrat piously demanding “an increased role” for the UN in whatever misadventure for which the US requires political cover. Howard Dean has built his candidacy on clarion calls for the UN’s supposedly legitimizing assistance in Iraq. Despite the political history of the Nineties many leftists still have a tendency to invoke the UN as a countervailing power. When all other argument fails they fall back on the International Criminal Court, an outfit that should by all rights should have the same credibility as a beneficial institution as the World Bank or Interpol.

On the issue of the UN I can boast a record of matchless consistency. As a toddler I tried to bar my father’s exit from the nursery of our London flat when he told me he was leaving for several weeks to attend, as diplomatic correspondent of the Daily Worker, the founding conference of the UN in San Francisco. Despite my denunciation of all such absence-prompting conferences (and in my infancy there were many), he did go.

He wrote later in his autobiography, Crossing the Line, that “The journey of our special train across the Middle West was at times almost intolerably moving. Our heavily laden special had some sort of notice prominently displayed on its sides indicating it was taking people to the foundation meeting of the United Nations From towns and lonely villages all across the plains and prairies, people would come out to line the tracks, standing there with the flags still flying half-mast for Roosevelt on the buildings behind them, and their eyes fixed on this train with extraordinary intensity, as though it were part of the technical apparatus for the performance of a miracle.On several occasions I saw a man or woman solemnly touch the train, the way a person might touch a talisman.”

It was understandable that an organization aspiring to represent All Mankind and to espouse Peace should have excited fervent hopes in the wake of terrible war, but the fix was in from the start, as Peter Gowan reminds us in a spirited essay in the current New Left Review. The Rooseveltian vision was for an impotent General Assembly with decision-making authority vested in a Security Council without, in Gowan’s words, “the slightest claim to rest on any representative principle other than brute force”, and of course dominated by the United States and its vassals. FDR did see a cosmopolitan role for the UN; not so Truman and Acheson who followed Nelson Rockefeller’s body-blow to the nascent UN when, as assistant secretary of state for Latin American Affairs the latter brokered the Chapultepec Pact in Mexico City in 1945, formalizing US dominance in the region through the soon-to-be familiar regional military-security alliance set up by Dean Acheson in the next period.

These days the UN has the same restraining role on the world’s prime imperial power as did the Roman Senate in the fourth century AD, when there were still actual senators spending busy lives bustling from one cocktail party to another, intriguing to have their sons elected quaestor and so forth, deliberating with great self-importance and sending the Emperor pompous resolutions on the burning issues of the day.

For a modern evocation of what those senatorial resolutions must have been like, read the unanimous Security Council resolution on October 15 of this year, hailing the US-created “Governing Council of Iraq”, and trolling out UN-speak to the effect that the Security Council “welcomes the positive response of the international community to the establishment of the broadly representative council”; “supports the Governing Council’s efforts to mobilize the people of Iraq”; “requests that the United States on behalf of the multinational force report to the Security Council on the efforts and progress of this force”. Signed by France, Russia, China, UK, US, Germany, Spain, Bulgaria, Chile, Mexico, Guinea, Cameroon, Angola, Pakistan, Syria. As Gowan remarks, this brazen twaddle evokes “the seating of Pol Pot’s representatives in the UN for fourteen years after his regime was overthrown by the DRV”.

Another way of assaying the UN’s role in Iraq is to remember that it made a profit out of its own blockade and the consequent starvation of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi babies in the 1990s. As a fee for its part in administering the oil-for-food program, the UN helped itself to 2 per cent off the top.(On more than one account members of the UN-approved Governing Council, whose most conspicuous emblem is the bank-looter Ahmad Chalabi, are demanding a far heftier skim in the present looting of Iraq’s national assets.)

Two months before the October resolution, the US’s chosen instrument for selling the Governing Council, UN Special Envoy Vieira de Mello, was blown up in his office in Baghdad by persons with a realistic assessment of the function of the UN. Please, my friends, no more earnest calls for “a UN role”, at least not until the body is radically reconstituted along genuinely democratic lines. As for Iraq is concerned, all occupying forces should leave, with all contracts concerning Iraq’s national assets and resources written across the last nine months repudiated, declared null and void, illegal under international covenant.


More articles by:

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South