Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.

The Real Problem with United Nations Corruption  | e-mail post

President Bush has called for a full and open investigation into the United Nations' administration of the Iraq Oil-for-Food program, although he didn't go as far as Norm Coleman in asking for Annan's resignation. Actually, I think Bush was fairly diplomatic about it all things considered. [Reuters via Yahoo]

I'm not sure if he was just being diplomatic when he said: "In order for the taxpayers of the United States to feel comfortable about supporting the United Nations, there has to be an open accounting," or if he really believes that is the big issue. Certainly U.S. support for the U.N. has always been a bugaboo for many on the right.

I personally feel this is less about the financial support and more about whether a potentially corrupt institution can claim any moral authority in encouraging or restraining nations to act in the foreign policy arena. Put another way, the complaint baseball team owners would have about umpires being paid off by the Yankees (only for sake of example) is not that they were also contributing to the umpires' salaries. The complaint would be that the umpires would at that point lack the moral authority to referee a game.

The fact is that the U.N. is largely dominated by members of cultures that have shown a tendency to be extremely prone to (even petty) financial corruption. This alone is troubling. Most troubling is the potential of such graft influencing the voice of an organization that claims to represent global interests.

However, the most severe damage U.N. corruption causes is not that it makes pronouncements that are influenced by graft, but that it diminishes the moral authority of any decision it makes. Being called "out" by an umpire who is learned to be in the pocket of the other team destroys the moral credibility of the call, even if the call was right. In the same way, a corrupted U.N. is too easy to disregard even in those cases when it is right. In a unipolar world, with the U.S. as the superpower, it is important that there is a body that is repected and whose decision-making process and moral authority is unquestionably legitimate.

A corrupt U.N. deprives the U.S. of a genuine check on the moral rightness of our actions on the global stage. This is something from which we could ideally benefit, whether it reigns in or vindicates our actions, or simply forces us to have a more meaningful dialogue among ourselves about those actions we take in defiance of the world community.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Thursday, December 02, 2004
I agree with everything you say here about the UN. What an impotent enity it has become. When I was a kid I always thought the UN could save the world. Now that I've grown up-I see it for it really is. Keep up the good work/writing here!
I agree that ideally, a U.N. could help us gain some credibility, and be a check on us morally. I think most people would agree, though, that the U.S. Can Not Catch a Break in that august body. Everything we do is wrong, according to them.

At this point, I wonder if the U.N. is salvagable. Maybe we'd be better off building a new organization altogether.
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