What's wrong with a US relation with the UN?

I live just a couple blocks from the Minnesota state capitol building. Over this past summer there was a small, but consistent, group of people protesting the UN. About 5 or 6 people every weekend it seemed would be there rain or shine with large flages of the UN with that red circle crossed out on it.

I’ve done a perfunctory search for anti-UN websites to maybe glean some information about the strong feeling to get out an protest against the UN, but didn’t come up with much. A Michigan Militia website, a Cafe Press selection to buy things from, and this left leaning news article from Wisconsin’s progressive newspaper which states:

From what I can gather, the desire for complete US Hegemony over any global accountability is the goal. Or is it the fear that foreign countries would rule US Policy?

(I know I’m starting a debate here without a firm position to defend or assert, but I’m trying to understand the rationale in this perceived US Hegemony vs UN Cooperation debate that seems to be out there.)

You will want to check the John Birch Society webpage for info about that.

In the current thread about whether or not there’s a cultural war being fought on the battlefield of this year’s Prez election, I said that (generalizing here, of course) the “red state mentality” perceives the United States as threatened and at risk on all sides from all other nations — the truly evil ones want to take us out, conquer us, destroy us; the merely moderately evil ones want to con us into dumping our resources into the UN while condemning us in public and spending those resources on causes and campaigns that are not in our best interests. The contrasting “blue state mentality” perceives the United States as a nation possessing great power and with great power comes great responsibility — we can deal with the rest of the world as an imperial power, using force to impose our will as need be and ignoring them otherwise, or we can work towards building the UN into a more inclusive and democratic system, backing it with our power as need be to bring the entire world’s official power to bear on openly aggressive states, and refraining from giving the world due cause to fear our power.

The folks you saw would be of the former world-view. They see the UN as a threat. They see all of the world that is not the United States as somewhat of a threat, in fact. (And it does not apparently occur to them that in the behaviors they support and encourage, e.g. the policies and practices of the George Bush administration, they cause the US to be perceived as a threat by the rest of the world, and with good reason).

Weeeeelll, it’s not that simple. You seem to be starting with the assumption that the UN is always right and benevolent and wise and the US is being uppity and short-sighted when it opposes it. The UN is guilty of great hypocrises, short-sightedness, double standards, blindness to developing situations that the US is champing at the bit to help with, etc. Speaking as a New Yorker, too, they park as carelessly as cops and the poorest and most repressive countries always seem to send us their useless, highly-connected bureaucrats to live it up here in Manhattan while giving speeches about the decadence of the West :wink:

In other words, it’s like any other human institution. In an outdated, frankly rather ugly, and increasingly decrepit bunch of buildings at the end of M42 line. Filled with noble people who want to save lives and do good and freeloaders from Third World backwaters who keep biting the hands that literally feed them, knowing that it’s impolite for them to be swatted down, being ignored by those of us who have heard it all a zillion times before.

My Dad was born in ‘36 and has watched the UN since its inception–he’s seen it do noble and stupid things, react and not react, constantly condemn Israel and America while leaving Saddam and his ilk free to rule, saving babies in Ethiopa but not the Sudan, putting such nations as Libya on human rights councils, etc. etc. He likes the idea but sees the execution as so flawed he sees no need to give it any more credence than any other political group out there. I hold it in a little more esteem than he does but I don’t share this reverence that so many people, esp. Europeans and Asians, seem to have for the big glass building o’ bureaucrats and bickering on the East River.

It’s probably great to be the rep from Iran or someplace and get to stand up and berate the US, the UK, etc. etc. But you’ll have to understand than some Americans and Brits, who are not necessarily paranoid or concerned about the UN taking over the world (they can’t even take care of their landscaping, and their building needs a new HVAC system pronto!) don’t take them as Great Hope of the World.

The only thing “wrong” with the United Nations is that it encourages the United states (and other countries) to try and reach consensus with the rest of the world. This gets the conservative nutjobs’ panties in a bunch, because they like to nurse the juvenile idea that nobody gets to the the US of A what to do. (Insert your favorite macho posturing stereotype here)

Of course, for those of us in the real world, we realize that cooperation and consensus-building gets a lot more accomplished than just being a bull-headed jerk. But in the nutjobs’ view, what works on the individual level inexplicably fails to work on an international one…

You know, if that’s going to be a defense of the UN, it’s not going to win friends and influence people either. Yep, all of my Jewish friends who have never been able to forget such charming classic resolutions as “Zionism is Racism!” from our childhoods and who now live on the Upper West Side raising money for Kerry are just “conservative nutjobs” for not taking it seriously. Gotcha.

Nuance, people. You don’t have to be a conservative or a liberal to think that the UN has its virtues and its problems and all of those should be taken into account when you think about it.

That’s the ONLY thing wrong with it? It’s perfect in every other sense? Is that your assertion? I want to make sure before I attempt to refute it.

Perfect? No. But it’s not “wrong,” either.

It’s a human institution. And like other human institutions, there are times and areas where it’s working great, and times and areas where it needs improving. But to focus solely on the problems and declare the whole thing a loss (as the nutjobs like to do) is dangerously short-sighted. Remember, whatever you may think of the rest of the world, you still have to share a planet with them…

I like the concept of the U.N. as a place where nations can come together to iron out their differences or to figure out ways to tackle mutual problems. I do not respect the U.N. as a force for spreading human rights and I find it laughable that anyone would think they’re poised to take over the United States let alone a fruit stand.

The U.N. has its uses and through that organization some good things can be acomplished. On the other hand if we can’t get what we want through the UN we’ll find another way to get it.


Just an observation - I don’t see that AHunter3 made any such assumption at all.

Granted. But I did sense that he thinks opposition to the UN was the province solely of people who believe “that the world outside the US is a threat”, etc.

There’s a difference between A) criticizing some of the things the U.N. does and B) agitating for the abolition of the U.N. or for U.S. withdrawal from the U.N. because it’s “evil.” I believe the OP and others are referring to the latter.

Aha. OK, I didn’t know he was talking solely about extremists. It doesn’t seem quite what the OP was looking for, though. “Yes, there’s people who are opposed to the entire concept of the UN but they’re all crazy right-wingers who can be ignored.” “Oh”. End of debate. I think what he was looking for was the reasoning behind America’s often rocky relationship with the UN, which is what I was trying to supply.

The US practically wrote the UN CHarter to which it is a signatory. It is one thing to argue about the best way to bring about compliance with that Charter by every one of its signatories - such vigorous and earnest debate is what the UN is for.

It is quite another thing to don one’s aluminium headgear and advocate withdrawing from the UN Charter on the basis of they’re-all-out-to-get-us paranoia.

And note that if the most powerful signaory ignores the Charter it helped to write, the “irrelevance of the UN” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Well, the majority of the countries in the world, and therefore in the UN, are not democracies in as the US knows it. Its obvious anti-Israel bias is just one way in which it differs from the opinions of the US. Therefore, the US should not have to ask the UN’s permission to take actions that it deems necessary. Its current stance - appreciating the UN’s past humanitarian efforts while reserving the right to multilateral action - is just fine.

Note that the UN isn’t doing all that much about the genocide in Sudan; the US has to take the rhetorical lead, at least.

Not nothing, but the promised peacekeeping funds are still slow in coming.

I actually have many problems with the UN — probably many that overlap the people carrying “US out of UN” signs!

But I attribute most of those problems to underlying causes such as:
• powerlessness = irrelevance = misuse as a pulpit for making inflammatory statements. also due to relative irrelevance, positions handed out like bonbon candies to undeserving elements, then not taken seriously by their own nations.

•insufficiently democratic --> insufficently appealing to the nations that go on to cause many of the problems the UN is then blamed for not solving.

• redundant parallelism, i.e., treaty orgs and other international orgs. dilutes the impetus to fix what’s wrong with it, dilutes its effectiveness, dilutes its authority
I would happily permit the US government to raise my tax burden by 50% (and that of other citizens accordingly) to fund a 25-year initiative to make the UN powerful, relevant, democratic, and very very well-lobbied (along with the domestic populations of all of its member-nations) for promotion of principles and ideals we hold important. That, and not the current “Were the baddest-ass mutherfuckers on the planet so the rest of you earthlings do as the US says or will Iraquify you” approach, is how you make America (and the world) safe from terrorism and safe for democracy and yadda-proverbial-yadda.

What AHunter said.

I think it’s ironic that the UN-bashers have switched from portraying it as being too powerful and a threat to the US to being too weak. It’s also ironic that, given all the US-based UN-bashing, a lot of Arabs and other Third-worlders see the UN as a tool of the US.

Yes, there are a lot things seriously wrong with the UN. One flaw is the fact that each nation-state gets one vote in the General Assembly, no matter how small. Most countries are poor former colonies so they’ve got axes to grind. The UNGA is like a “global senate” and to that–to wildly fantasize–I would add a “global house of representatives” with proportional representation. The beauty part is that only democracies would be able to send delegates, them being elected directly within their districts, circumventing their national governments.

Lets put the UN in another perspective:

  • Wilson wanted something like the UN, FDR practically is the father of the UN

  • Without dialogue or consensus things get nasty fast (Cold war might have)

  • A non-american would prefer a consensus built by the USA or the UN ? Guess… after Bush I doubt someone would trust the Oval Office more than a UN based action.

  • Legitimacy is the key word. If you get things through the UN it gives it a veneer of legitimacy and makes people accept your actions more. Politically it allows enemies to work together

  • Its like the US Senate… not that useful… unless you want to avoid excessive power in the hands of few.

  • The UN by including undemocratic nations helps to change these countries politically. Countries change policies or establish human rights in order to be more in line with world views.

    The UN has been way more useful to the US than the other way around… and its one of the few ways of counter balancing US hegemony. Which can be good. If people don’t fear the US they won’t spend as much money in military advancements or resort to getting nukes or “assymetrical warfare”.

I think your choice of words is revealing: “accountability” to whom and why?

Just powers are derived from the consent of the governed. I didn’t vote for Kofi Annan; my elected leaders did, but most of the UN membership is not elected.

Which is not to say that the UN is useless or worthless; but it not a higher authority than any national government, and hence national governments are not, strictly speaking, “accountable” to it. They may bend themselves to meet UN demands, but that is a fundamentally political move, not a ceding of soverignty.