By Megan Moore
‘A sad day for this council, a sad day for all Syrians, and a sad day for democracy,’ is how the French Ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, has described the failure of the UN Security Council to pass a resolution condemning Bashar al-Assad’s inhuman and repressive treatment of the people of Syria.
It is hard to fault him: at a time when the suffering of the Syrian people fills our newspapers and television bulletins – the stark factual evidence being the only thing that stops this brutality being literally unimaginable - it is immensely hard to justify the vacillations of the Security Council, or the caveats with which Russia and China, whose vetos scuppered the draft resolution, dilute their criticism. But Saturday’s outcome, though morally outrageous, can be be met by seasoned observers of the UN merely with resigned despair – and is confirmation of my view that the UN is, as it stands, currently the world’s worst organisation.
Some of you may be objecting at this point. Some of you may think I’m being facetious. But the UN is an organisation with such eye-wateringly virtuous stated aims that their conclusive and spectacular failure to facilitate anything that looks even remotely like world peace merits – in my opinion – some form of recognition. And I like to think I have quite a convincing case.
The UN is, after all, the organisation that last year thought it would be a good idea to elect the Islamic Republic of Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women, a body dedicated to upholding and advancing gender equality and the rights of women globally. Presumably the ‘advancement’ the Commission had in mind was the kind where women aren’t battered to death for allegedly committing adultery, apropos Sakineh Mohammedi Ashtiani, just hanged instead. The UN has also seen fit to place China on its Committee on Information, which must have set Weibo alight with discussion.
Of course no organisation is perfect, and surely one that has taken on such a high-risk and vital role will occasionally slip up. But the United Nations has been so frequently and egregiously on the wrong side of history that it raises certain suspicions, and on closer inspection it would appear that its failings stem from inherent flaws.
The UN’s commitment to democracy and fairness, as set out in its Charter, becomes idealistic to the point of suicide when it insists on accommodating regimes which are anything but fair or democratic. This means that men – criminals, in the eyes of many – such as as Yasser Arafat, Idi Amin, or our late friend Muammar Gadafi, to name but three of the distinguished statesmen who have graced the floor of the General Assembly – can have unwarranted influence on internationally-binding resolutions.
A certain amount of moral relativism is needed to sustain such a situation: deadly in an organisation which attempts to promote the moral absolutes of universal human rights. Being rendered fundamentally unable, for the sake of appeasing its member states, to make basic ethical distinctions – such as that between a terrorist organisation and a nation state – has led to a rabid obsession with Israel’s purportedly stained human rights record, described by Hillary Clinton as a ‘structural bias’, and a flagrant indulgence of the enemies of peace.
It also means, in effect, that liberal democracies such as France and Britain are outsourcing their moral authority in foreign affairs to autocracies. For my part, I don’t believe a war just simply because Hu Jintao and Vladimir Putin have voted to deem it so; this is a purely legalistic approach, and the UN’s sluggish response to the crises in Libya and more recently in Syria has highlighted just how painfully inept it inevitably proves.
Like many of the supranational structures established after 1945, the United Nations has an institutional prejudice against nation-states which does not serve it well in the post-Cold War era: it sees them as there to be controlled, rather than enabled and encouraged. Lost in a quagmire of compromise between its members, it takes refuge in the vague rhetoric of ‘rights’ and ‘progress’ while dodging the need to take a coherent moral stance on anything.
The League of Nations failed to prevent a world war; the best legacy its modern incarnation can hope for is not to have started one.