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UN -- bigger, bolder, less corrupt?
Alex Steffen, 7 Dec 04

The NYT editorializes on how to fix the UN, and why it's important to do so:

"Without a robust U.N., there would be no effective international brake on nuclear weapons proliferation, no globally coordinated fight against AIDS, no worldwide advocate for the development needs of the world's poor and no authoritative body for restoring hope to failed, rogue and occupied states. The same United Nations that Washington too readily brushed aside in invading Iraq now represents a crucial component of any short-term American exit strategy from the deepening Iraqi quagmire.

"The most widely discussed proposals in last week's report concern expanding the Security Council, whose permanent membership reflects the power relations of 1945, not 2004. The U.N. can only gain in authority and relevance by adding newly important countries from the developed and the developing world. But it must do so carefully, paying more heed to the internationalist credentials of new members than to the flawed formulas of population, G.D.P. and regional balance that left us with Libya and Sudan as members of the Commission on Human Rights. "

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fareed zakaria:

and the FT too:

Destroying the UN
December 4 2004 02:00

The witch-hunt against Kofi Annan and the United Nations over the Iraq oil-for-food scandal is, quite simply, a scandal all on its own. The leaders of this lynch mob in the US Congress and the rightwing commentariat are not gunning for Mr Annan so much as aiming to destroy the UN as an institution. That would be a disaster - for all of us, including, especially, the US.

It is hard to know whether those conducting this campaign are being deliberately mendacious, or whether they cannot add up or understand which bits of what institutions policed the sanctions against Saddam Hussein.

True, the oil-for-food regime presented genuine moral dilemmas about unpleasant policy alternatives in dealing with the Iraqi dictatorship. Furthermore, any sanctions policy against any country offers rich pickings to those with the skills to circumvent it. But let us look at the facts.

First, the oil-for-food policy was devised and run by the member states of the UN Security Council, not by the UN Secretariat. All of the roughly 36,000 contracts were approved by a Security Council committee dominated by the US and the UK. Of these, about 5,000 were held up. But objections were entirely about imports to Iraq that might have offered Baghdad dual-use technology with which to reconstitute its weapons programmes. There was not one objection about oil-pricing scams, although UN officials brought these to the attention of the committee on no fewer than 70 occasions.

Second, the "headline" figure touted by a Senate sub-committee of a $21bn (£11bn) leakage from the scheme - transmogrified by editorialists into "US taxpayers' dollars" - is fantasy, albeit a damaging one. This covers smuggled oil and, even though oil-for-food only started in 1996, Iraqi shipments to Jordan and Turkey from 1991 sanctioned by waivers voted by Congress.

Forgotten in this intellectually dishonest campaign is the fact that sanctions worked: Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. And that oil-for-food mitigated their effect on the Iraqi people: malnutrition was halved, whereas since last year's invasion of Iraq it has almost doubled.

If the independent inquiry headed by Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, finds any UN official complicit in Iraq's roughly $4.4bn oil price skimming, then that person should have his diplomatic immunity lifted and be prosecuted. But there is nothing here to be laid at the door of Mr Annan, even though the lobbying activities of his son Kojo, who was still receiving severance payments from a company seeking Iraq's trade after oil-for-food started, will have hurt him.

President George W. Bush should also reflect on just how much the US needs the UN, not just in Iraq but in dealing with potential crises such as Iran, and on just how much more dysfunctional the world could become if the UN went the way of the League of Nations between the two world wars. We know that that way lies chaos.

Posted by: glory on 7 Dec 04

The problem with the UN is the same one with most of our institutions. It has the wrong topology. What's needed is an agressive effort to discover, codify & apply the math of networks & self organization to political, economic & social systems. Once we've done that we'll have the right tools to let us decide what the best topology is for that sort of system & how to build & maintain it.

Look what we did in a decade with OS design, computer security & crypto. This isn't much more complicated than any of those, & we have a head start in having much better systems to work with. We just need to get enough people interested & working on it.


Posted by: Tim Keller on 7 Dec 04

Here's a much better idea, in my opinion, written by James Ruhland at

Democratic Commonwealth

Posted by: Jason Holliston on 7 Dec 04

It is encouraging that there is enough political will to get this far in the reform process. I think a security council larger then the present is needed for an honest, equal United Nations. Though it definitely shouldn't be merely less then twofold.

Ever nation who wishes should be seated there. How can the United Nations seriously be considered a forum for international trust and cooperation when there is a two tier caste?

Also being discussed is the strengthening of the U.N.'s breath and reach. Personally in the current situation we have seen strong regional alliances develop and an important part for NGO's. Wouldn't a stronger U.N. weaken these other institutions by their abscence?

Posted by: Michael Mosher on 8 Dec 04



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