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Incentives at the United Nations

Two stories in today’s Times caught my eye:

Ireland abortion laws breach human rights, rules UN

Saudi ‘threat of fatwa made UN change child deaths report’

18 comments to Incentives at the United Nations

  • Not so much the threat of a fatwa as the threat of removing funding from the UN.

    This is one of the fundamental problems of bodies like the UN, it ignores the simple fact that “He who pays the piper calls the tune” and when it is a government as corrupt and abusive as Saudi Arabia then it is a no brainer.

    The only way to prevent this sort of thing is to have minimum standards especially on democracy and human rights before a member country could join the UN.

  • Lee Moore

    I don’t think “he who pays the piper calls the tune” applies to the UN.

    On the Security Council, the five permanent members paid a total of $5,547m last year. Each gets one vote (inc one veto.) One of the five, however, paid more than the other four put together.

    Meanwhile in the General Assembly, half the members paid less than $1 million. While the US paid $3,024 million for its one vote. The 119 members of the “Non-Aligned” Movement (119 votes) paid $490 million, not quite a sixth of the US’s contribution (1 vote.)

    The UN is an organization in which the US and the other developed western nations pay a bunch of dictatorships to abuse them. This is hardly surprising as many Western governments loathe their own populations and feel that they deserve lots of abuse. It’s a win-win. Both for the parasites running poor countries. And the parasites running rich countries.

  • Runcie Balspune

    The only way to prevent this sort of thing is to have minimum standards especially on democracy and human rights before a member country could join the UN.

    The UDHR perhaps? Mind you, Saudi Arabia was one of a coalition trying to get that changed.

  • Stuck-record

    Can anyone conceive of how an exit from the UN would occur?

    To my mind the UN is not salvageable. But it’s also impossible to imagine a major Western country leaving it to start up a United Democratic Nations as suggested above.

    Can that circle ever be squared?

  • Watchman

    Why would we need to replace the UN with an organisation of democratic nations? One of the great things about democracies (and one thing the EU misses quite regularly) is that they automatically cooperate when they feel the need, and that their citizens/subjects/members/whatever you call someone in a Swiss Canton can cooperate regardless of government. So having some form of organisation will only complicate interaction.

  • Watchman

    Actually, to be fair to the Saudis (not something I feel the need to do that often) the report named them for involvement in an external war, not in a matter of internal politics. Whilst there might well be legitimate criticisms of the Saudi intervention in Yemen, I don’t think that it is fair to say it is targetted against children (or even against civilians particularly). In this case the Saudis may have a point – although they also have money, which helps make the point…

  • Laird

    The UN is neither salvageable nor needed. As Lee Moore said, its prime function is to provide a forum for corrupt dictators to hector the west (notably the US) at little expense to themselves. And the reason it sits in New York is to provide a convenient base of operations for foreign spies. I’ve long argued that the US should withdraw from the UN and expel it to Brussels or some other suitable location. But that’s not going to happen, not even in a Trump administration.

  • Whilst there might well be legitimate criticisms of the Saudi intervention in Yemen, I don’t think that it is fair to say it is targetted against children (or even against civilians particularly)

    It’s not about the targeting (although better targeting would help), it’s about the fact that there is any collateral damage at all, especially children.

    The UK has actually been very proactive in this regard, as when it killed Jihadi John it used very focused high explosives so that there were no collaterals (especially women and children)

  • Patrick Crozier

    A lot of the State Department officials outed by Joseph McCarthy ended up at the then-nascent UN.

  • ap

    ” not even in a Trump administration.”

    But imagine the possibilities—prime Midtown Manhattan real estate, East River views. Perhaps it could be pulled off at the end of his second term when he’s looking for a post presidential career.

  • Lee Moore

    There is, alas, a reason why Britain should not leave the UN, at least while it has a permanent seat on the Security Council. The general principle of international law is that international law is only binding on a country that has voluntarily adopted it into its domestic law. Otherwise it’s just international chatter. But certain types of UN resolution acquire – under the UN Charter – the force of binding international law. Strictly if you’ve quit the UN, even a binding UN resolution doesn’t apply to you – because no longer being party to the treaty you’ve not voluntarily adopted the “law.” But in practice, the members of the UN act as if binding UN resolutions are binding on everyone.

    It’s better to be in a position where the UN cannot pass a binding Security Council resolution against you. Sitting with a permanent seat on the Security Council protects you from this risk. The US doesn’t have to bother about this risk because it’s too big and hairy to care. Britain does.

  • Rich Rostrom

    John Galt: No collateral casualties at all is an impossibly high standard for warfighting. One cannot conduct every strike with elaborate reconnaissance and extreme deliberation. (What if the target is armed fighters actively attacking, and an airstrike is needed now to prevent friendly troops and civilians from being overrun and possibly massacred?) And not all targets will expose themselves to “clean” attacks. Many deliberately associate with children and other innocents as human shields (or worse yet, to engender collateral casualties they can blame on the other side).

    Decent countries (the U.S., Britain, Israel) do go to great lengths to avoid collateral casualties, but no one can stop it.

    I don’t suppose Saudi Arabia is being especially careful, but this denunciation looks very selective. Was there any mention of Syria’s brutal and indiscriminate campaign against its rebels? I doubt it. And I don’t recall any such condemnation of Russia’s indiscriminate bombing, shelling, and strafing in Chechnya. So who is behind this attack on Saudi Arabia? I bet it is Iran (which is backing Shi’a rebels in Yemen.)

    Regarding Trump and the UN: back in 2005, Trump testified before the Senate International Security Subcommittee on the project to rehab the UN building (which was 50 years old). There’s a transcript here. Trump is a fool about a lot of things, but construction and rehab is his specialty, particularly in NYC. And he was scathing. “[the man in charge] didn’t know the first thing about what he was doing… He said, ‘What is a curtain wall?’ … They spent 27 million dollars, and they don’t have an architect.”

  • Lee Moore (June 9, 2016 at 9:48 pm) echoes thoughts I’ve had.

    The UN, like all organisations, freezes in the state of things at its formation. In 1945, Britain was the Britain that had won WWII; the British Empire’s finest hour, and also its last. The USSR’s seat was one of very many concessions made to realism and/or realpolitik – “international law” would not apply to the USSR unless the USSR agreed.. (It is open to debate whether the more ‘high-minded’ prior plans would have worked any better or even worse.) The US’ desire that China have a seat was the first, and not the least silly, in a farrago of absurdities about it. Britain’s quid pro quo for taking that seriously was that France have a seat – a piece of statesmanship by Churchill for which the French have not always seemed grateful but which I still regard as sensible (within the overall absurd context).

    The idea of just abolishing the UN is therefore an interesting test of our abstract theories against our concrete interests, at least for me. For many reasons, some of them valid and more of them stupid, we’d be lucky to get an equal position in any organisation created in the near future. It is therefore in Britain’s interest to endure the current set-up. However the UN shows in high degree the faults we expect of such organisations. Should I therefore desire its destruction:

    a) if I could expect it would not be speedily recreated?

    b) if I should expect it will merely be recreated in a form that will not even have a frozen-in past to restrain its indulgence of the idiocies of today?

    As I expect (b) and/or do not see a scenario for its destruction,, it’s not that hard a question to answer for the moment, but much in today’s world would have surprised me 15 years ago, so the issue might arise sometime.

  • The Pedant-General

    ” Many deliberately associate with children and other innocents as human shields (or worse yet, to engender collateral casualties they can blame on the other side).”

    This is the biggest fraud perpetrated on the free world by various nasties – the Geneva convention is very very clear about this. There is some proportionality needed (e.g. you shouldn’t level an entire building full of children to kill one soldier), but it is extremely clear that it is responsibility of each side to separate itself from it’s own civilian population. A military target is always a military target: if you use a hospital as an arms dump, it is you putting the hospital at risk – you have made the hospital a legitimate target and the collateral damage is your fault, not the attacker.

    The swithering by do-gooders, much of which has been to denigrate Israelis and avoid criticising the monumentally culpable behaviour of the Palestinians, has thereby increased civilian suffering.

  • Mr Ed

    No one can fairly accuse Hamas of aiming its rockets at any specific civilian target, so presumably for the Left that’s all right.

    a piece of statesmanship by Churchill for which the French have not always seemed grateful

    Someone once said that Stalin was asked if he knew what gratitude was, and sucking on his pipe he replied (but presumably in Russian, or perhaps Georgian) “Yes, I know it very well. It is a sickness suffered by dogs“.

    And the ultimate unforgivable act in de Gaulle’s mind was probably Operation Squabble, Coastal Command’s finest two-and-a-half hours, Wgr Cdr Ken Gatward DSO, DFC* and ‘tache.

  • Saudi Arabia, so far as I know, does not issue fatwas. It has puppet mullahs for that. This is a key distinction that seems to be fuzzed over in the story. Either we’ve given up on Westphalianism or we haven’t. Which is it?

  • Laird

    Niall, I really don’t see any “concrete interests” to be protected by remaining a member of the UN, at least not for the US (I suppose Britain’s interests might be different). Yes, we would lose our seat on the Security Council and the veto which goes with it, but offsetting that would be our immediate release from all UN treaty obligations (such as the execrable Law of the Sea Treaty) as well as saving all the money* we waste on it. Our troops wouldn’t be involved in usually ineffective and often corrupt “peacekeeping operations”, and we could eject that bloated, corrupt and spy-infested nest of vermin from New York, freeing up immensely valuable midtown Manhattan real estate. We would still have friendly relations with friendly nations, and more chilly relations with adversarial ones, just as at present. We could certainly negotiate bi-lateral (or even multi-lateral) agreements with other countries as it suits our needs and serves our purposes. The UN is an utter waste of time and money. I want no part of it.

    Please note that I’m not calling for the UN to be abolished (that’s your word; frankly, I don’t care whether it is or isn’t), merely for the US to withdraw from it. What happens afterward is not my concern, although I suspect that it would cause a major reassessment and restructuring of the organization, in much the same way as Brexit might force a systemic restructuring of the EU. That would be a Very Good Thing.

    * The US pays the UN roughly $8 billion per year, or approximately 27% of its total budget. This is more than the total contribution of 180 other countries.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes – bleep the United Nations Organisation.

    Just get out of it.