UN: Love it or leave it, just don't deride it

You know what… Ban Ki-moon might just be the right choice to lead the UN!

Americans quickly identify with him as soon as they discover he is the first secretary-general in the six-decade history of the United Nations who doesn’t speak French; yet remaining sartorially correct. And his likeability doubles as he pronounces himself an advocate for a strong partnership with the US. Maybe, just maybe, the US won’t need to send one of Bolton’s Cerberean cousins to safeguard its imperial interests there; not with this affable South Korean at the helm.

Could it be that a new era has dawned at the UN, and the organization can be “saved”? The US is counting on Ban Ki-moon and the transfiguration he went through 45 years ago when he met America’s promising messiah: President Kennedy. Just like so many other political and diplomatic children of the 60’s cold war – Bill Clinton among them – JFK became their role model, and Ban Ki-moon is quick to remind us he’s one of them.

Still, while America waits for this transformation to take place in the UN, politicians and citizens alike continue badmouthing this august body as if it were a contagious leper.

Americans have been so brainwashed about the United Nations that its mere mention often invites contempt and ridicule. I can’t recall the last time I heard something close to a laudable comment on any work done by any of its agencies; or the loftiness of its mission; or even the positive role that the United States had in its creation. Not lately, for sure; not around the office water cooler, or any place of light political discussion.

My personal recollection places the maligning of this organization reaching maturity during the Reagan years; in a White House that saw it advantageous to diminish the actual or perceived UN role at a time when the USSR was imploding, thus allowing the United States to emerge as the only superpower. And the vocal conservative media, ditto-heads and dittoettes, just feasted on it like vultures wearing bald eagle masks.

For two decades the airwaves have been carrying a stridently poisonous anti-UN chorus from the far right of the political spectrum. It has been fashionable and patriotic to dismiss the UN as a worthless, corrupt organization lacking any type of mandate, and institutionally serving double standards. And to top it all, Americans have been led to believe that the US carries a financial burden far greater than a fair share for its upkeep. Led to believe? Heck, most Americans you talk to firmly believe it, regardless of social status, political affiliation or education. Conviction through ignorance!

In the past, we have tried to demythologize in this column the popular notion that we are the great benefactors of the world’s needy and oppressed. So it’s time we try to debunk the idea that we are also the rich uncle that’s keeping the UN fed and clothed. The UN depends financially on the contribution made by member nations and, if anything, the US provides less than its proportionate share. Its contribution of 22% is considerably less than its share of the gross world product of 27.5% (from data from the International Monetary Fund – 2006). If you care to do the computation, you’ll find that the seven first world economies – after the US – each proportionately contributed more than the US (Japan 167% more, Germany 80%, France 64%, Italy 59%, United Kingdom 56%, Canada 34% and Spain 24%) and that as a group their wealth-weighted contribution was 87% greater than that of the United States. That leaves no room for doubt as to who is doing the subsidizing and who is being subsidized; at least among the wealthier nations of the world.

A better perspective would put our contribution to the UN’s annual operating budget at about 2 ½ days of war costs in Iraq!

The United Nations doesn’t need to be saved by Ban Ki-moon or anyone else. Instead, it needs to be restructured to accommodate a world that is far different today from that in 1945 when the UN Charter was adopted… then catering to the wishes and demands of those victorious in World War II. Not only is the world different now, but it’s becoming more so as economics and other factors influence the behavior of nations and regions, creating new demands for rights, or better formulas for conviviality, now denied them. In the next two or three decades, China, India, the Union of African States, a federation of former Soviet republics, and associations or confederations of Latin American, Middle Eastern and Asian nations will be sitting around the international table using exactly same-height chairs as the US, the EU, and Japan. Not a question of if, but when.

One thing the UN cannot be, nor allowed to be, is an instrument of foreign policy for a dominant superpower: an imprimatur to injustice and even genocide via misapplication of sanctions. Our most recent example was post-Gulf War I, when improperly executed sanctions cost the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children, perhaps more. That is “legalized genocide” no matter how we try to mask it or justify it: humanely, juridically or morally.

Justice, peace, security, human rights and international development should not be left up to the dictates of any one superpower, nor any elite privileged group such as the G8. If Ban Ki-moon wants to do something worthwhile and heroic, he can do so by preparing the land to sow the seeds of change for a better all-inclusive world. And no better place to start the restructure than with the symbolism that can be attached to a new seat, a spanking new headquarters.

Instead of starting renovations next year on the New York enclave, why not break ground on a new headquarters located where it makes a lot more sense; such as in Madagascar, Sri Lanka or a dozen other places geopolitically more adequate than the Big Apple. Such move might even afford collateral economic benefits; for one, the possibility of transforming the UN building into a new world trade center. At the very least one would no longer find city officials in New York frustrated in their inability to collect on all those parking violations cited to those smart-alecky UN diplomats.

The UN doesn’t need “saving”… it only requires “restructuring” to moderate a long-term peaceful, just world. Non-imperialist Americans should be very eager to accept such restructure for we are always hearing people say, “we are tired of being the world’s policeman.” Well, here is our chance to prove it. So, Ban Ki-moon, do us a favor and don’t partner with us, just do right by the UN and, by extension, you’ll do right by us.