The United Nations (U.N.) was created in the wake of the Second World War in order to promote international cooperation and provide a forum for conflict resolution that would, theoretically, prevent such large-scale wars between nations in the future. Although noble in its intent, it has since morphed into a supranational body of unelected bureaucrats impinging on the sovereignty of its member states in various areas of governance and to varying degrees of intrusiveness. The United Nations has become a bugaboo of conservatives due to attempts by liberals (and some unwitting Republicans) to use it as a vehicle to circumvent the rights and protections afforded Americans through our Constitution via international conventions and treaties.
Much like the failed League of Nations, this organization born out of the rosy ideal of global governance and charged with standardizing the norms of international behavior has run smack dab into realpolitik; that is, nations have and always will act in their own self-interest, particularly in the military realm. Indeed, as the Greek historian Thucydides stated centuries ago, the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.
In an attempt to overturn that age-old dynamic, the Security Council (UNSC) was created as a core unit of the United Nations, charged with maintaining international peace and security and a semblance of global order. It can impose international sanctions, establish peace-keeping operations, and authorize military action to achieve those ends. It can make binding decisions, where other segments of the U.N. can only make recommendations. It is comprised of 15 member states: five permanent members (U.S., Russia, U.K., France, and China) known as the “P5” and 10 rotating seats that turn over every two years. Most importantly, each member of the P5 holds veto power to block the adoption of a resolution or proposal.
However, the P5 is composed of the coalition of victors from World War II, which concluded over 70 years ago, and is not reflective of the current geopolitical landscape. Germany and Japan, once the Axis powers, have become powerful economic engines in their respective regions, prosperous and peaceful. Brazil has the world’s ninth largest GDP and is the largest and most populous nation in Latin America. India has over a billion people, has the seventh largest GDP, and is the world’s largest democracy. The next U.S. president should advocate for these four nations to be granted permanent status to the UNSC with the same rights and privileges as the current P5, commensurate with their growing economic, political, and military clout, and more representative of the current international reality.
A more powerful United Nations: What’s in it for us?
As conservatives tend to assess the U.N. using a sliding scale of disdain, why should the U.S. actively legitimize its continued existence through such a policy? First, such an openly stated policy would garner tremendous good will internationally, especially from the aforementioned nations that would directly benefit from permanent status. This huge diplomatic carrot can be leveraged to attain specific U.S. policy goals, such as favorable positions on bilateral trade deals, better cost-sharing of U.N. dues that lessen the American financial burden (the U.S. currently pays 22 percent of the overall budget), and defense and commercial contracts.
Second, devolution of power (a philosophically conservative principle) among the Security Council members by doubling permanent membership would theoretically contribute to collaborative resolutions more reflective of the international mood on any given security issue; acceding nations would no doubt have increased clout and influence within the other organs as well (General Assembly, International Court of Justice, etc.).
In reality, and this is where the counter-intuitive nature of this proposal is laid bare, were it adopted, an expanded UNSC would likely be more gridlocked and ineffectual than it is today. A body unable to pass resolutions because of divergent national interests is less likely to be able to muster consensus that might result in a resolution detrimental to American interests, in effect preserving U.S. sovereignty and our ability to act unilaterally when necessary. Further, the likelihood of UNSC expansion is remote, given the reluctance of other members (and even ourselves) to voluntarily reduce their own power. But, in a twist of Kissingerian irony, by appearing to empower the U.N. (and reaping the benefits of magnanimity in the process) we are effectively neutering it as a global governance structure and potential threat to the liberties we Americans hold dear.
Bottom line, what is the United Nations but an agent of validation lending an air of legitimacy to the actions of nations? If understood in those terms, it can be useful. We’ve just been overpaying for it and allowing the tail to wag the proverbial dog for far too long. We need to reshape the diplomatic battlespace such that the U.N. as an institution is more advantageous to American national interests, or at the very least, is structurally unable to supersede our sovereignty or impede our strategic goals.
Image courtesy of the US Navy
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