The UN was born in 1945 at a moment of extraordinary moral clarity. To become a founding member, states had to declare war on one of the Axis powers. There was no doubt then that Nazi Germany stood for evil and the Allies for good. But within a few years, UN standards became muddied with the addition of new members, who sought to alter the organization’s ethos to serve their own authoritarian agendas.
The change from the original 51 members to today’s 191 member states meant a UN that had been dominated by democratic values became a tool of Third World authoritarians, who quickly raised the value of “noninterference” above that of human rights. This dramatic distortion came to roost in the UN failures of the 1990s, which were characterized by confusion between aggressor and victim. One reason the Oil for Food scandal went on for so long, according to former UN official Michael Soussan, was that the UN had more sympathy for Iraq’s predicament than its own mandate to root out Iraq’s WMD programs.
With respect to Israel, the UN systematically condemned Israeli defensive measures, without addressing the terrorism that forced Israel to act. When the General Assembly improperly activated the UN’s judicial arm, the International Court of Justice, to stop Israel’s security fence, Annan’s office sent reams of supporting documents to The Hague, without touching on the suicide attacks that had forced Israel to build the fence.
The UN certainly has a role to play in giving out food and tents in an emergency. But in the critical field of international peace and security, there may be no substitute for the kinds of “coalitions of the willing” used by Bill Clinton in Kosovo and by George W. Bush in Iraq, outside of the formal authorization of the UN Security Council. These coalitions have a clear sense of who their allies and adversaries are; therefore, they are not crippled by the moral confusion that characterized the judgments of the Security Council in failed interventions over the last decade.
The writer, Israel’s former ambassador to the UN, is the author of Tower of Babble: How the UN Has Fueled Global Chaos, and is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.