In 1945, the United Nations was founded amidst much euphoria. It was to be mankind's "last best hope": an organization that would tie all member-states together for collective security and peacekeeping purposes. But the U.N., useful as it has been in some minor cases where a broker was required, has been totally ineffectual at removing the harmful ideologies that cause war in the first place. It has done very little to quell aggressive economic and political nationalism, for example. But most disappointingly, the U.N. has been a destabilizing force. It has allowed itself to be used by the great powers, and especially America, to cloak militarism.
From 1945 to 1990, the U.N. was forced to limit itself to small-scale operations (with the exception of the Korean War) due to the prevailing Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. As the Cold War drew to a close however, another round of excitement swept through the globalist camp. "At last!" U.N. supporters declared, the organization could function as envisioned by its founders. Instead of tensions between the U.S.and the U.S.S.R. crippling the Security Council and placing some matters beyond its jurisdiction, there would be a new age of cooperation. This was to lead to a more effective institution.
But what did it mean to be more "effective" when the underlying ideologies of interventionism and nationalism still dominated foreign policy discourse? This question remained unanswered. Instead, the U.N. adopted a fallacious public sector definition of effectiveness. It prided itself in "doing something, anything" with its available resources (Rothbard 1974, p. 82). The more things it did, no matter how absurd, the more effective the U.N. bureaucrats claimed they were. Thus, the U.N. boasted of an increase in the size and scope of its operations. A new Department of Peacekeeping Operations was created. At its height in 1994, the U.N. had nearly 79,000 peacekeeping personnel; the organization had substituted small-scale operations with a permanent nation-building corps.
Since effectiveness was measured in terms of the scale of U.N. activities, rather than the usefulness of said activities, there was no discernable difference in the extent of world peace. Realpolitik struggles continued as they had been for thousands of years. There was no overarching strategy presented to achieve the Charter's objective of saving "succeeding generations from the scourge of war". The U.N. is, therefore, a typical example of an organization full of men and women brimming with enthusiasm, but who have no understanding of the bigger picture.
In the absence of a coherent strategy to bring about world peace, the U.N. was easily captured by the U.S.to suit its own ends at the end of the Cold War. With a submissive Russia now taking the place of the belligerent Soviet Union, America possessed a unique opportunity to ram through its agenda. As the most powerful nation on Earth, America could now focus upon using the U.N. as an instrument for its warmongering (Eland 2008).
So it was no surprise that President George Bush I immediately set about using the U.N. to provide multilateral credibility for his desires to protect Israel and oil interests in the Middle East. By assembling a coalition under the United Nations banner to take on Saddam Hussein, ostensibly over his invasion of Kuwait, Bush I was able to justify military action that had nothing to do with American national security. Thanks in part to the rubber stamp provided by the Security Council, the first Gulf War also helped push up Bush I's approval ratings.
President Clinton also took advantage of the changed balance of power on the Security Council. He placed heavy political pressure on the U.N.'s disarmament wing - the International Atomic Energy Agency - to investigate Iraq. Some allege the administration was hoping for an excuse to attack Iraq, or at least a way to trump up the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Support for this charge can be found in President Clinton's decision to sign into law the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which instituted a policy of "regime change". Clinton continued aggressing against Iraq by bombing it in a four-day campaign that was timed to be suspiciously close to impeachment proceedings against him (needless to say, the bombings served as a useful distraction). America also led a round of punitive U.N. sanctions that caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. But there was hardly a wimper of opposition from the public; these outrageous acts of war had, after all, been done by appealing to the legitimacy of America's lapdog - the United Nations.
Years of hassling Iraq through the U.N. in order to boost popularity for the commander-in-chief culminated in George Bush II using September 11, 2001 as a pretext for outright regime change (in effect, taking the Iraq Liberation Act passed during Clinton's time a step further). Years before September 11, there was concern in the international community that America would use pre-existing U.N. resolutions as an excuse to implement its own agenda against Iraq (Mingst & Karns 2000, p. 105). How prophetic these concerns turned out to be!
When the time for prosecuting war came in 2003, President Bush II frequently cited Security Council resolutions passed during Bush I and Clinton's presidencies to justify his aggression. The quality of debate in America was degraded, as commentators began speaking of these resolutions as having independent authority - as if the U.N. were a neutral body and did not merely do whatever its most powerful members wanted it to do. All sense of perspective on the moral arguments for and against war was lost, as various sides tried to justify or oppose the invasion using legal terminology. Instead of asking whether it was right or wrong to attack Iraq, people began asking whether it was legal or illegal under international law. But surely the former is more important than the latter when so many lives are at stake?
The Iraq war is the culmination of at least 10 years of warmongering by America through the United Nations. The same pattern is now being repeated against Iran, with President Trump taking a hard-line, just as Bush II did before him. We can expect, no doubt, that any future attack on Iran will also be justified with reference to U.N. resolutions. Hopefully, libertarians would have by then persuaded Americans of the need to withdraw from the U.N. It is imperative that power elites be stripped of their ability to utilize this tool that legitimizes war.
As public choice theory predicts, "bureaucracy capture" has occurred at the United Nations. This is not surprising, given its highly politicized nature. We should expect that the powerful will use the organization as an instrument for their own schemes. In this sense, the U.N. is not an organization dedicated to achieving peace. Rather, it is dedicated to achieving whatever the dominant nation or nations at the relevant time deems worth achieving.
Murray Rothbard, "The Fallacy of the Public Sector" in Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays (Libertarian Review Press, 1974).
Ivan Eland, The Empire Has No Clothes: US Foreign Policy Exposed (Independent Institute, 2008).
Karen Mingst and Margaret Karns, The United Nations in the Post-Cold War Era (Westview Press).