Monday, January 08, 2007

UN--who calls the shots?

A thoughtful review from Samantha Powers

United It Wobbles - "Richard C. Holbrooke, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who said memorably that 'blaming the U.N. for Rwanda is like blaming Madison Square Garden when the Knicks [basketball team] play badly.' Traub laments that the U.N. Secretariat, which is composed of well-meaning diplomats and humanitarians, is unable to circumvent the will of the organization's most powerful member states -- states that are frequently divided, deeply self-interested and too rarely motivated by a concern for the global commons.

In other words, the secretary general of the United Nations is more of a secretary than a general. And the place to lay blame is the U.N. Security Council, the organization's executive branch, where the five veto-wielding permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- have gone from being paralyzed over Iraq in 2003 to being paralyzed over Darfur and Iran in 2007. Traub's view is perhaps best encapsulated by a marvelous anecdote he resurrects from 1965: When Secretary General U Thant tried to open back-channel ties to the North Vietnamese, Secretary of State Dean Rusk called him off by shouting, 'Who do you think you are, a country?'"

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