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UN Lets Tinpot Dictators Rule The World

Janet Daley

Daily Telegraph/London


That is pretty much it for the United Nations - all over, finished, bye-bye. Whatever happens now, whether there is a second resolution that does or does not get a Security Council majority, the game is up.

The UN has been revealed to be not a talking shop, as its dismissive critics have always claimed, but a diplomatic souk in which bribery, vanity and manipulation are the currencies. Can anyone claim to have been edified by the pantomime of the past few days, with the foreign ministers of the great nations flying around Africa with metaphorical suitcases full of money to "persuade" tinpot dictators to support their position in the Security Council?

The French and the British, whose political cultures gave the world modern democracy, are now vying for the favour of Guinea, whose corrupt, totalitarian government is conducting an auction of promised favours.

And for what? To get the legal imprimatur of the Security Council of the UN. The government of Guinea - with an appalling human rights record and not even an approximation of democratic accountability - might have the power to deliver the ultimate sanction of UN approval for America and Britain to invade Iraq.

How can this be anything but absurd? This is the organisation on which peace protesters and dissident Labour MPs rest their credibility: the great fount of moral legitimacy, the institution which holds that factitious entity called "international law" under its authority.

No, it is wrong to say the UN is just a talking shop. Would that it were. That would imply something innocuous: a useful arena for letting off rhetorical steam. It has become something far more insidious.

Like the League of Nations before it, the UN was designed to be a forum for preserving peace and security for all nations, and so all nations had to have a voice in its deliberations. Tyrannies were given parity with democratic countries even among the permanent members of the Security Council, the qualification for which was simply to have been on the winning side in the last world war.

So, even in the midst of Stalinist terror, the Soviet Union could embody the moral wisdom of the world, while West Germany, a liberal democracy, could not. Now, China, even after Tiananmen Square, has the privilege of permanent membership while Japan, a free country, does not. The formation of the Security Council locked the world into the ethical assumptions, and the political power structures, of 1945.

It failed even to adapt to the reality of the Cold War, in which the mutually cancelling influences of the West and the Soviet Union put the Security Council in more or less permanent checkmate.

I cannot imagine what keeps the UN true believers going. If the semantic wrangling and the horse-trading of duplicitous self-serving national leaders do nothing to dent your reverence, then surely you must be shamed by the competitive tendering that is now going on for the support of repulsive dictatorships.

Even Clare Short must know that the aid and trade packages that are being offered to Guinea, in return for putting its hand up at the right moment, can only help to shore up its leader and prolong the oppression of its people. What does any of this have to do with high principle? To hear the pious blather, you would think that a majority vote in the Security Council was tantamount to divine dispensation, when what we are actually talking about is how big a pay-off can be offered to minor players who suddenly find themselves - for a brief, glorious moment - running the world.

Now the waverers are prolonging their 15 minutes of power by demanding yet another extension of the disarmament deadline. Actually, it isn't true that I do not understand where the UN apologists are coming from. Communism might have collapsed, but there are still plenty of people around on the Left who delight in seeing the Western democracies humbled. The sight of French and British ministers paying court to Third World dictators is a reassuring sign that, even if Soviet power is gone, America cannot have everything its own way.

Mind you, the democracies have not shown themselves to be particularly high-minded either. France is not cultivating just its vainglorious self-image but its hugely favourable trade relationship with Saddam, which is unlikely to be matched by any fledgling Iraqi democracy. M Chirac is opposed to regime change, by war or any other means.

The Russians are new to democracy and free-market economics, but they know what side the oil contracts are buttered on; and besides, Saddam owes them quite a lot of money. It's always worrying if one of your major creditors looks like being put out of business. The German government is in deep trouble economically and is courting favour with its own electorate (which tends, for sound historical reasons, to be unfailingly opposed to war) in the hopes that it will overlook the fact that it is going broke.

Yes, the great democracies are self-interested too. And it is quite right that they should be. They are accountable to their own peoples - that is the whole point. They have never been inclined, pace the UN utopians, to put any kind of international moral code above crude advantage for their own countries (except in rare moments of heroic sacrifice such as Britain showed in 1939).

Whatever it is that sustains the UN apologists, they have certainly managed to sell it to the public. Asked whether we should invade Iraq and depose Saddam, the respondents to the pollsters say "yes" by a large majority.

But tack on the subsidiary question, "Should we do so even without another UN resolution?", and they go on to liberal auto-pilot: "Ooooh, no, not without the approval of the UN."

But if it is wrong to leave Saddam in power, why is it right to do so if the UN cannot resolve its differences, many of which stem from morally dubious motives? If it is right to remove him by force, how can it be wrong to do so because the fractious members of the Security Council cannot barter or bully each other into agreement?

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