Preventing genocide is an issue where most citizens of democracies would support action. This issue could enable a restructuring of the UN with more resources to get the job done. This would require commitment to a series of actions that have faced resistance until now, such as pre-dedicating armed forces and civilian police from capable states, including the United States, for prompt and voluntary deployment to UN-authorized missions. Also needed is serious, not symbolic, training for the African Union and others to build up a long-term capability to engage in regional peacekeeping. Finally, a genuine commitment to preventing genocide would also inhibit the permanent members of the Security Council from exercising their power to veto resolutions authorizing humanitarian interventions, unless a vital national interest was at stake.
Stopping and preventing atrocities could and should be at the core of what the UN does, but relying on the UN as the exclusive option is unrealistic and, in cases of inaction, immoral. Security Council paralysis or UN incapacity cannot be an excuse for looking the other way. The choice cannot simply be the UN, U.S. unilateralism or doing nothing. There can and must be other choices.
Cooperation Among Democracies
PREVENTING STATES that do not accept the responsibility to protect-many of them non-democracies to boot-from punching above their weight is a priority if the UN is to become more effective and legitimate. Roughly two-thirds of the 191 nations of the UN are now "electoral democracies." Yet, effective cooperation among the democracies to advance shared goals remains rare. Last September, for example, a familiar dynamic played out in the negotiations over the 35-page "Outcome Document" on UN reform agreed upon by world leaders. A handful of countries, many of them non-democracies, actively worked together to defeat proposals on issues ranging from defining terrorism to the powers of the General Assembly. At the discredited Human Rights Commission in Geneva, many of the governments cited annually by Freedom House as the "worst of the worst" human rights violators have served year after year in an often successful effort to block resolutions that would criticize them. Sudan, which has supported the janjaweed militias responsible for the genocide in Darfur, is serving its second consecutive term, and the Human Rights Commission in 2005 failed to approve a resolution condemning Khartoum by name. This group successfully led the effort in September to block concrete progress on establishing a Human Rights Council to replace the Commission, leaving the future of human rights at the UN in doubt.
The spoilers are more successful than their numbers would indicate because genuine cooperation in the growing ranks of the UN's democracies has yet to develop. An absence of transatlantic cooperation at the UN, dating back to the mid-1990s, is glaring and galling. Both the Clinton and George W. Bush Administrations have supported the establishment of a Democracy Caucus to coordinate action within and across regional and other political blocs at the UN, but neither the United States nor the world's other leading democracies made a determined effort in September to advance the reform agenda, and they continue to work half-heartedly and at cross-purposes.
In revamping to deal with genocide the UN will have to be more streamlined and efficient, and this translates into other areas. Many of the operational agencies, such as the regional economic commissions or the UN Conference on Trade and Development, are subjected to the micromanagement of the UN's 191 nations. They might be more effective if they were freed from oversight. Even the effectiveness of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations would be greatly enhanced if it operated as a more independent program, still answerable to the Security Council. These reforms would improve important aspects of the UN, but not address the UN's fundamental deficiency as a collective security organization.
The Security Council breakdown over Iraq highlighted the mismatch between the idealism of the UN's founding principles and the reality that the UN is weakest where its charter says it is supposed to be central: "preventing the scourge of war." Senator Biden surprised an audience of Democrats recently when he said bluntly, "The United Nations is not capable of ending wars in our times [or] intervening in ways to prevent war most times." He proposes to "reorient . . . the UN to the purpose of stabilizing weak states." In refocusing the UN's role, this is similar to proposals advanced by long-term UN skeptics.2
In truth, the UN's flaws as a collective security organization are no greater today than they have been throughout its history. But in facing current dangers of proliferation, terrorism, state failure and genocide, the costs of UN incapacity, inaction and paralysis are in some cases greater and almost always less acceptable.
Tangible proposals to fill this gap focus on greater cooperation among the world's democracies. 3 Refocusing and strengthening NATO to serve as an international genocide-prevention arm is one approach. Others have called for the establishment of a formal "alliance of democracies" that, unlike NATO, would not be regionally based or organized against a particular threat. Much less practical is a proposed union of democracies and other states who pre-commit to cooperative actions on poverty reduction, counter-terrorism and nonproliferation as a condition of membership. 4 Common to all these alternatives is the search for effective and agile multilateral institutions within which the United States can work cooperatively, effectively and with greater international legitimacy. Competitor institutions are also intended to have an impact on the UN itself. Competition will either spur the UN to do better or marginalize it. Hopefully the former.
The improbable consensus emerging on America's relationship with the United Nations may not unite UN lovers and haters. But it may provide for the rejuvenation of the UN and the development of alternatives when the UN is not enough.
1 International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, The Responsibility to Protect (Ottawa, Canada: IRDC, 2001)
2 Lee Feinstein and Anne-Marie Slaughter, "A Duty to Prevent", Foreign Affairs (January/February 2004)
2 See Joshua Muravchik, The Future of the UN (Washington, DC: AEI Books, 2005). Muravchik calls for suspending the UN's parliamentary pretensions, acknowledging that it lacks law-making authority, and transforming the UN into a debating society instead.
3 See Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, "An Alliance of Democracies", Washington Post, May 23, 2004.
4 See James Traub, "The Un-UN", New York Times Magazine (September 11, 2005)
Lee Feinstein is senior fellow for foreign policy and international law and deputy director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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