Syria and the UN

Those who have systematically blocked structural reform at the United Nations indirectly have the blood of the Syrian opposition on their hands.

From its creation, the U.N. was set up to give power and special advantage to the victors of World War II, an event now almost seven decades behind us. Since then the growing family of nations has changed much in its geopolitical divisions, but infinitely more in the nature and number of its common security challenges. It is in the interest of the entire planet to prevent a descent into instability in the greater region of which Syria is a part. When China and Russia vetoed condemnation of the brutal Assad regime, they demonstrated the grotesque obsolescence of the way the U.N. is organized.

The politics of who gains from Assad's momentary success (or from the collapse of his regime, which is inevitable in spite of the present agony) in exterminating brave Syrian dissidents are tribal, regional, and very complex, involving consequences for Alawites, Christians, Sunnis, Shia, Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, just to name a few.

Still, one can imagine a U.N. peacekeeping force that had real resources and real teeth, and the kind of backing that could allow a disinterested, independent U.N. commission to set it in rapid motion to prevent or mitigate conflicts like the horror unfolding in Syria.

It is also important to bear in mind that though the media is focusing on Syria at the moment, there are five shooting wars presently continuing in Africa, leaving aside the deeply questionable, hideously expensive and now inconclusive U.S. initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Given how much the U.S. has risked in such unilateral campaigns, why do we refuse to risk ceding just a little power to international institutions that could end up serving our security needs better than we ourselves could? They could do this by helping to stabilize chaotic regions without prejudicing masses of people in other parts of the world against the perceived ham-handedness of the U.S. military.

They could also do it by addressing directly the implicit motivation behind the Chinese and Russian veto: the sale of arms. The shadowy world of the international arms trade does not necessarily cause all the violence of war, but surely it intensifies it by quantum leaps. Lo and behold, the top five countries profiting from the arms trade are--surprise!--the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China (the USA being number one by far). Conventional arms sales complement the much-discussed nuclear hypocrisy of the U.S. and Israel, who are hell-bent on denying to Iran the very weapons of mass destruction that they themselves are deeply reluctant to set aside for the common good.

Hard as it is to imagine it happening, one radical reform of the U.N. would be to give much more power and responsibility in the body to those countries that, by simple indices, are most free of totalitarianism, corruption, and trade in weapons. Were I in charge of the U.S., why would I be afraid of ceding some power to encourage international stability to the leaders of countries like Costa Rica, countries that are not in the crosshairs of terrorists, countries that would be motivated to act disinterestedly in the best interests of the entire family of nations large and small.

One reason the U.S. government may be so fearful of giving over to the U.N. any management of conflicts that bear on its professed interests is that these interests may ultimately be not the welfare of all, but rather the economic interests of a few gigantic multi-national energy corporations and weapons manufacturers and their representatives in the American Congress. But the same goes, surely, for the other permanent members of the Security Council. This may constitute one of the biggest bottlenecks to obvious reforms that would increase everyone's security on this increasingly small planet. It is a choice between citizens demanding common-sense changes that strengthen the U.N., reduce the arms trade, and give new impetus to disinterested peacebuilding and peacekeeping--or more helpless hand wringing and name calling over tragedies like Syria.

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