24 June 2006

warriors of the world united

See this article. No, we're not going to bang on about the power and single-mindedness of the US National Rifle Association. Rather, it's their somewhat delusional belief that the United Nations has a secret agenda to control the world. It's a belief that is partly grounded in American exceptionalism and also that country's insistence that it not be bound by multilateral agreements it doesn't like (see for example the reference to the Convention of the Rights on the Child in the article). (Although why you wouldn't ratify such an agreement I don't know - unless it's about preserving labour market flexibility by leaving open the option for child labour...nah, just kidding).

At the same time as the US objects to being bound by such agreements, it also is the main source of funds for most multilateral bodies, although its influence in them varies according to the different rules under which they operate. For example I think the US has much more say in the International Monetary Fund than in the UN itself (ie the General Assembly). That said, the US uses its position as major banker to exert additional pressure, and does in fact withhold its contributions.

The NRA of course presents as a single minded entity so the story presented about the extent of its lobbying the UN rings true.

No, this is more about this sentence in the article: "In fact, as much American criticism of the world body notes, the UN seems incapable of doing almost anything efficiently, let alone undertake the task of disarming America."

This is undoubtedly true. Having had a very little bit to do with various UN bodies, although about 15 years ago, the first things that struck me then were:
* excessively bureaucratic systems and practices;
* an employment club for the elites of its members (mainly of developing countries);
* dedicated people on the ground, paper-shufflers at head offices;
* little coordination between individual agencies, resulting in gross inefficiencies and allowing member countries to export their particular preoccupations between agencies - if they failed somewhere, they'd try it on somewhere else;
* not much accountability.

When Pauline Hanson came to public rceognition in 1998 and was banging on about the UN, I often wondered how strong her language would have been if she really knew how bad it was?

The thing is, the UN was founded in a period that might, in retropect, be seen as a high-water mark for international cooperation. Yes, the Cold War was just starting and there were still widespread tensions. The era of decolonisation what just kicking off. The
Bretton Woods institutions had also been established in an effort to ensure that there would be nor repeat of the Depression and to asists in post-war reconstruction. Subseqent changes to the architecture of the world economy and to prevailing policies, with the rise of the deregulated, free-market economic model, have seen the institutions having to adapt, often at some cost in terms of criticism (see the link to the institutions' webpage). The UN was a high-minded attempt to prevent repetition of two devastating world wars.

And, as observed earlier, many people within the system, particularly those on the ground, are hardworking and very idealistic. The interplay of policies between the UN agencies and host governments often - at least used to - add substantial unnecessary impediments to getting things done.

There are current moves to reform the General Assembly of the United Nations to better reflect the rise and economic clout of other countries - China, India, Korea, Brazil. Let's hope that some new model is adopted. It seems axiomatic that, in an era of globalisation, we need effective multilateral bodies.

And while we're on this topic, same for the OECD. When China is not far off becoming the world's largest economy, it seems ludicrous that it is not an OECD member but Luxembourg is. Hence the development of forums such as the G20.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

screw the commies... taiwan cant be a member of anything...


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