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Saturday, September 30 2023 @ 03:53 MDT

Canada and the UN

Canadian PoliticsDuring my travels of the blogosphere, I came across this article on Harper's upcoming address to the United Nations. This lead to this article by Esra Levant demanding that the Harper government pull Canada out of the UN. This article and the comments left at Buckdog's got me to thinking about the rocky relationship between the UN and neo-conservatives.

I think there are two basic reasons that the neo-cons don't like the UN. First is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the UN is there for and what it does. Second is a disregard for anything that would limit the actions of a neo-con. A third reason, and this is particularly true in Mr. Levant's case, that Israel can do no wrong, which is tied into the second reason.

From their words, it would appear that neo-cons seem to think that the UN is about maintaining international peace and security. To some extent they are correct, however the functioning of the UN as a guarantor of world peace suffers from several problems. The first is the Cold War. The Cold War prevented the security apparatus of the UN from functioning at all as the battle between the US and USSR effectively gridlocked the Security Council for 50 years. This in turn led to the atrophy of the UN as a collective security body, preventing it from developing into a truly effective body for the enforcement of peace.

The next reason the UN has problems with the wars it's asked to deal with is that, to paraphrase Dwight Eisenhower upon turning the White House to John Kennedy, no simple problems ever get to the UN. If a problem is simple, then someone else would have solved it, such as local governments or regional organizations. The UN gets the hard luck cases, the cases that no one else could solve. With this knowledge it's amazing that the UN manages to make any headway at all in terms of international peace and security.

Another reason that the UN has problems is that it is made up of sovereign states and has no sovereignty of its own. This means that it has to ask combating states to stop fighting and ask if they'll accept troops under the UN banner to come in to separate the combatants. If one or more of the conflicting groups refuses, then there's not much the UN can do. Technically, the security council could order troops in, but it's difficult to find a country that would do that in a region it has little interest. As an aside, the UN was supposed to have a four division army (40,000 men) at it's disposal, but the Cold War put the kibosh on that.

So we have the neo-cons pointing to the difficulty the UN has in dealing with wars. They will always fail to mention the things the UN does extremely well through one of it's many specialized agencies. I've yet to hear a neo-con complain about the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) or the Universal Postal Union. Both are vital to the smooth flowing of the international economy and both work well. There is also the development work that the UN does, helping LDC's become less impoverished. Neo-cons don't like this because often the government of these countries don't share the same ideology the the neo-cons do. I say ideology, instead of dictatorship, which is what the neo-cons will say is the reason, since the neo-cons have no problem supporting right wing dictators, so the issue is obviously ideology. This implies to me that the neo-con would also complain about his neighbour receiving taxpayer funded police and fire protection, since the neo-con doesn't like the neighbour.

So much for the UN isn't working argument. No on to the second argument that the UN won't let the neo-con do what they want. This is a common theme with neo-cons. For a group that expects "law and order" they seem to have a problem with the rule of law. Anything that restricts their agenda, be it an international organization such as the UN or a domestic document such as a constitution, is considered "evil" and must be done away with. Neo-cons seem to think it's there "God given right" to do whatever they please to whomever they please, as long as they personally benefit from it. The UN, or any other organization or law, prevents them from doing that, so they hate it.

This comes to the reason that Canada joined the UN in the first place. Canada joined the UN so we could use it to counterbalance the United States. To some extent we've been successful in using the UN for that purpose. Way more successful than if we'd gone it alone. I suspect that this is another objection of the neo-con for the UN, since it's been my observation that most neo-cons want to be Americans. By pulling Canada out of the UN, we lose that counterbalance. Which is what the neo-cons want.

Now for Mr. Levant's article. In Ezra's eyes, Israel can do no wrong. Israeli soldiers could be walking down the streets of Jerusalem pitchforking Arab babies into trucks (and understand I don't think that this is something that Israelis would do) and it would be just fine with Ezra. So his main objection to the UN is that it won't let Israel attack it's neighbours with impunity. How dare the international community expect Israel and its neighbours to sit down and talk out a dispute, when obviously massive retaliation is the only way (see this article by Gwynne Dyer to see why that's a problem). So in addition to the usual neo-con bibble about the UN, Ezra adds the "poor little Israel" slant to it.

In counter to Mr. Levant, I would put forward that yes, Israel has a right to self defence as does any sovereign state. There are limits on that right, just as there are limits on that right in domestic law. Under domestic law, the force you use against your attacker must be proportional to the force used against you. For example, I can't shoot you and call it self defence if all you did was punch me and that you are otherwise unarmed. Same goes for international limits. Just because a group kidnaps a couple of soldiers doesn't give you the right to level the southern half of another country. Note to neo-cons, Hezbullah didn't start their rocket attacks until after the Israelis began their air offensive. Ezra's problem is that he is incapable of thinking in anything but the neo-con's world view of black and white. There's no middle ground in his mind, no chance of a compromise that will let both sides get some of what they want. It's all or nothing for Ezra and his ilk.

Which is why I hope the people of Canada turf out the Tories, as the Tories running the party for the most part think like Ezra. Politics is the art of compromise, and it's especially important in the international community that you be good at that art. Unfortunately Harper and his former staffer Levant have none of that art.

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