The Big Bad Beast

A friend recently gave me The Beast on the East River: The UN Threat to America's Sovereignty and Security by Nathan Tabor, which I finished reading last night. The book follows a long-lived genre of screeds against the UN. It is in the time honored traditions of the John Birch Society, fear mongering about the Council on Foreign Relations, and conspiracy theories concerning the "Trilateral Commission". Tabor wants us to fear a UN that is bent on establishing a socialist world government through a network unaccountable global organizations and their "internationalist" allies in the US media and academy.

World Government conspiracy theory has a grand tradition in the US, reaching its pinnacle in the fifties and sixties. At that time, the old Republican Party, led by northeastern patricians, was beginning to be overshadowed by the western Republicans of the likes of Goldwater and Reagan. During that battle for power, the rising western wing of the party used the "internationalist" issue as a blunt instrument against the the old guard. David Rockefeller's connection to the Council on Foreign Relations was often cited as "proof" that the "New York bankers" were more interested in global power and profits than the United States Constitution.

The anti-UN mantle is now maintained by Pat Buchanan and his small contingent of America First types. They continue to hold that the UN secretly harbors ambitions to undermine the authority of Constitution through organizations like the International Criminal Court and UNICEF. However, Buchanan and his cohorts are very much a fringe element of the Republican Party and don't represent any real source of power in American politics. CNN's Lou Dobbs manifests another form of anti-internationalism, but so far he hasn't been able to align elements of the left and right around his message in any significant way.

The book does its best to document evidence that the UN's undermines the rule of law through a judicial organization (the ICC) that doesn't have proper checks and balances. His basic premise is that a judicial system that cannot enforce its own laws is inherently dangerous. He also questions the very existence of "international law", as do many. He quotes liberally from the work of my cousin (name withheld due to anonymity of blog) who is a leading legal scholar on issues concerning the ICC. Tabor disagrees with the work in its conclusions that the ICC is not a threat, although he does acknowledge that the research is thorough and well documented.

After slogging through the book, I found Tabor's thesis both unconvincing and untimely. It felt like a step back into a time long past. Since the days of the conspiracy theories about the Trilateral Commission, we have seen the end of the Cold War, the general failure of socialism to attract newly developing countries, and the tendency on the part of the US to ignore the UN when it comes to important decisions (Clinton on Bosnia and to a lesser degree Bush on Iraq). The Bush Administration has effectively marginalized the ICC by setting up bi-lateral agreements with non-EU countries and UN peacekeeping efforts have been nothing if not ineffective.

Further, Congress during both the Reagan and Clinton Administrations withheld funds from the UN to force its hand, a tactic that I suspect we will see again post-Iraq. And as the indispensable Jesse Helms made clear, the US can opt out of any UN treaty with a simply majority in the Senate. As such, it's hard to imagine that the UN is going to be coming for your guns, your money, or your freedoms, as Tabor suggests.

The book does raise some important points about UN overreach. It is worth watching what the UN tries to do with the Law of the Seas, the International Criminal Court and its efforts to form an independent peacekeeping force. It will certainly try to use Global Warming to grab power. And any effort the UN takes to impose taxes should be fought tooth and nail. The Oil for Food Program has shown us how quickly a UN controlled revenue stream can be corrupted and become a force for international instability.

In recent years under Kofi Annan's leadership, the UN has devolved into something of a welfare program for third world bureaucrats. Corruption is rampant, its reputation tarnished, and its moral authority squandered by the likes of Annan, Mark Malloch Brown, and their cronies. Whether Ban Ki-moon can repair the damage is much still an open question.

But more importantly, the very structure of the world body makes it unlikely the UN will ever fulfill Tabor's dire predictions. Like the over bureaucratized EU, the UN will always compete poorly against competent national governments. Further, there is little evidence that emerging powers like China and India harbor ideas about using the UN in ways that significantly threaten US interests. The United States should continue to treat the UN as a kind of global grand jury for identifying and indicting international miscreants. And European initiatives to empower the body should be recognized for (in most part) what they are - efforts to inhibit US power and enhance European prestige in excess of their hard contributions to global peace and stability.

But for those who would suggest more radical actions, like resigning or expelling the UN from Turtle Bay, I would encourage them to think of Lyndon Johnson's adage that it's "Better to have (it) inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in." And Nathan Tabor, being a young bright conservative, ought to be thinking more realistically about promoting American strategic interests in this century, rather feeding off of anti-UN hysteria from the last.