A UN—but for good guys
A permanent global clubhouse for democracies based on shared principles would make it easier to aid growing movements

Paulo Filgueiras/UN Photo

The Security Council votes for a draft resolution on Syria. The draft demanding an immediate end to violence by the Syrian Government against its people and withdrawal of armed forces from cities and towns, and supporting the League of Arab States’ decision for a Syrian-led political transition to democracy, was vetoed by China and the Russian Federation, Feb. 4, 2012.

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  • .@JonahNRO - it's not surprising that the resolution concerning #Syria was vetoed by #Russia and #China

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  • Just because UN members vote on things doesn't make the UN #democratic

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  • Creating a league of good nations would ensure more good things get done #democracy

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The governments in Russia and China very much want to uphold the principle that every now and then the state must crush people who want freedom. That is why they worked together to veto a fairly toothless United Nations resolution condemning the regime in Syria and calling for President Bashar Assad, the lipless murderer who runs the place, to step down.

The free world, still nominally led by the United States, erupted in outrage. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton denounced the U.N. Security Council veto as a "travesty." U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said the U.S. was "disgusted" by it. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the Russian-Chinese veto was a "moral stain." A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron proclaimed that "Russia and China are protecting a regime which is killing thousands of people. We find their position both incomprehensible and inexcusable."

Although I agree that the veto was disgusting and a travesty, I'm at a loss as to why so many people are shocked — or at least are pretending to be shocked.

"A league, or concert, of democracies wouldn't replace the U.N., but it would offer some much-needed competition." -- Jonah Goldberg

Isn't this what the United Nations is about?

I've never quite understood the idealistic enthusiasm people have for the United Nations. First of all, it's a club pretty much anyone can join so long as you have a government, internationally accepted borders, and someone is willing to vouch for your existence. As far as organizations go, that's a pretty low bar — like a club exclusively for humans with a pulse.

The whole thing stinks from the top down. The Security Council isn't a democratic entity; it's based on brute force. Russia and China were made part of the permanent five members when they were totalitarian dictatorships. They have seats because they are powerful, not because they are decent or wise or democratic. And the same is true for us. Our seat was bought with might, not right.

I think part of the confusion stems from a category error. We tend to anthropomorphize countries, talking about them as if they were people. U.N. members vote for stuff, so people think it's somehow democratic in more than a procedural way. But that's not true. There's nothing in the U.N. Charter — at least nothing that has any binding power — that says a government has to be democratic or even care for the welfare of its people. When the ambassador from North Korea claims to speak for his people at the U.N., it has no more moral legitimacy than a serial killer speaking for the victims he has locked in his basement.

But those who fantasize about creating a "Parliament of Man" overlook all of that, in no small part because they see the U.N. as a useful counterweight to the United States.

Less idealistic supporters of the United Nations insist that the place is important — nay, vital — because America must engage the world and the U.N. is the place where deals get done. And that's true. But that's not a moral case for the U.N. but an instrumental one.

None of this is an argument for getting rid of the U.N., though I'd certainly be happy to see it go. But it does point to the stupidity of expecting nobility and idealism from it. Sure, the U.N. does good things from time to time, but that is because good nations want to see good things done.

What would be so terrible about giving those good nations someplace else to meet? And by good, I mean democratic. A league, or concert, of democracies wouldn't replace the U.N., but it would offer some much-needed competition.

We've had to go around the U.N. before, and usually we go to NATO. That's what President Clinton did in the Balkans and what President Obama did in Libya. Now Hillary Clinton wants an ad hoc "friends of a democratic Syria" similar to the coalition that helped topple Moammar Kadafi (and Saddam Hussein).

That's all fine, but there are problems with making these things up as you go. NATO is a military alliance. Many friends of a democratic Syria are not, themselves, democratic.

A permanent global clubhouse for democracies based on shared principles would make aiding growing movements easier and offer a nice incentive for nations to earn membership in a club with loftier standards than mere existence.

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Jonah
Goldberg

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    A bestselling author and columnist, Jonah Goldberg's nationally syndicated column appears regularly in scores of newspapers across the United States. He is also a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a member of the board of contributors to USA Today, a contributor to Fox News, a contributing editor to National Review, and the founding editor of National Review Online. He was named by the Atlantic magazine as one of the top 50 political commentators in America. In 2011 he was named the Robert J. Novak Journalist of the Year at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). He has written on politics, media, and culture for a wide variety of publications and has appeared on numerous television and radio programs. Prior to joining National Review, he was a founding producer for Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg on PBS and wrote and produced several other PBS documentaries. He is the recipient of the prestigious Lowell Thomas Award. He is the author of two New York Times bestsellers, The Tyranny of Clichés (Sentinel HC, 2012) and Liberal Fascism (Doubleday, 2008).  At AEI, Mr. Goldberg writes about political and cultural issues for American.com and the Enterprise Blog.

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