Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos
By Dore Gold
(Crown Forum, 308 pages, $25.95)
Hopes were high for the U.N. after the Cold War ended. People said what had hamstrung the organization was the U.S.-USSR deadlock in the Security Council, and, more broadly, the division of the world into opposed blocs. With the passing of that situation, the U.N. would regain its true role as a settler of conflicts and dispenser of justice.
Indeed, when in 1990 the Security Council authorized force against Iraq after its unprovoked invasion of Kuwait, those hopes seemed — for a moment — to have been vindicated. Yet the U.N. quickly returned to its mode of moral equivalence and worse. After the war, it did nothing to stop Saddam Hussein’s genocidal aggression against the Iraqi Kurds and Shiites; the United States and Britain eventually went outside the U.N. framework altogether to help those groups.
A few years later in Rwanda, the U.N.’s behavior was even more egregious. When Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian commander of a U.N. peacekeeping force that was stationed in Rwanda, delivered a clear warning of imminent genocide, the U.N. reacted by opposing a rescue operation and withdrawing forces — and continued mouthing moral inanities about a “peace process” and “violence on all sides” while the Hutus massacred 800,000 Tutsis in the space of a hundred days. And just a year later in Bosnia, the ghastly script repeated itself when U.N. forces entrusted with protecting Muslim refugees in Srebrenica simply abandoned them to Serb attackers, who slaughtered 7,000 Muslims while deporting 40,000 more of them to other parts of Bosnia.
In this illuminating book, Dore Gold, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. and now head of a Jerusalem think tank, traces the U.N.’s pathology to its very beginnings: a fundamentally flawed organization that has spread chaos rather than order and “just doesn’t work” when it comes to resolving international disputes.
When the U.N. was created in 1945 in the wake of World War II, the original criterion for membership was having fought at least one Axis power. This already opened the door to countries like Stalin’s Soviet Union and Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. But as more and more countries were admitted, the U.N. soon became a Babel of democracies and dictatorships with clashing aims and norms.
The U.N.’s weaknesses were already evident at the time of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948. Although the U.N. Partition Plan had declared Jerusalem an international city, the U.N. reacted to the Arab attack on Jerusalem by proposing, in a “peace plan,” to place it under complete Arab sovereignty. The U.N. did no better when Pakistani forces invaded Kashmir and, also in 1948, India turned to the Security Council for help: the U.N. ignored the Pakistani aggression, treated the two sides as morally equivalent, and eventually rewarded Pakistan by recognizing its status in Kashmir and calling for a reduction of Indian forces there.
In both these cases, however, the U.N. did more than treat aggressors and defenders as equals, while, indeed, showing a tilt toward the former; it spread chaos by taking measures that would help perpetuate both conflicts. In the Israeli case, the U.N. innovated totally unique definitions of “refugee” that ensured the continuation of the “Palestinian refugee problem,” and also the conflict, to the present day. In the Indian case, by signaling to Pakistan that aggression pays, the U.N. helped set the stage for further India-Pakistan wars and ongoing strife.
As Dore Gold skillfully demonstrates, this pattern recurred over the years and, if anything, worsened. By the 1960s, the Soviet Union had recognized the U.N. as a useful tool and was busily forging an anti-Western bloc there. The U.N. proved “evenhanded” and totally useless in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis; the U.S. was finally able to end the standoff only by ignoring the U.N. and issuing a tough ultimatum to the Soviets. By 1970, the General Assembly placed itself squarely on the side of terrorism with Resolution 2649, which affirmed “the legitimacy of the struggle of the colonial peoples and peoples under alien domination to exercise their right to self-determination and independence by all the necessary means at their disposal.”
From there it was a short step to the Assembly’s ecstatic reception of a pistol-packing Yasser Arafat in 1974 and of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in 1975. Having been created partly under the impact of the Holocaust, the U.N. now became a prime mover of anti-Semitism, culminating in its sponsorship of the anti-Semitic hatefest in Durban in 2001. The U.N. did nothing about Iraq’s attack on Iran in 1980, and ignored the plight of peoples in places like Tibet and Sudan while focusing obsessively on the alleged “war crime” of Israeli settlement activity.
After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the U.N. continued to perform miserably not only in Rwanda and Bosnia. Although UNSCOM, the agency set up to monitor Iraq’s disarmament after the Gulf War, originally functioned effectively, the U.N. eventually defanged it and replaced it with the impotent UMNIVOC, helping set the stage for the current Iraq War. Under its Oil for Food program, the U.N. became more concerned with fattening Saddam than containing him. Instead of promoting human rights in the world, the U.N. appointed such stalwarts as Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Saudi Arabia to its Human Rights Commission, which has devoted 30 percent of its resolutions to Israel. Syria, one of the main state sponsors of international terrorism, was allowed to serve on the Security Council from 2002 to 2004.
After nine crisp chapters of description and analysis, Gold turns to prescription, suggesting a two-track approach for dealing with the U.N. One track is to circumvent the Tower of Babble and create a Community of Democracies with common values and strategic goals. Such a body would not necessarily have to include America-hostile countries like France and Germany, but could include states as diverse as Australia, Poland, India, and the Philippines. The second track is for the U.S. and its allies to work within the U.N. to alter its voting patterns. Gold, who does not favor discarding the U.N. completely, maintains that many African and Asian states would be amenable to cooperating with a democratic bloc, and “these nations need to be led and not abandoned.”
But any such positive transformation of the U.N., he acknowledges, “will take many years to complete,” and that is why “going outside the U.N. is crucial.” The corrupt, malfunctioning, destructive U.N. we have today is one of the central problems of our time, unflinchingly diagnosed by this revealing book.