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The UN's "virtue" is its vice

By Elan Journo
web posted December 18, 2006

Ban Ki-moonThe appointment of a new Secretary General of the United Nations, Korean diplomat Ban Ki-moon, has inspired hopeful talk of "reforming" the organization. Detractors and proponents of the UN agree that institutional changes are needed, and indeed Mr. Ban has committed himself to achieving such changes. But efforts at "reforming" the organization skirt the UN's insuperable problem: its corrupt ideal of moral neutrality.

The fundamental feature of the UN is its policy of opening membership non-judgmentally to all nations--whether free or oppressive, peaceful or belligerent. This is upheld as the UN's central virtue and a vital means to peace. Admitting blatantly tyrannical regimes, proponents say, creates opportunities for "dialogue" and rehabilitation. As the UN's outgoing secretary general, Kofi Annan, has explained, the very fact that such "nondemocratic states" sign on "to the UN's agenda opens an avenue through which other states, as well as civil society around the world, can press them to align their behavior with their commitments."

But UN membership did not prevent the USSR from herding its citizens into gulags and forced-labor camps, murdering untold numbers of them, and invading other states; nor China from crushing under its military boot pro-freedom demonstrators and peaceful ideological dissenters; nor Iran and Saudi Arabia from infusing Islamist terrorist groups with abundant financial means and the ideological zeal to wage jihad against the West.

The UN's policy of neutrality accomplishes precisely the opposite of its putative effect; it actually protects and bolsters vicious regimes.

Participation in the UN confers on them an unearned moral legitimacy. That the leaders of such regimes are routinely invited to speak before the UN rewards them with an undeserved respectability. So it was with Fidel Castro: his self-justifying UN speech after seizing power in Cuba elicited rapturous applause. He was raised to the dignity of statesman--a man who deals in reasoned argument--despite being a totalitarian ruler who brutally silences dissidents. Ditto for the arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat; ditto for the leader of Iran's totalitarian regime Mahmoud Ahmedinijad. Though such men rule by force, though they preach murderous ideologies, though they devastate the lives of their subjects--the UN unfastidiously endorses them and their regimes.

The UN thus gives them a means to entrench their power.

Consider for instance the nowdefunct UN Human Rights Commission, ostensibly responsible for protecting rights across the world. On the principle of neutrality, a country's brutal practices are no disqualification from joining this commission. Through the dictatorship-infested commission, notorious violators of individual rights schemed to bury any criticism of themselves. A bloc of Islamic countries, for example, self-righteously defended barbaric practices--stoning to death, crucifixion--carried out in certain states governed by Sharia. The commission was a grotesque embarrassment; its replacement, the new Human Rights Council, is no better. Lately Islamic countries have used the council as a platform to rebuke alleged Israeli "crimes"; meanwhile, criticism of oppressive Islamic countries is deflected.

Or consider the money corrupt regimes gain access to. For years the UN has showered millions of dollars in aid on the Palestinian Authority, the interim government in Gaza and the West Bank. That money has buoyed up a brutal regime that strips its people of their rights, their wealth, their dignity, and foments terrorism against Israel. UN aid has also flowed into North Korea's belligerent dictatorship, which starves its people in order to fund an enormous military machine and a nuclear-weapons program. What these handouts do is reinforce the walls of prison regimes like North Korea, exacerbate the misery of their citizens, and arm corrupt rulers.

That the UN benefits evil regimes is a necessary consequence of its avowed ideal of neutrality. The willful refusal to discriminate between good and evil, between freedom and slavery, can benefit only the vicious. It is only an evil regime that fears moral scrutiny, that needs to conceal its crimes, and that struggles for a veneer of moral legitimacy. The UN's policy of moral neutrality is precisely what evil desperately craves: a license to commit any depravity, and escape with a reputation for being decent.

No organization can resolve conflicts if it evades the objective difference between right and wrong, and perversely treats an aggressor as the moral equal of his innocent victim. The UN is far from a means to achieving peace. Because it arms and bestows a moral sanction on vicious regimes, it is an accessory to their incalculable atrocities and murders.

The UN is morally irredeemable. ESR

Elan Journo is a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand--author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead." Contact the writer at media@aynrand.org. Copyright © 2006 Ayn Rand® Institute. All rights reserved.


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