The Future of the United Nations: Understanding the Past to Chart a Way Forward by Joshua Muravchik
Joshua Muravchik has compiled a calm, well-documented, depressing survey of the United Nations' performance, concentrating on the last 15 years, which indicts the organization as hopelessly corrupt and ineffective. He sheds light on several scandals that have been swept under the rug, e.g., Secretary General Kofi Annan's cover-up of sexual harassment charges against High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers. Other more terrible scandals, such as the pervasive rape of children by U.N. peacekeepers in central Africa, are not even mentioned. If anything, Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is far too generous in his discussion of the U.N.'s specialized agencies, some of which (like the World Health Organization and UNESCO) have been mired in their own corruption scandals. But his brief inventory of abuses supports his call for dismantling or at least downgrading the "political machinery" that confers distinctive prestige on all other U.N. operations. A useful set of charts at the end of the book clarifies recent trends. For instance, American isolation in the General Assembly in recent years (where the body voted with preferred U.S. positions less than a third of the time) is simply a return to the pattern in place before the mid-1990s. Another chart shows that the world's most repressive nations were less likely to be condemned by the Human Rights Commission than invited to join it. Muravchik offers no grounds for hoping that recent gestures toward "reform" will make any meaningful difference to the U.N.'s actual performance.
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This article appeared in the Summer 2006 issue of the Claremont Review of Books