Clifford May - Ban Ki-moon's Tehran trip shows UN is broken


Is there no point at which we conclude that the United Nations has evolved into an organization that is not just flawed, not just in need of reform, but fundamentally, structurally and incorrigibly hostile to American values and the cause of freedom in the 21st century?

The latest, if not last, straw on the camel's back: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's visit this week to Tehran for a conference of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM). Iran's rulers are the world's leading sponsors of terrorism; they are under UN Security Council sanctions; they are illegally building nuclear weapons while refusing to allow the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct inspections; they are in clear violation of the UN Genocide Convention; they are sending cash, arms and troops to support the Assad regime's slaughter in Syria; they are persecuting Christians, Baha'i and other religious minorities and using the most brutal methods to crush dissidents.

Ban knows all this. He knows, too, that the Tehran meeting is intended, in the words of the government-controlled Kayhan newspaper, as a "slap" to the U.S. and "the last volley against the liberal-democratic system." Apparently, none of this matters to Ban.

Nor does it matter to the rulers of the more than 100 countries that belong to the NAM and who are honoring Iran with the presidency of their organization for a three-year term.

Founded in 1961, the movement used to claim to be outside both the American and Soviet orbits -- viewing the former as no better than the latter. But such states as Cuba, a Soviet satellite, were admitted for membership anyway, and they ensured that the Kremlin's interests would be served while Washington's were not.

The collapse of the USSR did not prompt the NAM to realign. Today, Iran, Venezuela and other anti-American states largely dictate the organization's agenda. This global anti-democratic alliance enjoys an automatic majority in the UN General Assembly. In the Security Council, autocratic Russia and China exercise veto power. Within this framework, one UN agency after another has morphed in ways that would have shocked even George Orwell.

The most infamous is the UN Human Rights Council, which serves to protect the world's worst human rights violators while attacking Israel, the U.S., even Canada. The council's newest member is likely to be Sudan, a jihadist dictatorship, responsible for genocide in Darfur. On Monday, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called that "callous, dangerous and tragic." The UN, she added, "has hit a new low."

Another UN agency, the World Intellectual Property Organization, has allegedly transferred American technology to both Iran and North Korea. WIPO has refused to cooperate with a congressional investigation.

And does anyone remember the special tribunal established by the UN to investigate the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was blown up in Beirut in 2005? Time and money were spent. Some high-level Lebanese and Syrian security officers were implicated. Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, Iran's Lebanon-based terrorist proxy, denounced the tribunal. Surprise: No case has ever been brought to court.

Iran has been named a member of the bureau overseeing the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty -- even as it has been illegally supplying arms to Assad. In recent years, Iran also has been a member of a UN advisory committee on international law, a vice chairman of the UN Disarmament Commission, and a rapporteur of the UN Committee on Information, which is meant to support free speech and a free press. North Korea, China and Russia, sit on this committee, too.

We haven't even touched on the UN's failures in Rwanda and Srebrenica, its chronic financial corruption and the revelations that UN "peace keepers" have inflicted sexual violence on the women and children they were charged to protect.

The United States has long been the UN's largest funder, contributing close to a quarter of the organization's total budget -- nearly $7.7 billion in fiscal 2010. (The U.S. government has delayed releasing figures for last year and this -- which leads me to suspect we're now spending considerably more.)

In these tough economic times, will Americans not reach the point where we at least debate the wisdom of continuing to invest so much in an enterprise that produces much harm and precious little good? Is it not possible that a better way can be found to pursue the goals the UN was meant to achieve? Shouldn't Ban Ki-moon's most recent holiday in Tehran take us to that point?

(Clifford May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.)

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