Even when the Security Council decides on something — like disarming Saddam Hussein — action to achieve this aim can still be frustrated by subsequent vetoes.
Other UN bodies, like the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), reflect these adverse conditions. Established in 2006 to replace the corrupt and ineffective Human Rights Commission, the HRC has proved no better, and is arguably worse.
Non-democratic African and Asian regimes exercise an unbreakable controlling majority of 26 of its 47 seats. It is these dictatorships that set the Council’s agenda and determine its vote. In four years, the HRC has closed off investigation of the worst human rights abuses in Belarus, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.
In these circumstances, democracies can change the UN only so far. The Reagan administration, for example, pressured the UN through the purse-strings by withholding dues, and withdrew from corrupt bodies like UNESCO. But such efforts need to be sustained when the UN reverts to worst practice. In any event, joining the jackals, as if that could somehow tame their appetites, is worse than useless. It merely lends legitimacy that would have been better denied. The Obama administration took the U.S. into the HRC last year in the declared hope of effecting change. It didn’t. One month after the Obama administration joined the HRC, it terminated investigation into human rights abuses in Congo. In May, Libya joined the HRC. The Obama administration’s objections were simply ignored.
There is another way. The U.S., which provides a quarter of the UN budget, should consider some options. It could hold the UN to performance standards before disbursing funds. It could withdraw from irredeemable bodies like the HRC. It could back a new caucus of democratic nations. It could reallocate funds to external initiatives that actually do some good.
But who expects the Obama administration to do any of these things?