The minister fails to understand:
John Baird demonstrated Monday that he doesn’t understand what the United Nations is, how it operates, his own allies’ efforts to improve it or its potential for helping his government achieve its goals.
Speaking to the UN General Assembly, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister chided the world organization for failing to impose mandatory sanctions against Syria. “Many people of the world, including many of the citizens we represent, cannot understand why this organization – despite the sound and fury of debate in this great assembly – has been unable to make concrete steps,” he said.
So what is John Baird missing? The Big Picture apparently:
The General Assembly has never stopped and never will stop a war – civil or otherwise, in Syria or elsewhere. It is, however, the only permanent forum in which a representative of any of the world’s sovereign nations can air grievances and propose solutions to problems.
I take it that national governments in most parts of the world are unfamiliar with conference calls. Or with issuing a press release, either a physical one (assuming anyone still does that) or a virtual one on the interweb thingy the young people are talking about. Despite it being, at least so far as guest columnists at the Globe are aware, the only permanent forum for airing grievances it would be a patient scholar indeed who could locate any problems that have actually been solved by the UN.
By problems we, of course, mean problems not previously created by the UN. While a brainchild of FDR and Churchill it seems unlikely either men would be pleased at what the UN has become. There is some logic in having a place where the Great Powers can sit around and hash out their differences, a throw-back of sorts to the Congress system of the 19th century. The practical benefits of allowing the Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso a global platform are harder to appreciate.
The General Assembly was created to provide a proto-globalized veneer to the maneuvering of the Great Powers. The UN Declaration of Human Rights and its various, and sometimes worthy, auxiliary outfits such as WHO were designed to provide a moral veil over the Realpolitik proceedings. The whole thing was a pretense underlying a desperate reality. Having a kind of permanent Congress of Vienna made sense in an age where technology had made another big war a risk to the survival of the species.
At some point along the way the moralist trappings, which few in the West took seriously in 1945, became the main event. The UN stopped being a facade and became a bizarre though ultimately pathetic attempt at global governance. Bizarre because it existed in a world divorced from objective reality - Iran and Libya on the Human Rights Council? - and pathetic because of its pantomime nature. The Great Powers today use the UN Security Council as a platform for airing issues already decided upon elsewhere. Great deliberations in the modern world are rarely made in public.
The Cold War UN allowed the USSR and Maoist China to pretend to be civilized countries. The old Westphalia system recognized national sovereignty as a practical necessity. The UN transformed it into a kind of supranational dogma. We were suppose to accept that the voice of Red China was worth in moral terms just as much as Britain or America. This did little to change the actual dynamics of geopolitics, accept improve the PR image of the world's tyrannies.
The free world provides its moral sanction by its simple presence at the UN. It was easy for Soviet Russia to claim moral equivalence between communism and liberty. After all, the Americans themselves treated them as equals, the usual pro forma ideological declarations aside. The same rule persists today, albeit with smaller creatures. The posturing of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provides dark comic relief to most liberal democratic observers, but it allows him a platform he does not deserve and does little to "air grievances and propose solutions to problems."
The UN survives today due to that most powerful of bureaucratic forces: Inertia. It serves neither a practical nor moral end in the modern world. John Baird should have done more than attack the UN, he should have announced Canada's immediate withdrawal.