Tuesday, March 23, 2004

An Idea Worth the Cost of Pursuit? Jonathan Rauch describes the nascent so-called democracy caucus at the UN:
Imagine a better Washington. Imagine a conservative Republican administration working hand in glove with liberal congressional Democrats on a foreign-policy initiative designed to strengthen the United Nations while simultaneously increasing America's clout there. Imagine both parties and both branches bringing this initiative to fruition smoothly and unfussily, during an election year. Say, this year. Say, right now.

Pinch yourself. It is happening.

Since 1996, a handful of foreign-policy wonks have been kicking around the idea of a "democracy caucus" at the U.N. Two administrations, first Bill Clinton's and then George W. Bush's, took quiet but significant steps in that direction. Now, according to Bush administration officials, the concept will be test-flown at the six-week meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights that began on Monday in Geneva.

Now, if you're like me, you don't hold out a lot of hope for the UN to improve in any real way; but you might be interested in an effort to make it perhaps a little less obstructive, maddening, and structurally representative of the very forces the UN was founded to oppose. Or, as Rauch puts it,
The most fundamental [problem] is that the United Nations is built on an obsolete premise: that countries governed by their people and countries governed by thugs, thieves, or tyrants should meet on equal terms, one vote each.
The democracy caucus, as a sub-group of the UN, would presumably attempt to create a bloc of liberal, or at least liberalizing, states in order to counter regional and ideological currents in the UN that sometimes cause member states to vote against their own interests, and to the benefit of illiberal states.
To add injury to insult, democracies at the U.N. are disproportionately weak. The U.N. is dominated by a cluster of regional and ideological caucuses. African countries, for example, are pressured to vote together, with undemocratic governments often calling the shots and democracies going along to get along. Tyrants thus routinely exempt themselves from human-rights resolutions, while log-rolling ensures that condemnations of Israel sail through.
So is there hope? Would you consider me a horrible cynic if I tell you that this passage apprehended me immediately?
Asked if the meetings would be simply organizational or social, as earlier ones have been, [Richard S. Williamson, the U.S. ambassador to the Human Rights Commission] said: "We want to move beyond that. We are hopeful there will be meetings to discuss particular agenda items at the commission meeting and seek to find a common approach to them."
Yes, and after that we'll have a luncheon to discuss the makeup of the executive panel for the conference on the prioritization of agenda items. Sigh. Bureaucracy is inherently a stultifying power. I'm not sure that UN diplomats have it in their power to reform the beast that feeds them. It would be a grass-roots push from inside the DMV for courteous, customer-focused service.

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