In Praise of the United Nations

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Suzanne Nossell reminds us what the United Nations is good for. The best way to sum up her list might be to say that international organizations are extremely useful for solving certain collective action problems—like tackling AIDS or prosecuting war criminals or handling peacekeeping—that no one country can or would handle on its own.

What we’ve seen over the past few years, however, is that the Iraq War has transformed the debate over the UN into a debate about whether or not the body should be some sort of enforcer of international law. That’s surely the wrong way to look at it; the UN can very rarely force countries to do things against their will. International law is, for the most part, only as binding as the force that backs it, period, as we’ve seen with regards to Sudan, Iraq, Iran and many other countries.

Indeed, because of the various competing interests in the Security Council, the United Nations, on its own, will very rarely be an adequate means of punishing “rogue” states that skirt the law. On the other hand, nor will it simply rubber-stamp ever foreign policy decision the United States decides to undertake, as many conservatives would no doubt prefer. And nor can it ever be a useful means of constraining American power, as many liberals might like. The United Nations is useful as a forum for coordinating international opinion and using it to pressure certain countries, but its utility there obviously has limits. For instance, like Gareth Evans and Ann-Marie Slaughter, I’d like to see the United Nations mandate that nations have a “duty to prevent” genocide. But after watching Western nations dig in their heels over intervention in Darfur, it would be foolish to assume that any such moral imperative would carry much weight. At any rate, if we can focus on the positive things the UN can realistically do, we’ll be in a much better position to figure out how and why it needs to be reformed.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate