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Monday, November 12, 2007

Unitable Nations

Imagine the U.S. government running like the way the the U.N. was set up (by, in large, the U.S. itself) to run:

1) The Presidency, while being extended to more than one party (let's say New York, California, Florida, and Illinois), could never have its veto overridden by the Congress. Not only that, but each of those states would have such a veto, so if say New York didn't like some law, it could never become a law. They would also be able to negate any court decision as well (even though they could avoid agreeing to the courts deciding on an issue affecting them in the first place).
2) There would be no House of Representatives--only a Senate. So, Rhode Island would have the same number of votes as the much more populous California. Actually, it'd be in some cases, more like a few small towns having a vote, and big states also having only one vote. For example, in the U.N. General Assembly, India, with 1 billion plus people has one vote, and the island nation of Tuvalu (of about 10,000 people) also has one vote: a 100,000 times difference. No offense to my friends from the good island of Tuvalu, but it's a bit of a stretch to say that the importance of representing the interests of smaller states should be at a scale of one to 100,000 (not that this is anything compared to the absolute veto power mentioned above).
3) The Supreme Court could not have cases taken to it by individuals, but only by states, and then only if both states agreed to follow the decision! Otherwise, the states could do as they like to resolve the issue, such as by fighting each other.

Of course, this imbalance DOES reflect a much older historical reality: the Articles of Confederation, which you may recall reading about in high school--the weak and ineffectual predecessor to the stronger and present-day U.S. Constitution. This model didn't work to buttress the new nation against the British, and it didn't work for the Confederacy which also patterned its government on such an extremely decentralized system, and as a result, contributed to its demise (albeit thankfully).

The similarities to the present situation at the U.N. also extend to a later period of U.S. history where "states' rights" were (still) used on unjust pretenses to justify non-interference from the higher union in defense of minority peoples. And, as with the prior historical issue of unrepresented blacks in America, at the U.N. are represented countries who do not fully (if at all) represent the people they govern--and yet they can vote in the General Assembly (World Congress) as if they do represent their people (and in some cases, the government only represents a minority).

I have read that when the president of the Philippines at the time of the formation of the U.N. objected to the absolute veto of the Security Council members, that he was told by the U.S. official that if there were no veto, there would be no United Nations. Beautifully--and effectually--democratic, eh? Gee, I wonder why other nations peoples' don't universally love our foreign policy... Shall we say hypocrisy? (Ok, to be fair, the claim is only "land of the free", it never had been "land extending freedoms to other lands when having collective relationships with them", but with all the talk of spreading democracy, one might think it ought to include ourselves in relation to other countries as well as encouraging it within countries.)

This is not to blame us in the U.S. fully, as some of the other problems mentioned above would need to be resolved for the U.S. to legitimately agree to submit itself to a higher authority (such as it has most historically done within the World Trade Organization)--just as certain security issues would need to be resolved were it (or any other country) to agree to disarmament (another hypocrisy issue which a non-respecter of human rights country like Iran has, sadly legitimately, been able to thumb in our faces). For example, the U.S., as a quite populous country (seconded and thirded only by China and India), wouldn't appreciate having only one vote in the General Assembly (i.e., the World Congress), if the U.S. were to have the insight to recognize that it, along with the other Security Council veto wielders, must forgo (or at least curb) its absolute veto power. Nor would it appreciate (understandably so) being put on a level playing field with countries which did not have basic human rights standards such as free and open elections. But this should indicate that these issues must all be simultaneously addressed in order for the organism which is the U.N. to find balance and to become effectual in handling the problems which the U.S. cannot handle alone.

I hope in the future, that peoples of the U.S. and elsewhere around the world recognize that it is in fact in their self-interest to have a stronger (though admittedly not overly strong) United Nations, albeit one which is comprised of civilized members with whom unity is possible (just as the European Union has been selective in its membership, and as a result, stimulated important reforms in would-be members), just as it is in our interest to have a strong, though not overly strong, federal government within our country. I find it deplorable that it is actually illegal (though non-punishable) to display the United Nations flag above the U.S. flag in America, even though, by any reasonable moral standard, the will of the world ought to outweigh the will of one country (granted, the law was probably more intended to discourage people from displaying another COUNTRY's flag above the U.S. flag, but the case of the U.N. ought to be different, in my opinion).

But, I believe wiser generations of Americans will, in the future, lament our slowness to adopt such an understanding and recognize it was not only idealistic to do so, but also pragmatic. We can't police the world alone--BUT--the world does in fact need some real policing! If your crazy neighbor starts stockpiling grenades, AK-47s and starts building a tank, you might feel this is an inherently agitating situation which calls for some police intervention. Otherwise, other neighbors might stark stockpiling, and then there is a dangerous unsustainable situation.


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