"The United Nations Has Become Irrelevant"
No. The second Gulf War battered the U.N. Security Council's already shaky prestige. Hawks condemned the council for failing to bless the war; opponents for failing to block it. Nevertheless, when major combat stopped, the United States and Great Britain rushed to seek council authorization for their joint occupation of Iraq, the lifting of sanctions, and the right to market Iraqi oil.
What lessons will emerge from the wrangle over Iraq? Will France, Russia, and China grudgingly concede U.S. dominance and cooperate sufficiently to keep the United States from routinely bypassing the Security Council? Or might they form an opposition bloc that paralyzes the body? Will the United States and United Kingdom proceed triumphantly? Or will they suffer so many headaches in Iraq that they conclude, in hindsight, that initiating the war without council support was a mistake?
Both sides have reason to move toward cooperation. The French, Russians, and Chinese all derive outsized influence from their status as permanent Security Council members; they see the panel as a means to mitigate U.S. hegemony and do not want the White House to pronounce it dead. And despite their unilateralist tendencies, Bush administration officials will welcome council support when battling terrorists and rogue states in the future. Although the council is not and never has been the preeminent arbiter of war and peace that its supporters wish it were, it remains the most widely accepted source of international legitimacy -- and legitimacy still has meaning, even for empires. That is why U.S. President George W. Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell both made their major prewar, pro-war presentations before a U.N. audience.
Beyond the council itself, the United Nations' ongoing relevance is evident in the work of the more than two dozen organizations comprising the U.N. system. In 2003 alone, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had processed nuclear materials in violation of its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations; the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia tried deposed Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic for genocide; and the World Health Organization successfully coordinated the global response to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Meanwhile, the World Food Programme has fed more than 70 million people annually for the last five years; the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees maintains a lifeline to the international homeless; the U.N. Children's Fund has launched a campaign to end forced childhood marriage; the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS remains a focal point for global efforts to defeat HIV/AIDS; and the U.N. Population Fund helps families plan, mothers survive, and children grow up healthy in the most impoverished places on earth. The United Nations may seem useless to the self-satisfied, narrow-minded, and micro-hearted minority, but to most of the world's population, it remains highly relevant indeed.