Think Again

Think Again: The United Nations

Bureaucratic. Ineffective. Undemocratic. Anti-United States. And after the bitter debate over the use of force in Iraq, critics might add "useless" to the list of adjectives describing the United Nations. So why was the United Nations the first place the Bush administration went for approval after winning the war? Because for $1.25 billion a year -- roughly what the Pentagon spends every 32 hours -- the United Nations is still the best investment that the world can make in stopping AIDS and SARS, feeding the poor, helping refugees, and fighting global crime and the spread of nuclear weapons.

"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.

"Relations Between the United States and the United Nations Are at an All-Time Low"

Not even close. One day before the U.N. General Assembly convened in 1952, Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin began hearings in New York on the loyalty of U.S. citizens employed by the United Nations. A federal grand jury then opened a competing inquiry in the same city on the same subject. (Some U.N. employees called to testify even invoked their constitutional right against self-incrimination.) The furor generated massive indignation and mutual U.S.-U.N. distrust. J.B. Mathews, chief investigator for the House Un-American Activities Committee, declared that the United Nations "could not be less of a cruel hoax if it had been organized in Hell for the sole purpose of aiding and abetting the destruction of the United States."

East-West and North-South tensions transformed the General Assembly into hostile territory through much of the 1970s and 1980s. U.S. ambassadors such as Daniel P. Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick earned combat pay rebutting the verbal pyrotechnics of delegates in the throes of anti-Semitic passions and Marxist moonbeams. The low point was the passage in 1975 of a resolution equating Zionism with racism.

In the 1990s, supporters of the Contract With America, led by Republican Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, lambasted U.N. peacekeeping, blocked payment of U.N. dues, and ridiculed U.N. programs. Similarly, Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina spoke for many of the far-right-minded but wrong-headed when he termed the United Nations "the nemesis of millions of Americans."

Today, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, U.S. citizens consider U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan the fourth most respected world leader (trailing, in order, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.S. President George W. Bush, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon). The United States has paid back most of its acknowledged U.N. arrears. The United Nations' agenda and core U.S. security interests have gradually converged. For example, the U.N. Charter says nothing about the importance of elected government, yet U.N. missions routinely sponsor democratic transitions, monitor elections, and promote free institutions. The charter explicitly prohibits U.N. intervention in the internal affairs of any government (save for enforcement actions), yet the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, created in 1993 at the United States' urging, exists solely to nudge governments to do the right thing by their own people. The United Nations' founders never mentioned terrorism, yet today the United Nations encourages governments to ratify antiterrorist conventions, freeze terrorist assets, and tighten security on land, in air, and at sea. Polls continue to show that a significant majority of U.S. citizens believe the United States should seek U.N. authorization before using force and should cooperate with other nations through the world body.

"The Bush Administration's Doctrine of Preemption Is Not Authorized by the U.N. Charter"

So? The charter calls upon states to attempt to settle disputes peacefully and, failing that, to refer matters to the Security Council for appropriate action. Article 51 provides that nothing in the charter "shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security."

Compare that to this passage from President Bush's 2002 National Security Strategy: "Given the goals of rogue states and terrorists, the United States can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past. The inability to deter a potential attacker, the immediacy of today's threats, and the magnitude of potential harm that could be caused by our adversaries' choice of weapons, do not permit that option. We cannot let our enemies strike first."

The mystery here is not what the administration said, but rather why it chose to arouse global controversy by elevating what has always been a residual option into a highly publicized doctrine. In reality, no U.S. president would allow an international treaty to prevent actions genuinely necessary to deter or preempt imminent attack upon the United States. The notion that the United States has relied solely "on a reactive posture" in the past is not true. In the name of self-defense, U.S. administrations of both parties initiated actions during the Cold War that violated the sovereignty of other nations. In 1994, the Clinton administration considered military strikes against nuclear facilities in North Korea. In 1998, U.S. President Bill Clinton launched cruise missiles into Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for the terrorist bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa and in an effort to prevent al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden from striking again.

Whether tracking the language of Article 51 or not, the Bush administration's preemption doctrine will prove a departure from past practice only if it is implemented in a manner that is aggressive, indifferent to precedent, and careless of the information used to justify military action. Calibrated and effective actions taken against real enemies posing an imminent danger should not overturn the international legal apple cart. Measures wide of that standard would indeed raise troubling questions about whether the United States is setting itself above the law or tacitly acknowledging the right of every nation to act militarily against threats that are merely potential and suspected. The administration approached that line by invading Iraq, but the issue was blurred by the multiple rationales given for the conflict -- enforcement of Security Council resolutions (relatively strong legal grounds), self-defense (in this case, shaky), and liberation (shakier still). The issue now is whether the administration intends to strike first against nuclear aspirants North Korea and Iran (and, if so, on what evidence) and whether it will exhaust other options first. Thus far, the administration is traveling the diplomatic route.

"Political Correctness Often Trumps Substance at the United Nations"

Correct. The Cold War and the rapid growth in U.N. membership following decolonization shaped the United Nations' civil service, requiring the distribution of jobs on the basis of geography rather than qualifications. The U.S. Congress did not help over the years by buying in to the notion that the United States was entitled to many jobs and then filling them with defeated politicians.

While at the United Nations, I used to joke that managing the global institution was like trying to run a business with 184 chief executive officers -- each with a different language, a distinct set of priorities, and an unemployed brother-in-law seeking a paycheck. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has done about everything possible within the system to reward high achievers and improve recruitment, but the pressure to satisfy members from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe remains a management nightmare.

Another long-standing problem is that decisions on U.N. committee chairs and memberships are most often made on a regional and rotating basis, with equal weight given to, for example, South Africa and Swaziland. By tradition, these decisions are sacrosanct, leading to the recent spectacle of Libya chairing the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. To prevent such an outcome, one must be willing to break some diplomatic china. Former President Clinton did so in blocking the reelection of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1996 and defeating Sudan's regionally endorsed nomination for Security Council membership in 2000. Both initiatives prompted resentment toward the United States, but both enhanced the standing and credibility of the United Nations.

"U.N. Peacekeeping Has Failed"

Untrue. U.N. peacekeeping has maintained order in such diverse places as Namibia, El Salvador, Cambodia, eastern Slavonia, Mozambique, and Cyprus. The traditional U.N. mission is a confidence-building exercise, conducted in strict neutrality between parties that seek international help in preserving or implementing peace. U.N. peacemaking, however, is quite another matter. During my years as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, the tragic experiences in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Somalia, and Rwanda showed that traditional U.N. peacekeepers lack the mandate, command structure, unity of purpose, and military might to succeed in the more urgent and nasty cases -- where the fighting is hot, the innocent are dying, and the combatants oppose an international presence. Such weaknesses, sadly, are inherent in the voluntary and collective nature of the United Nations. When the going gets tough, the tough tend to go wherever they want, notwithstanding the wishes of U.N. commanders.

One possible solution: peace-enforcement missions authorized by the United Nations, in which the Security Council deputizes an appropriate major power to organize a coalition and enforce the world's collective will. The council sets the overall mandate, but the lead nation calls the shots -- literally and figuratively -- necessary to achieve the mission. The U.S.-led intervention in Haiti (1994), the Australian-led rescue of East Timor (1999), and the British action in Sierra Leone (2000) were largely successful and provide a model for the future.

Peacemaking is a hard, dangerous, and often thankless task. To deter people with guns, other people with more and bigger guns are necessary, and finding such people is not easy. It is one thing to expect a soldier to risk life and limb defending his or her homeland. It is another to expect that same soldier to travel halfway around the world and perhaps to die while trying to quell a struggle over diamonds, oil, or ethnic dominance on someone else's home turf. Most people are simply not that altruistic, especially when they see many intervention forces blamed for what such forces fail to accomplish rather than credited for the burdens they assume. As a result, the world is left with an international system of crisis response that is pragmatic, episodic, and incremental rather than principled, reliable, and decisive.

Without any expectation of perfection or even consistency, the international community can nevertheless make the best of things by doing more to equip and train selected military units willing to volunteer in advance for peace enforcement; by recruiting personnel to fill the gap between lightly armed police and heavily armed conventional military; by prosecuting war criminals; and by attacking the roots of conflicts such as arms peddling and economic desperation.

"The U.N. Security Council Should Be Enlarged"

Indubitably, but don't hold your breath. Probably no U.N. issue has been studied more with less to show for the effort than Security Council enlargement.

To ensure the council's strength as a guardian of international security and peace, the United Nations' founders assigned permanent membership and veto authority to the five leading nations on the winning side of World War II: the United States, Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and China. (Other countries compete for election to fill the 10 remaining council seats, with the winners serving a two-year term.) Obviously, the world has changed a bit since 1945: U.N. membership has more than tripled, and three of the eight most populous nations in the world can now be found in South Asia. Despite an apparent consensus to enlarge the council, its members have been tied up in knots trying to decide how. Major debates include fair regional representation (if India deserves a permanent seat, what about Pakistan?) and reluctance to extend veto power to additional countries.

During my years at the United Nations in the mid-1990s, the United States supported expanding the council to no more than 21 members and granting permanent seats to Japan and Germany. This position outraged Italian Ambassador F. Paolo Fulci, whose country opposed the addition of more permanent members. By that logic, he argued, if Japan and Germany joined the Security Council, Italy should be included as a permanent member, too. "After all," he argued, "Italians also lost World War II."

"The United Nations Is a Threat to the Sovereignty of the United States"

Balderdash. The United Nations' authority flows from its members; it is servant, not master. The United Nations has no armed forces of its own, no power of arrest, no authority to tax, no right to confiscate, no ability to regulate, no capacity to override treaties, and -- despite the paranoia of some -- no black helicopters poised to swoop down upon innocent homes in the middle of the night and steal lawn furniture. The U.N. General Assembly has little power, except to approve the U.N. budget, which it does by consensus. Meanwhile, the Security Council, which does have power, cannot act without the acquiescence of the United States and the other four permanent members. That means that no secretary-general can be elected, no U.N. peacekeeping operation initiated, and no U.N. tribunal established without the approval of the United States. Questions about the efficiency of the United Nations and many of its specific actions are legitimate, but worries about U.S. sovereignty are misplaced and appear to come primarily from people aggrieved to find the United Nations so full of foreigners. That, I am constrained to say, simply cannot be helped.

"The United Nations Is a Huge Bureaucracy"

Nope. A bureaucracy certainly, but not huge. The annual budget for core U.N. functions -- based in New York City, Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna, and five regional commissions -- is about $1.25 billion, or roughly what the Pentagon spends every 32 hours. The U.N. Secretariat has reduced its staff by just under 25 percent over the last 20 years and has had a zero-growth budget since 1996. The entire U.N. system, composed of the secretariat and 29 other organizations, employs a little more than 50,000 people, or just 2,000 more than work for the city of Stockholm. Total annual expenditures by all U.N. funds, programs, and specialized agencies equal about one fourth the municipal budget of New York City.

Think Again

Think Again: Human Rights

The concept of human rights is the mother's milk of the international community. Problem is, these days human rights come in more flavors than coffee or soft drinks. Would you like the Asian, Islamic, indigenous, economic, European, or U.S. version? And how would you like your human rights served: with sanctions, regime change, corporate window dressing, or good old-fashioned moral suasion? Here's a look at the most effective -- and most misguided -- recipes for promoting human dignity around the world.

"All Persons and Peoples Aspire to the Same Human Rights"

No. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights may be formally accepted around the world, but its generalized framework allows for almost limitless interpretations. Even the supposed global consensus on, say, the prohibition of torture as a "human wrong" is deceptive: In the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the prominent U.S. legal scholar Alan Dershowitz argued in favor of legalized torture as a counterterror measure.

If anything, the postcolonial period since the writing of the declaration has witnessed an erosion of the belief in the universality of human aspirations. In part, this erosion stems from a widespread conviction that human rights are a Western invention being shoved down non-Western throats. Though such attitudes are partly a propaganda ploy by leaders who seek to shield their abusive behavior from criticism, they also reflect the views of many non-Westerners who believe that the highly individualistic declaration does not adequately balance rights with responsibilities -- witness the emergence of "Asian Values" or "Islamic Values."

The assertion of value-based and cultural variations also represents a regional backlash against the unwanted aspects of globalization, including the fear of U.S. dominance and related concerns about consumerism and the loss of tradition. One important way to establish regional identity has been to emphasize the distinctiveness of human rights, whether Asian or African, Islamic or Christian. Another example of this trend has been the greater prominence of representatives of indigenous peoples' rights. Their sense of difference is so strong that, operating under U.N. auspices, a worldwide network of indigenous representatives is developing its own framework for human rights, known as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Even unity on human rights within the West is overrated. There is an important mainstream confusion in thought about international human rights that arises from their dual origins within the Western experience of the late 18th century. From the French Revolution, with its affirmation of the "Rights of Man" (liberty, equality, and fraternity), arises a sense of universality, that all persons by virtue of being human have certain common entitlements that transcend the specifics of context. In contrast, from the American Revolution comes the Bill of Rights, appended to the U.S. Constitution, applicable only to the United States, and subject to interpretation by domestic courts, which themselves are depositories of national values and evolving policy priorities. The ongoing friction between the United States and Europe on such issues as capital punishment and the relevance of international law can be partly explained by important differences in outlook that evolved from this dual revolutionary heritage.

"Human Rights Are Violated More Today than Ever Before"

Wrong. The clash here is between perceptions and realities. As with cancer and other diseases, the ability to identify human rights abuses more accurately and treat their symptoms more effectively creates the illusion that the disease itself is more prevalent. Every reliable human rights indicator suggests progress in the direction of self-determination and democratization in all parts of the world, which means more participation by individuals in their own destiny and more restraint on the part of governments. About two thirds of the world's population, or 4 billion people, now live in countries that Freedom House judges to be "free" or "partly free"; overall, these nations account for 94 percent of the world's gross domestic product. Moreover, one of the truly notable achievements of the U.N. system over the past six decades has been the creation of a significant human rights architecture consisting of treaties on discrimination against women, racism, children, religious beliefs, and refugees, as well as institutional innovations such as the establishment in Geneva of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Much of the credit for this upgrading of human rights should be given to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which took the promise of minimum standards seriously several decades ago when governments regarded such matters as either harmless pieties or as purely voluntary directives. Although human rights NGOs began as a Western phenomenon, by the end of the 20th century, they had proliferated to all parts of the world and were active even in many otherwise authoritarian countries. Yet there is a paradox inherent in their success: The more effective they are at shining a spotlight on human rights abuses and drawing support for their work, the more likely the public imagination is to be fixed on the persistence of failure.

"Human Rights Are Irreconcilable with the War on Global Terrorism"

On the contrary. In some instances, the protection of human rights must be qualified, or perhaps even suspended, because of the peculiar urgencies of meeting the challenge of global terrorism -- but such instances are relatively few. Due to the secret nature of al Qaeda operations and targets, information enjoys the highest premium, and one of the few sources of potentially useful information is the interrogation of detained terrorist suspects or operatives. Such a reality may justify some relaxation of the customary treatment of prisoners of war, but it certainly does not validate the sort of humiliating and vindictive conditions of confinement associated with Camp X-Ray on the U.S. Naval Base Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, or the transfer of prisoners by U.S. officials to Egypt and other countries that have few inhibitions about relying upon torture to extract needed information.

The war against global terrorism is far more a political and moral conflict than it is a military one. Adherence to human rights, even for those accused or suspected of terrorist involvement, would signal Washington's respect for life and human dignity. To act otherwise -- holding people without pressing charges or access to lawyers, or mounting vague charges without supporting evidence -- discloses a kind of secular fundamentalism that blurs the nature of the conflict. Part of what should be defended is precisely a respect for human rights. Departures from that standard in legislative enactment, judicial action, and administrative policy should bear a heavy burden of persuasion. So far, since September 11, the U.S. Congress, media, and public have been reluctant to challenge the exercise of executive power in a display of excessive deference that has weakened human rights without strengthening national security.

"Human Rights Abuses Worsened Worldwide After September 11, 2001"

Yes, but not for most Iraqis and Afghans. Especially in the United States, the enactment of antiterror laws has raised genuine concerns about restrictions on human rights. Governments in nations such as Israel, Russia, Pakistan, and Egypt have seized upon the terrorist issue as a pretext for intensifying the repression of national opposition movements and individuals. And the U.S. preoccupation with security concerns and alliance relations has also taken precedence over human rights, especially in U.S. dealings with critical frontline states such as Pakistan as well as several highly authoritarian Central Asian countries.

But those losses must be set against some important gains. The pressure to respond to the al Qaeda challenge, and to pursue U.S. geopolitical goals, led to wars that produced regime changes in Afghanistan and Iraq, which had two of the worst governments in the world from the human rights perspective. True, millions of people in both countries must confront the prospect of civil strife in the years ahead, accompanied by some risk that cruel forms of authoritarianism will reemerge. Yet, for the moment at least, they are much better off than they were -- even if respecting the prohibitions of international law on the use of force remains more important than military intervention to promote human rights around the world.

"Corporations Have a Moral and Legal Obligation to Uphold Human Rights"

Not now. Multinational corporations are essentially profit-making actors without established moral obligations beyond their duties to uphold the interests of their shareholders. In some cases, the constituencies of corporations have grown to encompass so-called "stakeholders," including those groups affected by corporate activity. And to some extent, corporations have an interest in not alienating consumers and public interest groups by ignoring fundamental human rights concerns. Civil society leaders can organize boycotts against corporations with high-profile links to human rights violations, as has occurred with Shell, Nestle, and others. Campaigns by these and other corporations to improve their public image in relation to human rights are a matter of self-interest that does not reflect the existence or acceptance of a moral obligation. Of course, to the extent that a human rights culture takes hold, corporate officials and their shareholders will likely become more receptive to moral imperatives associated with treating workers decently, in accordance with human rights standards. In that respect, voluntary initiatives such as the United Nations' recently established "Global Compact," which certifies corporations as good global citizens if they agree to abide by a checklist of standards, may pay off. And if such voluntary processes go on for a long time and are widely practiced, they could ripen into a moral obligation at some point, but that is a long way off.

Also, virtually no legal obligations are effective outside the protection of property rights such as trademarks and copyrights in international business activity. Almost all human rights regulation of corporate actors is based on national laws and their implementation. Some countries, especially the United States, have tried to extend their standards to the foreign operations of corporations headquartered in their countries, but usually in the context of business activity (bribes, monopolies) rather than human rights. Efforts by U.S. state courts to ban business deals in response to severe human rights abuses in places such as Burma have been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as an interference with the foreign affairs powers of the Executive Branch. To the extent that U.S. corporations are legally restricted from dealing with certain foreign countries for human rights reasons, such as Cuba, the underlying motivation is political, reflecting ideological hostility. After all, why not restrict business with other countries that engage in severe violations, such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan?

A framework of international legal obligations would doubtless help protect human rights, especially in countries with minimal or nonexistent human rights regulation. But to ensure that multinational corporations from some countries would not benefit from a competitive advantage, such a framework would require widely endorsed regional and global treaty regimes. And given the clear benefits of foreign investment in mitigating poverty, imposing international standards that reduce the economic attractiveness of countries with minimal regulation would, in the short term at least, likely accentuate human suffering.

"Human Rights Are Primarily About Political Freedom"

No. Human rights should be understood as covering both political and economic concerns. It is true that human rights efforts have been most successful with political abuses. Yet, to create the sort of solidarity needed to promote the dignity of persons throughout the world, it is crucial to address economic deprivations associated with poverty as human rights issues. Indeed, there are two authoritative international covenants governing human rights: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both adopted by the United Nations in 1966.

The United States has never ratified the second covenant, and U.S. political leaders are skeptical about its moral claims and status as law. But regardless of such doubts and any quibbles about the wording of covenants, the bottom line is that a country that fails to address the basic needs of its entire population is guilty of human rights violations. This approach puts a lot of pressure on poor countries and the economically disadvantaged in various ways. It also exerts pressure on the United States and other prosperous nations that practice a form of market economics that does not take responsibility for homelessness, hunger, and other manifestations of poverty. An estimated 840 million people suffer from chronic hunger around the world. At the end of 2002 in the United States, there were 34.9 million people living in hunger or lacking sufficient food, 1.3 million more than a year earlier. A human rights approach, based on morality and law, would ensure every human being the basic necessities of food, shelter, health care, education, and employment at least to the extent of the material capabilities of a particular society. It is only by shutting out these issues of economic well-being that the United States can be proud of its human rights record. Indeed, given the remarkable level of U.S. wealth and might, the existence of such deep pockets of poverty is nothing short of a human rights obscenity.

"Human Rights Abuses in One Country Can Justify Military Intervention by Others"

Yes. This issue arose in the 1990s in relation to genocide in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and failed states elsewhere in Africa. The international community faced a nasty dilemma: Either abandon populations to humanitarian catastrophe, or override the fundamental principle of territorial sovereignty to rescue them. The U.N. record was mixed at best. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who bears some responsibility for the widely criticized U.N. non-response to the unfolding Rwandan genocide of 1994, later made amends by urging the United Nations to balance its respect for sovereignty against its duty to protect vulnerable populations.

The duty of the international community to act now seems clear, not least because of greater global awareness of human rights emergencies. But such action is hampered by a weakness of political will on the part of Security Council members. This weakness arises from two sources: a reluctance by some members, including the United States, to endow the United Nations with sufficient capabilities to be effective, and the unwillingness of others, most notably China and Russia, to erode sovereign rights. There is great suspicion among developing nations, especially in Asia, that claims of humanitarian intervention are concealed ways for former colonial powers and the West generally to override their countries' political independence. Although history lends credence to these concerns, if the facts demonstrate an impending humanitarian catastrophe and enough political will exists to provide real protection or help, then the world community should act even if it means the erosion of sovereignty.

The policy issue is more difficult. In the case of Kosovo, for example, the U.N. Security Council could not reach consensus, despite the evidence that another instance of Balkan ethnic cleansing was likely imminent. The 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo rescued the Albanian Kosovar population from catastrophe, but at the expense of international law governing the use of force. Unlike the Iraq intervention of 2003, however, a regional consensus supported the action taken in Kosovo and the facts validated the moral claim of urgency. As such, while the intervention may have been illegal, it was politically and morally legitimate. This gap is not desirable, but it is better than ignoring principles altogether or adopting a rigid posture of unconditional nonintervention.

"Economic Sanctions Help Improve Human Rights Worldwide"

Rarely. If applied with the genuine backing of the world community, economic sanctions can be effective, both symbolically and substantively. But such backing is rare. The case of sanctions imposed on South Africa during the last stages of apartheid is a rare success story, and those sanctions worked as much by delegitimizing the government in Pretoria as by their adverse effects on the South African economy.

Most other instances of relying on sanctions for these purposes have failed. Between 1990 and 2003, the U.S.-led U.N. economic sanctions on Iraq indiscriminately killed hundreds of thousands of civilians without reforming or unseating the repressive Baath Party regime. Citing this disastrous humanitarian impact, two widely admired U.N. administrators of the sanctions program in Iraq resigned on principle in 1998 and 2000, respectively. In Bosnia, half-hearted sanctions directed at the Yugoslav government in Belgrade served as an excuse for not taking more energetic protective action on behalf of a severely abused Bosnian Muslim population. For more than 40 years, the U.S. government has maintained economic sanctions against Cuba in defiance of the majority of the U.N. General Assembly; indeed, in recent years, only Israel and the Marshall Islands have backed Washington's stance. These sanctions have led to great hardships for the Cuban people without contributing to an improved human rights record, though they have helped successive administrations in Washington court Cuban exile communities that exercise political leverage in such key states as Florida and New Jersey.

Sanctions are a policy tool that should be used most sparingly, and then only with the overwhelming support of the international community. If the situation is serious enough to warrant sanctions, humanitarian intervention might well be more appropriate, not least because it has a far better chance of addressing the direct causes of human suffering.

"Human Rights and Democracy Will Never Take Hold in the Middle East"

Wrong. Not one among the 17 Arab countries has a government respectful of basic human rights, but is this reality a matter of cultural and religious destiny? I think not. There are important democratic movements in civil society in several of these countries, including among the Palestinians and Moroccans. Whether these movements can immediately wrest power from authoritarian and repressive elites is questionable. But the idea that outside force can impose a quick-fix government respectful of human rights is tragically risible. Iraq, and to some extent, Afghanistan, are current test cases, and the prognosis is not favorable.

Looking back, the democratization of Germany and Japan after World War II are shining examples of what has been and might be achieved, but only under specific conditions. These countries were defeated after lengthy wars, lacked memories of colonization, and possessed coherent and successful social, economic, and bureaucratic structures. The surviving elites in Germany and Japan could easily identify with their occupiers and seek their protection against dangers from potentially hostile neighbors, especially the Soviet Union. In contrast, Iraq and Afghanistan are ethnically and politically fragmented, and, if soon left alone, would likely degenerate quickly into civil war or a return of authoritarian rule. Besides, both societies have terrible memories of Western domination, and many among their citizenry harbor deep suspicions that the current motives of outside occupiers are exploitative rather than emancipatory.

U.S. President George W. Bush has gone on record as believing that the promotion of democracy and freedom in the Middle East is feasible. But the United States cannot promote human rights in the Middle East by the tactic of regime change exemplified in the Iraq War. The United States might move the region in a more moderate direction if it could resolve the contradictions in its policies toward, say, Saudi Arabia, and achieve greater balance regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, promoting a truly fair solution for both peoples that takes into account Palestinian rights under international law.

The Middle East, as is true for most of the world, is constituted by sovereign states, meaning that the respect of human rights must be achieved primarily by means of internal struggle. External factors, especially the spread of a human rights culture, including by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and other educational programs, can exert a benevolent influence. A coercive approach to the establishment of human rights and democracy, particularly if promoted by Western might and wealth, is almost certain to backfire.