Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Double Standards and the UN

Just a quick note, because I think Chris' thoughtful response also illustrates part of the problem I was trying to get at in my first post. That is to say, do defenders of the UN engage in kneejerk defenses of the UN simply because their commitment to the UN's causes (e.g. world peace or, if you like, multilateral politics) is so strong? Put another way, do folks like the NYT editorial board apply something close to a double standard when criticizing the UN because it is a multilateral institution they like? I think there is some evidence of this.

Case in point. In recent months, the UN's Oil for Food Scandal has revealed that, at the very least, the UN has engaged in unbelievably poor management of a very important program which resulted in serious amounts of money, intended for Iraqi civilians, being diverted into the UN's own coffers or that of its employees. Unrelatedly, UN peacekeepers have been implicated in a disgusting and horrifying scandal in Africa involving abuse and rape of young girls by UN peacekeepers.

Many UN defenders are the same folks who still complain about U.S. funding of dictators in Latin America in the 1980s and who are (rightly) going to the mat over revelations of U.S. abuse in Iraq and perhaps elsewhere. But why give the UN a free pass?

I'll concede that there are UN critics who are equally one-sided, refusing to see wrong in the U.S. and refusing to see right in the UN. But their lack of critical sophistication does not excuse the UN's defenders in the mainstream media and the academy, who lose credibility among fair-minded observers when they apply a double-standard of outrage to their criticisms of their favorite multilateral institution.